🎭 Burning Man, Debunked
What is Burning Man really about? Isn’t it that big desert party for the tech elite? No! Hear the real scoop from a couple of Cloudflare burners; Nicole Ellis and Andrew Fitch, where they will share their experience as camp organizers and answer all your burning (get it??) questions.
Hello everybody. We are here and excited to introduce you to our segment Burning Man Debunked.
We want to tell you all about what that desert thing really is. I'm Andrew Fitch.
I'm reporting to you from Black Rock City here right now in the desert of Nevada and I'm Nicole Ellis.
Sorry for the interruption. I'm also reporting from Black Rock City in the desert and I'm being followed by a shadow, but don't worry about it.
Anything can happen on Playa. I think we want to start off with talking about what Burning Man is to us and if you don't mind I'll get started.
I see Burning Man, Burning Man is anything to anybody. It really can be. I see it as a community-driven social experiment.
It's a place for people to express themselves, live and thrive and building a city from nothing and then tearing it down and getting nothing in return.
It's a mental exercise and letting go of restrictions that we put on ourselves and each other.
Wow Nicole, that was perfectly put.
That's basically my take as well. I was also going to comment on it's a group of people getting together and from scratch, from nothing, build an entire city and society and constructs around that society and safety mechanisms and everything that one needs to survive and to thrive out in the desert, a very inhospitable environment.
So I think it's a really cool thing and really demonstrates what humans are capable of if they come together to build something beautiful.
Back to you Nicole. Thank you. So I know we just talked about how amazing and incredible we think it is, but it wasn't always like that.
In the very, very beginning, I think both of us really, really hated Burning, well hate's a strong word.
We both really super dislike Burning Man. So let's talk a little bit about why we first thought Burning Man was not for us.
I was scared of it. There were so many stereotypes.
You know, something about being in the desert, you could die. There's like, you know, you're far away from civilization.
People just like, there's like all kinds of stereotypes about partying and like just, it just didn't seem fun.
What about you, Andrew? Yeah, I thought it sounded like a really dumb thing as well for a whole bunch of reasons.
But yeah, the whole like, oh, it's a bunch of people just doing drugs out in the desert.
That sounds like not that interesting.
And also kind of ridiculous. What really pissed me off about it is that my ex at the time was like a founder of Burning Man camp, a group of people who go together to build things together and get in, you know, build community around it.
So I was on this board of this nonprofit in San Francisco that raised money for HIV and AIDS services in the Bay Area, which I thought was pretty important.
I was running a fundraiser the same weekend that he was running a Burning Man camp fundraiser.
And so he couldn't come to my fundraiser.
And I was like, wait a second, what are you kidding me? You're, you're fundraising to just go and party out in the desert.
That is a bunch of nonsense. So that's kind of why I thought it was stupid at first, too.
So there's a huge, huge culture behind Burning Man.
And this culture actually has rules. Well, not really rules more like guidelines.
I'm turning off my background so I can show some props here.
So we want to talk about what some of the whole tenants or the principles of Burning Man are.
These are things that you hold dear to your heart. And you try to follow not only like while you're out in the desert, but also like in your everyday life.
So prop time, are we ready to talk about these principles? Absolutely.
Yeah, there are 10 principles, but now there's 11. And we'll talk about the 11th one last.
So first principle is radical inclusion. That means Burning Man is for all ages.
It's for everyone. And everyone should always feel invited. And you should always make sure to invite people to like come and enjoy life with you.
Second is gifting. Yay. So yeah, gifting is all about not contemplating a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
A lot of people think that there's a barter system out there.
That's the whole economy, but it's not it's a gifting economy.
Everybody just brings a lot of things to give, including time, resources, buildings, or art cars that are constructed, art, whatever.
It's all about throwing yourself in as much as you can and giving as much as you can.
Good one. Next one is wait, what am I doing?
Here we go. De commodification. Sorry, that's a long word here.
It doesn't have to be a long explanation for this one, though. So don't be scared of this one.
Basically, Burning Man, it's a social environment. It's unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, and advertising.
So there should be no expectation of advertising your company. There's no pressure.
It's all about just being free from the woes of every single day that we run into.
