9/03/2014

Grover Norquist is better for Burning Man than Skrillex and Diplo


There has been plenty of coverage of Burning Man in the recent month or so, mostly about how millionaires are attending (that is nothing new), but also about other stuff. A story that made the rounds was that conservative political advocate Grover Norquist would be attending. Among some within the community this news wasn't met with great fanfare. Also attending this year was former US congressman, and former presidential candidate, Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

While they largely do vote burners tend towards not being overtly political. The 2008 "American Dream" theme brought a lot of complaints. Looking on the burning man website at the census data in the various afterburn reports one sees that by and large burners are much less politically split between Democrat and Republican than the average American, with only 52% saying that they are affiliated with the two major parties and 17% saying they've never been affiliated with any party.

With that said, it is interesting that we end up in a situation where all sorts of burners are pleased, or at the least, not overtly negative, in response to seeing the reactions of Norquist and Kucinich. They both had their first Burning Man experience. They both seemed to have had a great time, and both, by and large, seemed to 'get it.'


Now whether or not Grover or Dennis had a good time at Burning Man is not all that important, some 70,000 people attended Burning Man this year and many of them had a great time. What is more important is the audience and voice those people have.

Grover wrote a piece in The Guardian about his experience at the event. In a little over 800 words we hear him say a lot of the things the die hard burner types love to hear, he writes:
You hear that Burning Man is full of less-than-fully-clad folks and off-label pharmaceuticals. But that’s like saying ... that Chicago is Al Capone territory. Burning Man is cleaner and greener than a rally for solar power. It has more camaraderie and sense of community than a church social. And for a week in the desert, I witnessed more individual expression, alternative lifestyles and imaginative fashion than .... anywhere. ... I’m hoping to bring the kids next year.
He apparently loved it. The photographs which he posted, and the comments he wrote on his Twitter account show so. It seems that Dennis Kucinich also enjoyed himself, writing on his twitter feed that next year he wants to bring his wife:
They both attended the event to participate in camps that ran lectures with question and answer sessions.

What about Skrillex!  


Skrillex also attended this year. Even before his 2012/2013 Grammy wins Skrillex had been attending and performing at Burning Man. The DJ/EDM side of Burning Man has been a sort of divisive subject for a long time. Billed for ages as a "No Spectators" participatory event some argue that big stages with big named DJs don't jive with the ethos of the event. In the past there has been a Quiet Side, and a Loud Side of the city. In the mid-90s the 'Rave Camp' was 1 or 2 miles away from the main camp. Even the Burning Man of today uses zoning that puts the loud dance camps in one area and restricts how close to the camp area the loudest of the roving dance parties can be.

Skrillex came with Diplo, another popular figure in the music world. The two together have a combined army of 5 Million followers on Twitter, over fifty times that of Grover and Dennis. Stuff that they do reaches a wide audience. Thus, it should come as no surprise that an incident where Skrillex and Diplo were allegedly "Boo'd off the stage" during a performance at Burning Man was broadcast to dozens of websites and spoken of pretty much everywhere in the Burning Man community, much more so than old Grover and Dennis.


The story of Grover and Dennis was mostly one of people that really did seem to get it in some way. The comments about how enjoyable burning man is, and what it represents to them personally is what made the news.  

In contrast, the story of Skrillex and Diplo is one of an alleged incident that primarily focuses on spectators boo'ing a performance at the event. In the stories about it we see very little, if any, about what Burning Man is, or what it means to people. What we mostly see in the coverage is a back and forth as to whether or not the alleged incident even occurred. We see Diplo posting his side of the story, as well as apparently self congratulatory things twitter. All the while burners themselves are arguing amongst each other as to whether or not it occurred, or even, whether or not Skrillex himself just plain sucks. 

Meanwhile, many fans of these two EDM guys are probably hyped to go to Burning Man next year. That is totally fine. They have a huge audience and those folks are free to do as they please. 

Grover and Dennis have a much smaller audience. It is doubtful many will end up at Burning Man due to reading their experiences. But what they did in attending and telling of their experiences at the burn this year does far more for Burning Man than a hundred Skrillex controversies. If one were a fan of Diplo, or Skrillex what would they know of this event, from the person who they're a fan of, after reading about their experiences this year? That the person they like did, or did not get boo'd, that Diplo thinks that the whole situation is very "tabloidish" and "not what burning man is about" ...without explaining what he personally feels it is about? 

At least from Grover and Dennis one might have gained a bit of insight that the event does extend beyond the typical music festival scene, that it is a lot more than that, and always has been.

Towing the party line isn't a requirement when it comes to those who attend. But, when we have notable figures who attend this little gathering who then have the ear of the media, and in some cases millions of people, burners have to consider what they'd rather people be seeing. Is it better to see drama that sheds no light on what Burning Man is, is it better to see peoples bright eyed explanations of the great time they had while explaining what it meant to them? 

With an event that has reached its capacity and which some say has jumped the shark, what these people do and say is important. A balance must be kept between those who create and those who come to enjoy the creations. The organizers and community need to be careful in the stewardship of the, for lack of a better term, brand. According to BRC Weekly, the organizers of Burning Man are allegedly forbidding the publication of DJ lists before the event next year, perhaps in a move to keep that balance.  

In a time of transition folks may need to consider what is better for the Burning Man of 2015, or 2020. Whether or not the organizers who run the business are for or against what Grover experienced or what some DJ did isn't as important as what the community itself feels. The community is the one that has to deal with the changes that may come. At some point, perhaps right now, the community needs to ask itself if it is better off with more of the Grover Norquist type, or more of the Skrillex and Diplo type. Both are entitled to their view on what Burning Man is. But, while the future is unknown, it does seem like the vision of a Grover Norquist burner is a lot more sustainable than a swarm of millions of Skrillex fans walking from camp to camp looking for the next big act.