Monthly Archives: September 2019

Whom do we burn in effigy?

The Man has been burned once more, and peace and quiet returned to the dry bed of Lake Lahontan. I think it’s time to think a little about who the Man is to begin with, and why we burn him. I came across a petition to save him, after all he was doing his job really well this year, they argued. Apparently they didn’t get enough signatures. In the classic graphic novel Drink Water of David Campbell Wilson, his wild firetribe sees the Man as “the Man”, as in “the One in Power”. An artist this year made a brain for him, inscribed with thoughts by burners: according to him, this gesture allowed the Man to become a participant instead of a spectator.

It’s quite obvious how different our attitudes and interpretations are around this yearly ritual. It’s an open source ritual, no EULA to sign, no creed to subscribe to, no god to appease, you just come and burn the Man and think of it what you want, and that’s it! It’s beautiful! However, I do think it can be interesting to share our own interpretations with each other.

The ritual of burning a puppet is probably older than written history. Some of our written history remembers rituals of human sacrifice that were later supplanted by a less violent version. So is the Man a sacrificial offering, or is he the embodiment of something we wish to exorcize, such as the spirit of winter, or the spirit of Guy Fawkes (though I wonder why the brits are so hung up on him, lol, they’d need more of his kind)? It can certainly be seen that way. We burn “the Man” together, spitting at all the posturing, gloating rulers, corporate campuses and houses of Parliament of the world, in a sort of inverse Fifth of November celebration, burning not the rebel but the ruler, not the treason but the establishment.

Then again, for me, that approach feels somewhat unsatisfying. We live together with the Man for a week, some for longer. He is the center of our city, of our tiny alternative universe, watching and carrying all our hopes, dreams, ideas, artistic and crazy exploits. So to me, the Man is not a stand-in for Trump or Putin or Musk or Zuckerberg, he’s a stand-in for ourselves. Each year he bursts into glorious flames, and arises again a year after. He’s a phoenix. In burning him, we burn ourselves, our old habits, our fears, all the things we no longer need or the things that hold us back. We burn ourselves in the desert sun, in the alkaline dust, in the over the top self-expression, the hectic connections, the crazy preparation and hard work, the rangering, the building our our theme camps and art installations, the long walks through deep playa at four in the morning, and finally, we burn ourselves in effigy, bursting into the flame of life and renewal, only to rise stronger and higher.

That, for me, is being a burner.

Many happy burns!

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