Next. The next is radical self-reliance. So yeah, Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on your inner resources.
And basically what this means, too, is don't show up without any water. Make sure you have everything and make sure you're prepared so that gifts from other people don't turn into necessities.
You shouldn't be relying on other people's gifts.
Awesome. Next we have radical self -expression. This one's pretty fun, but also there's a lot of being mindful of this one, too.
You should firstly always respect the rights and liberties of others first.
Then you should be able to feel to express yourself in any unique way you can choose.
Some examples are some people love heckling.
And heckling does not have to be mean-spirited. There's such a thing as fun heckling.
You know, you can go and shout from, like, towers and, like, you know, compliment people very aggressively or, like, or if you want, you know, run around screaming or practicing your, like, vocal exercises.
You should just feel comfortable being you and have fun with it.
It's like a giant playground. Yeah, Nicole, I know from experience, loves heckling, by the way, and it's a lot.
I'm very, very nice at work, but I like to use Burning Man as my time to, like, you know, be a little evil.
Okay, the next one is communal effort. So we strive to produce, promote, and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We talked all about it's a community of people building a city together, building a whole society together.
That's what this one is all about. Nice, thank you. Next is, I'm doing pretty good at these.
Oh, yeah, you are. Next is civic responsibility. So we value a civil society.
We must conduct ourselves in accordance with local, state, and federal laws.
Community members who organize events or build structures should always assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants.
Oh, perfect example. So when a structure like that is built, you have to take safety into mind.
I know there's this famous saying, if you've heard from your Burner friends, safety third.
That actually, it does not mean throw safety out the window.
It means prioritize the safety of your guests.
And before anything else, that's the third person. And so you see like the little handrails and like the, there's like steps, they make sure to clear it out before they burn it, you know, things like that.
Next is, wait. Oh, yeah, there it is.
Leave no trace or leaving no trace. So yeah, this Burning Man community respects the environment, and we must always leave the place in a better state than when we found them.
So the desert turned, you know, Nicole was not joking when she said takes down the city in its entirety.
At the end of this, there's nothing left there.
In fact, a lot of us spend time raking the ground to make sure there aren't even little fragments from, you know, our clothing or something left behind.
Everything is removed. No glitter, no glitter allowed. No feathers. Next is participation.
So speaking of cleaning up the city, is that something that we all do?
You know, there's no, there's no trash cans. You know, you take everything with you.
So there's all kinds of tips. Like if you smoke, you know, take like a little tin with you to put like your cigarette butts in.
Altoids, for example, Tim. Oh, yeah, Altoids.
Or the off brand. Excuse me. That's cool. So everyone's invited to work.
Everyone's invited to play. You make the world. So Burning Man isn't really put on by some organization.
Organization is actually made up of volunteers and like people like us to help put it together.
There's all kinds of little ways to participate.
And it's a lot of fun actually helping others out because you find you get to make a lot of great connections with people.
Next, speaking of making great connections.
Is immediacy. So we seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society and connect with a natural world.
Yeah, excellent. And lastly, so this is the new principle.
It's not officially on the Burning Man website yet, but it is a principle we wanted to touch on in our segment here today because it's huge with everything going on in the world.
This is something that we like to repeat to everyone out there.
And that is consent. So going back to every principle we just talked about, always make sure that you have consent, you know, consent to heckle people, consent to give a hug, consent to help someone.
Some people are really all about that radical self -reliance.
And that's part of their like freedom at Burning Man is they want to be self-sufficient.
And so before you like run over and to start being overly eager to help someone, get that consent first.
That's a huge one.
Oh, thanks, Nicole. No worries. I think the next thing we want to talk about here is inclusion.
So going back to our stereotypes about Burning Man, it's, let me tell you, it is not a drug -fueled Satan-worshipping orgy cult.
It's literally for everyone.
Oh yeah, there's a little teddy bear. Oh, and you're not seeing it, but there's a child up top of that.
Oh, yeah, it's for everyone. Let's talk about a couple examples.
Andrew, do you want to start with a couple of like your favorites?
