Today, Burning Man 2013 starts. I wish I was there. Instead, I'm in Guinea, where the local population would be amazed by what happens in Burning Man.
In fact, anyone who has not been to Burning Man would be amazed by what happens there.
Here's what happened in 2012, when I went to my first Burning Man and lost my Burning Man virginity....
This was the Man in 2012. Every year his shape changes slightly, but his overall look and feel remain like the one you see here. The Man is always made of wood, which makes him easy to burn.
The Temple Juno in 2012. Like the Man, the Temple Juno changes slightly every year.
At night, the Temple Juno looks holy.
The Temple Juno looks great at sunset too.
People place notes, photos, and other artifacts in the Temple Juno. They're always things that they want to let go of or get over. Perhaps it's a photo of a relative who died, or a letter from an ex-husband, or a layoff notice. On the last day, the Temple is set on fire and so all those things that were placed in the Temple go down with it.
If I were to describe Burning Man in one word, it would be . . . surreal.
This magnificent wooden sculpture was, appropriately, burned to the ground. There's nothing like seeing your ego go down in flames.
Surreal sculptures litter the Playa and many of them are interactive. See below how this work of art looks at night....
Lasers and lights transform the night into another world.
One can explore a "sunked ship" in the middle of what seems like the sea, but is, of course, the desert, far from any body of water.
There is a post-apocolyptic-Mad-Max feel about Burning Man.
Surreal cars, called Mutant Vehicles, roam the playa.
The Mutant Vehicles, the works of art, and the desert setting is utterly surreal and fantastic. However, what really makes Burning Man special are the people -- the Burners themselves. For one week, there's a culture of giving. Not bartering or exchanging. Just flat-out giving without expectations. Altruism.
Aside from the occasional sand storms, Burning Man is a utopia. However, like all utopias, it's unrealistic and unsustainable. Some dreamers think a Giving Economy is possible and that Burning Man is proof of that, but the reality is that people work all year to spend money in Burning Man. Perhaps 20% of the attendees deliver 80% of the goods/entertainment in Burning Man. They can afford to give, but only for a limited time. Their generosity ultimately would get exhausted.
Still, it's nice to live in a Dream World for a week. It's lovely to give and not expect anything in return. It's amazing to have a random stranger give you an apple coated with honey for not other reason than that you are a human being.
You meet many crazy and fascinating people at Burning Man.
I had an unusual thing happen to me.
When I was writing an article for the Harvard Business School Bulletin, I told the editor I would be late because I'm going to Burning Man.
He said, "Look for this alum, Arthur Z." He included a pic.
I thought, "Yeah, right. I'm going to find this guy in a crowd of 60,000."
Then a guy who looked just like him pulled up next to me in a small Mutant Vehicle.
I said to him, "Excuse me, but did you go to HBS?"
He said, "I've been to Burning Man for 10 years and that's the weirdest question anyone has ever asked me! But yes, I went there!"
He was the same guy! Crazy coincidence.
Another funny story that only business minded people will get
I saw a guy with a Berkshire Hathaway T-shirt and said, "You must be the only guy at Burning Man with such a shirt."
He replied, "And you're probably the only guy here who knows what Berkshire Hathaway is!"
Burning Man is a place where you can shed your identify for a week. Wear clothes you would never wear, behave in ways you would never behave, and open your mind up to the universe of possibilities. For a few, it might turn into a permanent transformation. Indeed, Burning Man is a catalyst for change from within and without. Of course, many (if not most) return as more or less the same person. However, almost everyone is changed in at least some subtle way. I certainly was (more about that later).
In 2012, they built buildings that resembled Wall Street, including one that had a sign "Bank of UnAmerica." It was during the heyday of Occupy Wall Street.
So one night, they burned down Wall Street.
The next to last night, they burned down the Man. The fire starts humbly, but then....
The incredible heat produced a vortex-like tornado that went through a crowd of people, who quickly dispersed in a panic.
The next article will have photos of the best Mutant Vehicles and my comments on how prevalent drugs are at Burning Man.
PHOTO CREDITS: I've credited Scott London for several of these photos (see his copyright watermark on the photos). Others are from Jim Urquhart for Reuters and The Atlantic.
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