11/10/2013

Where is Burning Man on the Internet?

reno newspaper with burning man headline


When one looks around the internet for content about the annual Burning Man event it can be found, but perhaps not in the way some might expect. The art and music event which is held in the desert in northern Nevada features amazing creativity that results in roughly 2000 large scale projects showing up each year, in the form of sculptures, art vehicles, and camps. Along with an even larger collection of small scale projects, such as costumes and small works of art the sheer number of things that go on each year before the event is huge. Outside of the creative physical works also exists an event with a very motivated cultural and, perhaps, quasi-political movement behind it which has expressed itself through words, debate, and discussion for over a decade. But, oddly enough, when one searches through the internet looking for independent islands online where the multifaceted community calls home they are few and far between.


For the most part it looks like the home of Burning Man on the internet is on the websites of for-profit news organizations. The websites of SFgate, SFBayGuardian, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Salon, and a few others represent much of the content that the average person is likely to see. While these organizations do provide a valued perspective, the fact that they aren't dedicating themselves wholly to covering all things Burning Man might leave something to be desired.

Along with the for-profit news organizations that cover Burning Man and its culture as part of their unrelated workload is the stuff that comes from the official channels of event operator Black Rock City LLC. The event organizers, along with being active on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, operate the Burning Blog, the frequently updated Jack Rabbit Speaks email newsletter and an interactive community forum site  known as the ePlaya. While these places also provide a valued perspective they tend towards a sanitized view of this event and its culture which has, over the years, had many disagreements about LLC policy and positions on a plethora of issues.

When one looks out on the internet one finds a paltry list of independent Burning Man specific content. As of right now the list of active content producers, which aren't portrayed as personal blogs, which are focused solely on the event and its culture could be counted on less than 10 fingers. For a community with such a vibrant show of creativity and opinion when event-time comes around the fact that there aren't many homes on the internet for it that exist outside of the influence of the Black Rock City LLC and the for-profit concerns of a newspaper or news aggregation website is confounding. 

This vibrant community of artists in nearly every field, of engineers, musicians, singers, craftspeople, doers, thinkers, opinionators and trouble-makers is mainly represented on the internet by someone who writes about Burning Man between stories about Ribbon Cuttings and the latest Internet Celeb story. This vibrant community is largely represented online by the for-profit LLC which operates the event itself and which has an interest in presenting it in a very rosy and salable way.

So, where is Burning Man on the internet? It looks like it is in the hands of those who really have different interests at heart than the average burner. It is in the hands of for-profit interests, whether it be newspapers or the LLC itself. Neither of these interests spend much effort portraying the day to day of one deep in burning man culture. In largely ignoring that perspective they ignore the daily struggles of making and the opinions of the creatives, the doers and thinkers who make this event, and this culture, as great as it has become. The sensationalist view of the newspapers which write to get hits and sell papers and the sanitized LLC friendly view of the event organizers who wish to make it all seem slick and without controversy do not really help others in the community figure out how to do, and make, and navigate the sometimes deep burner culture.

Again, where is Burning Man on the internet? Does this vibrant community really see it fit to let others tell its tale? It may not be a concern to some right now, but soon, or in the future, the fact that the culture of Burning Man doesn't have a series of vibrant independent voices speaking on its own behalf might come back to haunt it. Sooner or later the fact that burners don't have a home of their own on the internet may lead them to rely on others to tell their story, and, for a community that largely embraces Radical Self-Reliance they may have no one to blame but themselves if that doesn't turn out in their favor.