Yeah, sure. Actually, my favorite example is this. I was part of a camp, my first camp, and we were roughly 150, maybe even 200 people, so pretty big.
And our big thing was having this enormous cuddle puddle full of these enormous bears and pillows and everything.
And so this was a place where people could gather, just lounge around, hang around with their friends, hug their friends, whatever, and listen to music too, because there was a performance stage in there.
We threw a big pillow fight event for like the kids.
We weren't super far from the, like the kids' camps and everything.
So kids came and like had an amazing pillow fight and stacked up all the bears and were jumping off of them and everything, just having the time of their lives.
And so yeah, that's my, that's my favorite moment of kind of inclusion and also reminder that it's not just like us, you know, 20, 30, 40-somethings out in the desert.
It's a broad variety of people who go out there. That's amazing.
Yeah, some of the things I like, I put up a picture of this section. This is not a picture of San Francisco.
You might think it is, but it's not. This is out in the desert.
There is a stereotype that the, you know, the only people that go to Burning Man are like just people that want to party, like in their 20s from like the Bay Area.
It's really not. Like there's something for everyone.
You have artists from all over the world. A good example is my camp will actually host people from the Czech Republic, you know, every couple years.
We have people that do fundraisers to come out there.
You have people coming from like the Midwest, things like that.
There's also too, going back to it's not drug fueled.
If you are sober, you should feel totally comfortable coming to Burning Man because I never, like I've gone there, what, like five years and I've never personally seen like drugs, drugs, drugs, you know, and like drinking, drinking, drinking in your face.
Like it's, it's so, it's such a good environment for people just to kind of take it at their own pace.
But absolutely. And express themselves in their own ways.
Yeah, exactly. Burning Man is still not a hundred percent inclusive. It's something that it's, everybody is working on to improve every single year.
It's actually pretty exclusive.
You know, going back to what I said with the whole, like, like tech industry coming to Burning Man, you do see a lot of that out there.
And there are some features that make it kind of exclusive.
Andrew, I know you have some examples too.
Yeah, for sure. It is like, it's this big unknown thing. And that's actually a big part of the reason that Nicole and I wanted to talk about Burning Man here is to bring it down and like, or break it down, excuse me, and explain it so that it is a little less intimidating.
See, a lot of people, I think, I perceive, because I used to think of it this way, is this like rich white person celebration out in the desert, which is already an inhospitable environment.
So like, how prickly is that, right? If you really think about it, I think also too, like there are serious costs to going, you know, like financial costs.
I mean, now you can definitely do it cheaply. And we'll talk a little bit about that in a moment, but I have traditionally, you know, spent a couple thousand dollars each time I've gone, to be honest with you, there are definitely cheaper ways of doing it, however, but that's like, that's a big thing.
You don't have to do that, but a lot of people do.
So that I think at its nature is exclusionary.
And then also the ticket, the whole like way of getting tickets is, I think, meant to be difficult.
I mean, like there's this whole ticket sale thing, there's a follow-up sale thing, like only 10% of people get tickets at first, you have to kind of like know people, that also by its nature is exclusionary.
Because like, if you're not fresh to this thing, if you're not already a part of this kind of like club, then it's hard to get in there.
And so that's why we also wanted to talk about this.
Yeah, or have a really fast Internet connection and yeah, a ton of friends, 20 phones, three computers.
I promise I've not, I've not gone that far.
I've gone close to that far. Oh my gosh. You also see other things too, where like because of all these stereotypes and because of like a lot of Instagram influencers and things like that, a lot of, it's actually quite dangerous because you have a lot of people that are showing up that we call, are we ready?
There's a term called Sparkle Pony. Sparkle Pony. Here's my little Sparkle Pony.
He shoots sparkles, but not in the desert. This just does water. Yeah, Sparkle Ponies are a lot of people that have just gotten these, ooh, beautiful.
That is a Sparkle Whale.
So these are people who, and there's nothing wrong with being a Sparkle Pony. I think that they're awesome and fun, incredible.
They have a lot of misconceptions though, about the burn.
And so a lot of them will show up with nothing but costumes and that's it.
