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Alternative Culture Articles

July 30, 2000

Back to Black Rock City
by Royce Carlson

Out in the desolate wilds of northwestern Nevada lies Black Rock City, one of the most unusual places on Earth. Even though it is considered to be the 4th or 5th largest city in Nevada, it exists for less than two weeks a year. At the center of Black Rock City stands a 40 foot tall wood and neon sculpture of a human figure built on a pyramid of straw bales. The "Man" is the revered focal point and at the end of the 9-day existence of the city, the Man is burned to the ground while all the citizens watch in awe and amazement.

For the rest of the year, the citizens of Black Rock City live in other towns and cities across America and even other countries. Many have jobs and families and look like the rest of American citizens. But all that time they are waiting and preparing to return to Nevada for the week-and-a-half of radical self-expression and experimental community that is Burning Man.

It is almost time for Black Rock City to rise again from the stark, lunar-like ancient playa in the Black Rock Desert. Advance crews are already on their way to lay out the city and build the infrastructure that will create a home for over 20,000 citizen-participants. In less than four weeks caravans of cars, trucks, buses and some very strange looking vehicles will leave their various and more permanent locations on a pilgrimage toward the Man.

The Burning Man is such a powerful experience that it is difficult to describe to people who have not also had the experience. It is all about art, music, freedom, community and, above all, free self-expression in a friendly and accepting atmosphere. There are four very important principles that lie at the heart of the experience:

    1. Radical Self Expression
    2. Participants Only
    3. No Vending
    4. Leave No Trace

Radical self expression is one of the primary purposes of the event. The only condition is that your self expression does not infringe in a negative way on other participantsí good time.

Participation is the key to creating a community and therefore is a keystone of the functioning of the event. Those who come just to look are encouraged to get involved and to become a part of the experience. Even journalists are initiated into the experience at the Media Mecca tent.

Another less talked about but very important principle is the No Vending rule. Commercialism of any kind is discouraged. No advertising, no buying or selling, and only limited bartering is accepted at Black Rock City. What exists in its place is a temporary society based on gifting. You give freely and thereby receive in return.

Lastly, and very important, is the Leave No Trace principle. People bring all kinds of equipment and materials to Burning Man including food, vehicles, tents, huge artworks and more. All of it has to be removed at the end of the event. Not a speck can remain.

The combination of these principles plus the Man as ritual center creates a powerful sense of community that has literally transformed peopleís lives. For some, the rest of the year is a dull black-and-white existence whose only purpose is to provide the money and time to prepare for their week of living in color, excitement and acceptance at Black Rock City.

Itís not too late to get tickets to this fantastic, temporary city in the desert. For more information go to the Burning Man web site. The Zenzibar crew is going again this year and our office will be closed for the duration of the event. I, like so many others, canít wait to go home to Black Rock City, one of the greatest alternative culture events ever created.

See you at the Man!

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Royce Carlson