“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” – Rumi
Burning Man may seem like all rainbows, hugs, and candy-canes….but it’s much more textured and deep than that. To really be a place where radical self expression reigns supreme, the culture must embrace the full spectrum of expression.
My good friend Little Spoon (Micah Daigle), tells a story about sitting at Center Camp at the Burn with 20-30 people watching a woman with a guitar singing a very touching, vulnerable song. As the audience sips their bought coffee; on the edge of their seats and touched by her vulnerability, a guy on stilts with megaphone walks in and starts berating the audience.
“Look at you saps, sitting there, spectating! Get off your asses and go experience the burn! You look like you are at a shopping mall sipping your lattes. Bullshit! And you, poor girl doing your cute thing with the guitar. So your heart was broken and you wrote a song a bout it. Big fucking deal!”
Then he disappears and the audience is left totally shell-shocked as the woman walks off stage. At first, Micah felt really uncomfortable and tense. He felt sorry for her and wished he could do something about the injustice.
But then, the MC returns and says, “How about a hand for that guy! That was awesome! Where did he go? Get him back here.” He comes back and the host puts him on stage to berate the audience for another 20 minutes.
As Micah describes it, “It was in that moment that I truly got Burning Man. I realized that if that guy was free to express himself as a dick, then I was free to express myself however I want. There aren’t any ‘polite police’ going to enforce their rules on me. And as bad as I still felt for the performer, I realized that her and my embarrassment was a small toll to pay for us all to be here in one of the freest places on Earth. The secret to the desert’s beauty is often found in her harshness.”
All good art makes you uncomfortable in certain moments. It rides the edge of OK. Well, then is this social art?
We could all use a week without our mental filters that keep us from saying inappropriate things. Face your fear of hurting people’s feelings with your words.
Of course, touching someone without permission, stealing and vandalism clearly crosses the line. Also, continuing to bother someone after they have asked you not to or for an extended period of time I also think clearly crosses the line.
There is an immense sense of freedom that overcomes you when you are no longer held hostage by your fear that people will be offended by who you really are in a given moment. The playa is big and it can handle whatever you’ve got inside….good or bad. Let it out. Rock the boat. Let out the primal scream.
And let others have their primal scream, too. Don’t take yourself too seriously if someone hurts your feelings. It’s all grist for the mill. Everybody is expressing their inner demons and inner gods.
This way, when someone comes with smiles, candies and rainbows…it’s more likely to be genuine. You can’t fully appreciate and honor the light, if you don’t offer the same gift to the dark.
UPDATE 7/18/12: What I’m gleaning from the numerous negative responses to this post is that some people are really upset that I would validate such outrageous behavior by sharing the story of the mega-phone guy as an example of radical self-expression. In varying ways, I hear them saying “No! That kind of behavior is not OK at Burning Man.” Some of the comments don’t seem relevant…like making the 10 seconds that the guy yelled things in the bullhorn equivalent to vandalism or physical assault. Or suggesting that his 10 seconds on the megaphone justify them physically assaulting him for being mean. Hyperbole and irrationality aside, I can read between the lines to see that this is some people’s way of responding to a very real sense of injustice.
I can now see, that by choosing such an extreme example, it took reader’s focus off the larger point I was making about radical honesty, primal screams, and honoring the shadow, and instead people tended to focus on the far less interesting debate (IMHO) about whether the particular example I chose crosses the line or not. I’ve toned down the example a bit to make it less extreme while still being near the edge.
Also there is a difference between not liking something and disallowing it. I don’t like the KKK and I would not want them hosting a demonstration in my city, but I would allow it because I believe in free expression. I would allow it because someday I might have a viewpoint that others don’t like and I’d want to be able to express that. The same idea is at play with the mega-phone guy. Yes, he is being a jerk. That’s exactly the kind of expression we most need to protect because it is exactly the expression that is most at risk.
Some people have said the mega-phone guy should not be allowed because he is keeping someone else from expressing themselves; in this case, the woman playing the guitar on stage. But we are talking about less then 10 seconds of interruption in a crowded Center Camp where there are lots of other competing noise and activities going on. I think that’s a small price to pay to live in a setting for a week where the full range of expression reigns supreme.