What the Hell is Burning Man?

“If you have never been to Burning Man, your perception is likely this: a white hot desert filled with 70,000 stoned, half-naked hippies doing sun salutations while techno music thumps through the air.”

So, what the hell is Burning Man anyway?

The name is often tossed around and has recently become a hot commodity, especially in Silicon Valley and celebrity circles. But, does anyone know what Burning Man is? And why are Millennials drawn to this spectacle of a festival in the middle of the Nevada desert?

At first glance, Burning Man establishes itself as a hippie drug-fueled festival that is a mix of Coachella and a modern-day Woodstock.

It’s none of those things.

To understand Burning Man and its appeal to the Millennial generation, we have to first understand the history of the event.  

What happens when you take a mass consumption outlet and turn it into theater?

You get, Burning Man: A social-art experiment on a grand scale.

The first Burning Man was in 1986, when co-founder Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James, as a ritual burning for the summer solstice engulfed an artistic sculpture of a wooden man in flames on a San Francisco beach.

Today, the festival is in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada, a few hours outside of the Reno area, with an attendance of over 70,000 individuals. The event draws attendees from all different types of backgrounds and demographics.

Influenced by the Punks and Bohemians of the 70’s and 80’s, the founders of Burning Man were artists and anti-capitalist individuals who founded the event on the belief that you could take elements of mass culture, appropriate them, and create your own show by placing your own meaning to those merits.

The founders of Burning Man wanted to create their own utopia that was the epitome of anti-consumerism, where there is no materialistic value and everyone is equal.

Enter: Burning Man.

A Network of Dreamers and Doers

The principles of Burning Man reflect the natural life of artists: collaboration and sharing.

At Burning Man, thousands of people from all walks of life descend on an empty desert and construct a city that is Black Rock City, whose population before and after the event goes from 0 to 70,000.

Some of the appeal of Burning Man is the challenging conditions. In Black Rock City, you are in the middle of nowhere in the desert - a vast empty wasteland covered in alkaline dust from the ancient lake. Where there are rising temperatures into 100’s and plagued by winds and dust storms.

What makes Burning Man unique is the main rule: you can’t buy or sell anything. This may be hard to imagine since our modern world is a world that runs on commodity transactions.

But, by not having any items for sale, it opens up the gift of giving. As when you gift something, it creates this moral bond which is also a feeling of human connection. Once the gift is given, the energy of the giver enters you and that is where community begins.

It is a week of giving without expecting anything in return, thus creating a gifting society.

People give because they identify with Burning Man, with our city, with our civic life...the idea of giving something to the citizens of Black Rock City has enormous appeal to them because it enhances their sense of who they are, and magnifies their sense of being. That’s a spiritual reward."

The community is at the heart of Burning Man. It is a hyper-connective environment that is filled with creative abundance.

There are no brands, no labels, and no judgment - you are completely free to be yourself.

“What counts is the connection, not the commodity,” as said by Burning Man co-founder, Larry Harvey.

Millennials: The Burning Man Generation

Many Millennials are drawn to Burning Man because, for a week, you can make and live in your own world.

Millennials gravitate to Burning Man, for the same reason why I was excited to write this post, freedom of expression.

At the heart of Burning Man is the concept of radical self-expression. The event encourages self-expression and to project your inner version onto the world.

As Larry Harvey said, ““Communities are not produced by sentiment. They grow out of a shared Struggle.” Burning Man is about inclusivity, interaction, and connections to things that are larger than yourself. Millennials value a sense of community and camaraderie: We all have a want to be a part of something.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Burning Man has become a staple within the tech world. The same reason why millennials work for tech start-ups are the same reasons why they gravitate towards Burning Man. They are smart, active, free thinkers that thrive off of the challenge to create from a blank canvas.

Lastly, what has separated Millennials from previous generations is our attachment to experiences. Millennials love to spend money on experiences, and what better experience to show on social media and to tell the story and say, “I was a Burner.”