FUCK YOUR BURN
An interview with the climate protestors behind the Burning Man blockade
Greetings, default world!
I have finally recovered from the muddy shitstorm that was Burning Man 2023. It has been a sanity-testing, stomach-churning few weeks, which began when I hopped in a car with a group of climate activists who blocked the road into Burning Man to protest the festival’s environmentally unfriendly practices—and ended with me hitchhiking out of the festival after five days stranded in the sludge. Tbh, the muddy climate conditions were a walk in the park compared to the true horror of the experience: being forced to party with some of the most annoyingly cringe people in the world.
No shade to the Burners out there—some of my closest friends have found their ways into underground nightlife and psychedelics through Burning Man, and I know the OG anarchic Burner spirit is still flickering somewhere out there. (I am also truly thankful to the Rave New World subscriber who gifted me a ticket because he wanted me to experience this… thanks Jeffrey!)
I couldn’t have afforded to attend this luxury cosplay in post-apocalyptic survival if I hadn’t gotten a work assignment and a gifted ticket, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people I fucked with the hardest were the working-class freaks who saved up all year to attend, the handful of POCs, and the queer anarchist punks working temp jobs for the festival behind the scenes.
I am sad that Burning Man mostly felt like a diluted cultural backwash of bad aesthetics, lowbrow frat humor, and amateur party culture to me, because I wanted so badly to find out what was still redeeming about it — to go against the grain of what has made this festival such an easy target for hatred. But witnessing Burner culture through the microscope just gave me a better understanding of why the unfortunate zeitgeist of tech-house, polyamory, the sartorial collision of spandex and fur, and luxury ayahuasca retreats are trending.
I found it extremely difficult to connect with the Burner culture on display in 2023—especially the freakwashing of Silicon Valley technocrats, who think parading around in tutus as straight cis men makes them more interesting than they really are… I just can’t!!!
Soon, I will share some deeper reflections on Burning Man. But for now, I wanted to point your way to my reporting in the Guardian, which broke the news about the aforementioned climate protest. I also tried to poke around the many angles around the festival’s climate concerns; it’s far more complicated than a bunch of rich people flying private jets, and speaks to the issues growing around clean energy use at-large.
I also recently jumped on my favorite podcast, New Models, to dissect the Burning Man blockade—including why I thought the protest was a failure in many ways on-the-ground, yet became a super successful hypermeme in the performative space of social media. We also discussed the spiritual martyrdom of climate protests, the insidiousness of cyberpunk dystopia fantasies, and Burning Man’s tech utopianism vs the protestors’ anti-capitalist austerity. Props to Lil Internet for remixing the audio interviews I did with Burners stuck in traffic into a really cool opening segment.
“But Michelle!!!” I hear you saying… “I already digested all of this content… can you give me. some fresh cuts??”
No worries my loves—I’ve got the REAL scoop below the paywall, where you’ll find an exclusive interview that I did with Tommy Diacono, a leader of the Burning Man climate protest and co-founder of Rave Revolution. (The organization’s other co-founder, Emily Collins, also chimed in.)
We spoke on the phone a few days before I flew to Reno to meet the activists, and our conversation reveals the frustrations and failures that led him to take such a dramatic action—as well as his hope that this would inspire other Burners to join in his climate crusade (an expectation that later proved to be pretty naive, given the extremely pissed off responses he received on-the-ground…)
Tommy also discussed his disappointing experiences attempting to organize climate protests with the Burning Man community in the past, why he doesn’t think art can inspire Burners to action, and how the “transformational” festival’s ethos is really just late-stage capitalism and individualism. It’s a spicy and, I think, essential read for anyone who wants to go beyond the flattened social media discourse, and understand the reasoning behind this flawed, yet extremely relevant, climate protest on a deeper level.
As always, thanks for reading and supporting Rave New World!
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