By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Friday night, however, the art was gone and the alkaline soil in front of Jiffy Lube looked abandoned. I didn’t think much about it at first. Installations collapse all the time here, blown away in wind storms or taken down by rangers with bad weather forecasts to worry about. White-outs were occurring hourly, and the dust storms of Thursday night had coated everyone’s skin and clogged vocal chords by Friday morning. Then, on Saturday, a reporter from Heavy Metal Times told me that the Pershing County Sheriff had demanded that the art be removed from public view, on the grounds that it violated decency standards.
Given that Jyna Camp featured Polaroids of women’s genitals and that one can occasionally catch a blowjob in progress at Bianca’s Smut Shack, I found this hard to believe, especially since rumors fly around the playa as recklessly as boa feathers. But when I got home, the Reno Gazette Journal confirmed that not only had the Sheriff issued an edict against the art, but Larry Harvey himself, the founder of Burning Man, had come around to encourage the camp to comply. As he told one man protesting the action, the very existence of Burning Man was at stake: “You’re going to be famous, and we’ll be off the desert.”
In an effort to hold on to its precious temporary-use permit from the Bureau of Land Management and keep the residents of nearby Gerlach happy, the Burning Man organization clears ever-higher hurdles to appease the authorities. That’s cause for celebration when it comes to renting more Porta-potties and teaching attendees that the holes aren’t for beer bottles. It’s noble when it comes to minimizing the event’s impact on the environment. And it’s only mildly annoying when it requires asking participants to stay mum about drug use within Black Rock City’s boundaries. But when such cooperation extends to banning creative, nonviolent expression, it becomes collaboration with the very system to which Burning Man was intended to present an alternative.
Burning Man is, and continues to be in many ways, a triumph of human imagination and good will. I love it in all its clichés: The neon wire bent into fishes on bikes, the crowds of fire twirlers, the naked people in body paint, and the towers of rickety scaffolding that people risk their lives to climb. I respect the rules about public safety, celebrate the decision a few years back to ban guns, appreciate that threatening drunks who harass women are promptly arrested and carted off. In 1999, I witnessed one camp’s residents getting thrown out for hurling epithets at passers-by (they called it performance art), and that was just fine by me. But the Jiffy Lube sex art hurt no one and bothered only bigots. Its censorship bodes ill for the future of Black Rock City, which is rapidly deteriorating into an RV park/fun fair with really lousy weather. My favorite sign on the entrance road read, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Maybe it’s time for someone to move over. —Judith Lewis