And so it's like, you know, you, that's the one thing though I love about the civic responsibility and gifting though, is like, it's such a great opportunity to teach them about, you know, being safe, you know, wearing your mask during like a dust storm, things like that.
Getting goggles, like the environment's pretty harsh.
And so I would not want to like let someone suffer out there.
So Sparkle Ponies are someone to embrace and love and teach about, you know, the culture.
Outfit change. Oh, outfit change. I love it. Sorry.
Speaking of costumes, folks, like, you know, it is fun to wear different costumes and just express yourself as much as you want.
For example, I love pearls. These are like, they're cultured pearls.
They're not super expensive, but they're real.
And they make me feel amazing when I wear them. And I love the way that they like flop around and everything.
They're kind of heavy. That's one of the ways that I express myself out there.
Like, you know, through costume. I love that. I'm totally one of those people.
Actually, I have a picture here. This is how I normally look on the playa.
I'm usually in work gear. Like I'm usually just ready to work.
That's how I usually look. I don't actually look like this most of the time. This will be what I'll wear like on a Friday night going out like, okay.
This is how I look like after going out on a Friday night and waking up, or not waking up, but staying up until dawn on Saturday morning.
Yikes. Watching the sunrise. I love it.
So we have our own ways that we want to burn. And we also have our own ways that we bring diversity to the playa as well.
So let's talk a little bit about how we bring diversity to the playa.
I'll let you start, Andrew. Okay, sure. Thanks, Nicole.
And yeah, sorry, I got carried away with all the photos and everything. No way.
This is a really fun way to do it. This is a party. This is a good time too. But anyway, so yeah, regarding inclusion, I've been attending the census meetings.
There's a census out there.
Also totally volunteer, by the way. Everything is totally volunteer.
That's like a gift that a certain camp brings. It's a gift of statisticians that organize this census.
So they help to collect data as people are coming into Burning Man.
Like how far did you travel? How much did you spend on this experience?
Other things too, but also like what's your background? What's your gender identity?
What's your racial or ethnic minority status? So I've been attending these and finding that it really is lacking.
I mean, there is definitely global representation.
There's representation from people around the country, but it's only, and also I think it's more, it's like 60% men, 40% women, roughly something like that.
It's like one to 2% Black people, people who identify as Black.
So that's not great. And so something that, just like at Klaveler actually, a lot of us do take it amongst ourselves to focus on diversifying the event and to break it down and offer it to more people who might not have access previously.
So with our camp, I started my own camp last year and I've been a part of several different camps, most of which have been almost exclusively queer in the past.
And queer tends to be like queer men. And then that's just not diverse. So I wanted to start my own camp and we created what was within a village of, it was like a queer village, but our camp had, we had more or less diversity targets, frankly.
So we just discussed, we all wanted to reach out to all the women that we knew to include them, to all the people of color that we knew to include them as well, people that we thought would be really good contributors and excellent and kind of like diversify our experience.
And we did, and it was a much more rewarding experience than that.
We also wanted to include people who identify as straight in our camp too.
We didn't want it to just be a queer experience out there.
So yeah, we definitely were, we were definitely like a different kind of camp within this village.
All the rest did not really look like us, but I, to be honest, I really think we had the best camp because of it.
We were much stronger and we had a much more diverse and rewarding experience for it.
I love that. I feel like our camp needs to work more towards like the kind of work that you all are doing.
We, the way we do diversity in our camp right now, like I've mentioned before, we have people from the Czech Republic who we've historically always hosted every couple of years.
They usually come like every other year, they'll reach out to us.
And the thing with my camp also is we don't really have criteria and we don't have any kind of rules for being part of my camp.
And so historically we've always hosted actually, this has kind of happened organically, which I'm so proud of and so happy of, but historically we've always had 50% of what's called virgins.
A virgin is a Burning Man virgin.
So someone who's never been to Burning Man before. I know there's all kinds of lingos in here.
We're gonna have to have like a little dictionary for you.
But yeah, so historically every year it's all 50% new people and it's so wonderful because you have half a camp full of, you know, veterans or like people who have been there for like maybe just a year.
And then 50% of people who it's their very first time, they've heard about us either just, you know, seeing pictures or like they've heard about us on like, you know, the Book of Faces or the Gram of Instas, places like that, or just through word of mouth or friends.
