My post last Friday has sparked a reaction and much conversation. Let
me clarify a few points and give a bit more information. First, I
see no real changes to our event this year. Since 1998 I have
contacted all theme camps that addressed taboo subjects or encourage
nudity and have sent a letter individually to them reminding them
that their camp's subject matter placed them and the Burning Man
project under a higher level of scrutiny, demanded more
responsibility from all camp mates and presented some risk of
liability for them individually and the project. I informed them that
Nevada laws are relatively strict in regards to nudity. I encouraged
all camps to place anything sexually explicit out of plain view and
to place someone at the entrance to monitor who entered. On some
occasions I met with camps personally to discuss such topics. We have
had relatively few negative issues arise. I expect this to remain
the same this year.
Since last year we have received outside pressure to address issues
on pornography more comprehensively. Since my post last Friday an
Associated Press article came out stating what I had anticipated. A
local Sheriff was reported as saying "...the biggest issue his law
enforcement officers are forced to deal with is the sexually explicit
performances that take place at the event each year. He said that
these performances are a violation of the law." In meetings
beginning post event 2003 it was revealed that their major concerns
centered around minors viewing such acts. We have worked hard to
create a cooperative relationship with law enforcement. It has worked
to everyone's benefit. In a good faith effort the organizers agreed
to communicate this message our community. I am using the theme camp
announcement list to address the placed theme camps at the event. We
have brought this up at our Town Meetings, in our Black Top Gazette
and it will be addressed in our newsletter and survival guide. It has
been addressed at every staff meeting we have had this year and will
be addressed with our staff again before we hit the playa.
Until this recent news article came out I did not feel comfortable
sighting our outside pressures and chose to simply post an
abbreviated version of my private message more broadly to all theme
camps. Now that local law enforcement has made their concerns
public I feel free to as well. Law enforcement have been flexible
with issues of nudity at our event. I expect this will remain exactly
the same this year. However, we need to make sure that everyone is
aware that there can be consequences for pornographic activities
happening in public places and law enforcement may choose to exercise
enforcement as the law allows it.
When I spoke of Burning Man as a "family event" it was simply to say
that families come to our event. They always have. There are no
fundamental changes being made to Burning Man this year in regard to
who can come. We are radically inclusive and this is one of our
strengths. It is as fundamental as non-commercialism. There should
be no concerns over nudity at the event unless it is associated with
acts that most people find distasteful anyway, like public sex. Law
enforcement has no desire to make any big show. Instead, they have
expressed an interest in seeing us, the organizers, communicate their
concerns to you. Information is power. The choices are ultimately
yours. This has not changed either.
This sort of conversation with law enforcement happens every year.
They present their concerns and we work with them to find solutions.
We push back when we must and compromise when we can.
Welcome to my world.
These are Larry Harvey's feelings on this subject as he posted on our
Regional's list. Please read this through to the end or you will
miss the content.
Larry Harvey replies about kids at Burning Man:
I've been following the discussion regarding kids at Burning Man, and I have
a few thoughts. Let me begin by quoting the first three paragraphs of an
article that will appear in the upcoming issue of the Burning Man Journal:
"Kids have always been a part of Burning Man. When Jerry James and Larry
Harvey first burned a Man in 1986, they included their sons, Trey and Robin.
Trey was six. Robin was seven years old. On that afternoon the boys worked
alongside their fathers. With a little help and the aid of a glue gun, they
produced the Burning Dog: the Man's best friend. Since then, children have
always participated in our community. Burning Man has become a gigantic
playground for children as well as adults. Seen through a child's eyes,
Burning Man can be a wondrous experience. Playing alongside grownups and
freely expressing one's self in a world that's so receptive is not only
healthy -- it is healing. Viewed in contrast with a world where children
are routinely segregated from adults and parked in front of television sets,
Burning Man can be revelation.
However, it is equally true that children have needs that are different from
those of adults. They require special care and attention. In order to meet
these needs, the first and most important requirement is that parents
communicate with their children. Burning Man is like a kid's cartoon.
While its content is not nearly as violent as most children's entertainment,
it certainly is jam-packed with novel images and new experience. This is why
we ask all parents to consciously take the time to talk with their children
about each day's experience. Such daily debriefings can be very rewarding -
far easier, in fact, than trying to discuss the more hermetic worlds of
school or television. This is because Burning Man is an experience that
both parent and child can actively share and create.
Our most important advice to parents is this: The single factor that most
affects children at Burning Man is your willingness to communicate with your
children in a way that allows them to express their own interpretations of
experience. In the spirit of radical self-reliance, it is your duty at our
event to assume complete responsibility for your child at all times. At
Burning Man, however, this duty can become a real delight. This is your
chance to see your child's world as he or she perceives it. In other words,
what children witness is very often far less important than how they
actually experience what they encounter. If something that is unexpected
has disturbed your child - a "monster", anything that's incompletely
understood -- you should always take time to discuss this with them. Pay
close attention to how your child feels and imagines the world. Considering
the way we lead our normal lives, you might never have a better
The article goes on to explain our policy regarding sex acts and children at
the event. It includes the quite sensible request that adult oriented theme
camps take the trouble to monitor who enters spaces in which sex acts are
occurring. Does anyone really want to see little Johnny or Jill present at
the Beaver Eating Contest? Apparently, the organizers of this beaver eating
fest don't, for they've already scrupled to do this quite on their own. We
think other camps that feature overt sexual activity should follow their
example. As has already been pointed out in another post, we have
informally offered this advice to sex camps for quite some while. In the
past, we've also intentionally placed camps so that Children's Finger
Painting Camp, as an example, is not located next door to Raunch Ranch, and
this, too, seems to me like common sense. Let me also point out that having
intercourse in the street is already illegal in Nevada, as it is everywhere.
I do not believe that the policies cited above have seriously eroded our
freedoms. Fears that such restrictions will lead a cascading collapse of
civil liberties are unwarranted (and, I'm forced to say, a little
hysterical). Does anybody really think that the inability to have sex in
front of children (or in the road, for that matter) will lead to a reign of
puritan suppression at Burning Man? The answer is: no, of course not. Women
will not be arrested for participating in Critical Tits, nor is anyone
inclined to view simple nudity as a sex act. The authorities, of course,
are apt to view sex acts in unrestricted public settings as illegal, and I
am not inclined to dispute this.
To speak about this hot button issue a little more personally, I have never
regarded Burning Man as the equivalent to a members-only swingers condo. For
years, I took my young son the Jewish Community center in San Francisco. I
liked it especially because of one particular policy. It featured a
children's center with an open court that served as playground. A sandbox
for toddlers stood at its center. Balconies lined the walls of this court,
each belonging to an apartment that the community had provided for the
elderly. Do you realize how aberrant this was by American standards? We
warehouse the elderly and plant our kids in front of TV's. Generations
scarcely speak to one another in this country. Surely, if Burning Man is to
be regarded as any kind of true community, we can do better than this. If
Burning Man is really radical -- and not merely shocking, naughty or uncouth
-- it is because we have the courage to leap across barriers and recognize
the deep humanity in everyone - including parents and children.
What I've just described is called radical inclusion. The Burning Man
Project is pledged to fight for this, even though it may sometimes pit us
against the authorities and (a little ironically, I think) those people who
want to turn our event into an all-adult playpen.