After downpours and mud floods led to a fair amount of abandoned matter on the playa after Burning Man 2023, the clean-up effort just barely managed to pass its federal inspection, and the event has the go-ahead to return to the Black Rock Desert next year.
One staple of all the year-end news story roundups being pumped out this week is this year’s infamous mud quagmire at Burning Man. An unexpected visit from Tropical Storm Hilary shut down the gates and kept attendees stuck there well beyond the Saturday night “Burn” that was moved out to Monday. On a slow-news period Labor Day weekend, the notion of 80,000 tripping revelers being stuck in shelter-in-place, unable to leave and getting something much different than what they bargained for, captured the national media’s attention.
Even when people were eventually able to leave several days behind schedule, there was an ungodly amount of abandoned shoes, bikes, and and even vehicles left behind in the federally managed Black Rock Desert.
Which created quite the cleanup task for the Burning Man Project. But they apparently pulled it off, albeit just barely, as a new Associated Press report notes that Burning Man’s six-week cleanup passed federal muster in November “by the smallest of margins.”
That story picks up on previous AP reporting which noted that “The festival passed 109 of the 120 randomly generated inspection points, along with five of six ‘points of interest’ designated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to the report. Had they failed one more point, they would not have passed the inspection.”
So Burning Man can indeed return to the Black Rock Desert in 2024. But according to the AP, Burning Man’s restoration team manager wrote in a final report that "it was extraordinarily and alarmingly close," and that last year saw “one of the "messiest playas in recent history."
It’s a confluence of factors. You have the insane growth of the event, which drew 4,000 people in the mid-1990s and now brings in 80,000, plus the proliferation of millionaire-friendly ‘plug-and-play’ camps whose luxury-expecting residents were ill-equipped for the extreme conditions of 2023.
As veteran burner Jeffrey Longoria told the AP, "The people that created this community, a lot of them are getting older and retiring and there's a lot of new young people coming in, the kind that have, you know, a couple $100,000 RVs and are kind of just careless about the environment."
In a development that was symbolic of how Paris Hilton types are becoming sort of poster children for Burning Man, it was a one-day media sensation when celebrities Chris Rock and Diplo got their privileged asses out, hitching a ride in the back of a pickup, whilst others were stuck there rationing food and supplies.
The evolution (devolution?) of Burning Man parallels a similar arc for the drunken downward spiral of Santacon, which also started as a counterculture Cacophony Society offshoot event, only to be mainstreamed into what can feel like a rich-kid fraternity party.
Indeed, a recent report on our one-time sister site Gothamist points out that despite Santacon New York’s claim to be a charity fundraiser, “More than a third of the organization’s total giving during [2014-2022] went to groups or individuals who appear connected to Burning Man.”
Image: @DavidSLindsey via Twitter