And so, you know, we never say no, like we're open to everybody. And so that's kind of a little bit different than a lot of the turnkey camps you see where you have to know somebody or you have to fill out this application and be invited.
We have an application, but all it asks is like, what do you like to do?
What can we, what do you like to help with?
And please come on and join us. So yeah, that's how we've kind of tried to do a little bit more diversity.
That's a really good approach, Nicole.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, for sure. I try, we try. And fun fact, you also don't have to be SUSE per season to run a camp.
I actually ended up taking on assisting, our camp is led by a bunch of different people and it changes every year.
My second year of Burning Man is when I got an opportunity to lead our camp.
So that was the thing. Oh my gosh, that's one way to get involved with these camps.
But let's talk about other ways to get involved. There's no pressure, like you don't have to join a camp, you don't have to go solo.
You can do some other things to get involved.
And Andrew, you want to start with how to involvement? Yeah, certainly.
So volunteering, like on a local, in a local area. So pretty much no matter where you're based around the world, there's going to be some glimmer of a Burning Man related community.
You know, not literally everywhere, but most places. So if you go to, oh my gosh, I forgot the name of the website.
I was going to pull it up.
Regionals.BurningMan.org, there it is. Yeah, you can find different Burning Man organizations near you.
And so that might mean like, you know, volunteering for the local events that happen there.
So you can get to know people as well, get to know people through that.
Anytime that I've done so, they've been very welcoming. Also too, like through art.
So maybe you're an artist, maybe you're not, maybe you're, maybe you want to like create something out there, you know, getting in touch with different arts groups.
I believe they're all listed on the Burning Man website as well.
It's a great way to do it because they would love probably the help in getting, you know, their piece of work set up, whether it be like this whale, which I imagine takes tons to get set up out there.
Like that's a lot of construction and a lot of tear down too.
So like there's a big crew that puts this thing up.
It's not just one artist that created it ahead of time. So that's another great way to get involved.
I love that. I'm actually, I'm looking at the regionals right now and like, oh my gosh, there's Burning Man, Argentina, Burning Man, South Africa, Burning Man, Japan, Burning Man, like India.
Like it's everywhere.
There's even actually in Michigan where I hail from, there is Burning Man Lakes of Fire.
So that's a lot of fun. And Massachusetts where I'm from, I'm based out of the Bay Area, but yeah, I found two different Burning Man organizations there.
One based out of the Boston area and one in Western Massachusetts, which is fairly rural.
So it's cool that they have one out there. Nice.
What are some other things to get involved? Yeah, you can talk about the, like the different kinds of income grants and stuff.
Yeah. Income grants. Oh, that's great.
So yeah, if you, you know, don't make a lot of money and you want to come to Burning Man, there is a way to apply for a like discounted ticket and it's very, very severely discounted and it's a great way to get more people to go out there.
I'm not super familiar with the application process myself, but I've, I have a couple of friends that do it cause they actually are students.
And they, they've had a really great experience being able to come every year.
They also volunteer though and volunteering will get you, if you volunteer for like so many hours, you actually get a free ticket for the next year.
Did you hear that? The word free, what?
Free Burning Man ticket. Volunteer, volunteer with the org and you don't have to volunteer, you know, on the desert.
You can volunteer like anywhere. There's like different rules though for each department.
It's actually like a big company.
So do we talk about where to learn more about Burning Man?
I guess we haven't entirely yet, other than we did present the regionals website, I guess.
Cloudflare Burners chat room.
So yeah, if you're, if you're at Cloudflare, we have a Cloudflare Burners chat room.
I encourage you to join it. Nicole and I have both done that several times over, invited people.
And like when we're just having conversations, they find themselves curious about Burning Man.
We say join the chat and ask us any questions that you have.
We'd love to help you out. Nicole and I also have a little bit of a rivalry because we're trying to recruit all the good people of Cloudflare to our camps over the other person's camp.
That's right. Join my camp. You can ask me about the camp on the side.
I did another picture here just for our, for the flames of our fight, you know, we actually, it looks like we got a question from one of our viewers.
