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Burning Man is an annual music and arts festival which takes place in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada, United States, for seven days during the last week of August. Since its inception as an effigy-burning ritual in 1986, the annual event has grown into a large-scale, volunteer-powered community of musicians, artists and others who share a set of common interests in alternative and counter-cultural movements.
The annual event now known as Burning Man originally began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burned a 9-foot (2.7 m) wooden effigies of a man and a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described his inspiration for burning these effigies as a spontaneous act of “radical self-expression”. The name of the event itself is derived from this bonfire ritual and the tradition continues to this day, with the burning of a large wooden effigy serving as the closing ceremony to mark the end of the week-long event.
Black Rock City, often abbreviated to BRC, is the name of the temporary city created by Burning Man participants. Much of the layout and general city infrastructure is constructed by Department of Public Works (DPW) volunteers who often reside in Black Rock City for several weeks before and after the event. The remainder of the city including theme camps, villages, art installations and individual camping are all created by participants. It takes the shape of a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) wide semicircle.
Unlike most other outdoor music and arts festivals, Burning Man is distinguished by its decisive lack of centralized leadership and organizational body; instead, its participants, who often refer to themselves as “Burners,” are encouraged to form their organic communities through free expression and exchange of ideas bound by a loose theme set for each year.
At the event, an exhibition area known as the Artery is set up to showcase Burners’ art works, such as large-scale sculptural installations, art cars, and, more recently, films.
The ritual burning has remained the central feature of the event, although it now takes place on the Saturday night, towards the end of the festival. Since 1989, the height of the effigy has remained at about 40 feet (12 m), and resides in the center of Black Rock City.
The event has a list of ten principles by which it encourages the Burners to behave and participate, including “radical inclusion,” “decommodification,” “radical self-reliance,” “radical self-expression,” “communal effort,” “civic responsibility,” “leaving no trace,” “participation” and “immediacy.”
Several inside jokes have emerged in the Burning Man community over the years. Fabricated rumors about the electronic duo Daft Punk appearing at the “trash fence,” a fence erected to keep attendees from leaving the Burning Man grounds, are often used to haze new burners. According to several Redditors, the rumors began in 2009 when a word began spreading throughout the festival that the musicians would be playing a small theme camp.
“Shirtcockers,” or men that wear T-shirts without pants or underwear at the festival, are often mocked within the community.
In April 2007, a Burning Man Twitter feed was launched. On June 21st, 2008, the /r/burningman subreddit was created for discussions about the event. On April 28th, 2009, a Facebook page titled “Burning Man” was launched, gaining upwards of 680,000 likes in the next six years. In February 2012, the single topic blog Burners.me was created for Burning Man-related news.
Grover Norquist Tweet
On July 28th, 2014, founder of the conservative organization American for Tax Reform Grover Norquist published a tweet claiming he would be attending Burner Man that year. The tweet was widely circulated online, with many critics joking that Norquist’s attendance marked the death of the festival.
On January 6th, 2012, YouTuber Tedshots uploaded a video in which various Burning Man attendees recite portions of the book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (shown below, left). On September 13th,, YouTuber hulafantastica uplodaed a montage of footage recorded by a GoPro camera attached to a hula hoop (shown below, right). In the first three years, the videos gained over 2.9 million and 5.1 million views respectively.
On September 8th, 2013, YouTuber Eddie Codel posted video footage of that year’s Burning Man festival recorded with a GoPro camera mounted on a drone (shown below, left). On August 21st, 2014, Vimeo user roy two thousand uploaded a timelapse video of the previous year’s festival (shown below, right).
For the 2014 festival, Burning Man set up an official live webcast of the event, featuring streaming video footage from a rotating video camera (shown below).
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
Burning Man has been criticized by environmentalists for its carbon footprint, including transporation to the desert, plastic waste produced and displays of flames and explosions at the event. On August 20th, 2014, The New York Times published an article by staff writer Nick Bilton, who reported on the increased participation of members of the wealthy tech elite and those who criticized their lavish desert accommodations for “ruining” the event. The article described wealthy attendees who spent upwards of $25,000 for the week to have air conditioned structures built for them to sleep in, luxury restrooms and personal chefs.