Is it okay if I play this question?
Let's do it. Okay. This is my first time doing this. Let's try it out. Okay.
And then that's a beautiful photo, Nicole. Oh, thank you. Yeah. It's called, I think like the snake mother.
Nice. Yeah. I have a ton of, oh, sorry, Nicole. It's okay.
It's like a dragon thing. It's not playing. So I'm going to go ahead and just read the question out loud.
So this is a question from Eric. It's, it says, OMG, love that you got out your desert gear for the segment.
I'm a sober person. And I just want to thank you for mentioning that BM is super fun.
My experience was that folks really believe in radical inclusion.
They would offer a drink. And when I declined alcohol, they often went out of their way to find me a non-alcoholic beverage to make sure that I felt welcome.
So here's a question for us. What's your best, the playa will provide story.
You go first. Oh, gosh. Yeah. Okay. It's, it's with like, yeah, strange things happen out there.
Really strange things happen out there.
So when I, I think it was my second year. So I've been, I've been four times, I think a little bit less than Nicole.
I think it was my second year. I was out dancing like first night there at a big party going on out in the desert, like a bunch of art cars had gathered around and there was awesome music, a lot of lights, a lot of fire, as you're seeing our backgrounds.
And my, like a romantic connection of mine was there.
I couldn't believe it. Just like out of 70,000 or so people, that person was right there.
And I mean, it was just an insane moment. And so yeah, it was a welcome.
It was welcome at the time. It didn't work out in the long run, however, but that was my best, the playa will provide moment.
I think. I love that.
That is so beautiful. Let's see my favorite playa will provide story. Oh my gosh.
Like it's true. It's magical. Like if you're one of those people that believes in the universe and how it speaks to you, like, I think it speaks to me out there.
Anytime I've ever kind of had some kind of like struggle or, and you will struggle like the heat sometimes gets really intense.
Yeah. It's hard. Yeah. A lot of people are so cognizant out there and like, you could be like, you know, dealing with something personally, like in the heat, like you're just not feeling well in like random strangers will kind of like, they'll kind of recognize it and they'll, they'll come and check in on you and if you're okay.
Um, you know, I've had like, you know, people just bring me something that I didn't know I needed where I'm like, oh my gosh, thank you.
Like, um, like there's people that give out like cold, wet sarongs, like on the street corner, like, oh, cause like, oh my gosh, the temperatures get like, um, up to like what, like 105 out there.
Yeah. I've seen that.
Yeah. Um, the other thing too, and this is like my personal story, but every single year I obtain a new headlamp every year.
So I love picking up trash off the ground.
It's just like my little hobby. And so I'll be biking around and I'll be biking at full speed and I will like slam on my brakes, you know, my little bike tires in the dust, like come to a stop and I'll see trash and I'll pick it up.
And because I pay close attention to what's on the ground, not only do I find like lots of nice little trash treasures to throw away.
Um, but also like I've scored so many like fun items and headlamps every year, somebody loses their little flashlight headlamp and I have like four now.
And so if you see me out there in the desert and ask me for a headlamp, I probably will have one to give you.
Can I tell one more?
The play will provide story. We have time. We're at the, we're close to the end here, but let's do it.
It's about, it's about Nicole here, folks. So yeah.
So my, yeah, so I was, I bought this sailboat. This is why I ended up spending so much money on the playa every year.
Cause I bought this sailboat and I live on it during the playa, but it's also kind of like my art offering.
So like it has these, these light sales and everything at night.
And I don't know, people kind of get a kick out of it.
And I had these little parties down around the base of it and on top of it and stuff.
So I was organizing this happy hour and I was just super late in constructing my sales.
Like I had stayed up late the night before.
Nicole Ellis shows up like an hour early for the event or something like that.
And and also Nicole's partner. And they just started helping me create the other sale.
Like I hadn't finished one of these sales and they helped me make it. And the playa provided, like everything came together and I did not think it was going to.
I'm all about it. It's like, that's part of the Burning Man culture. So we're about at the end here.
So if you want to learn more about Burning Man, hit us up, check out the Burning Man website.
And hopefully we'll see you out there in the dust, everybody.