Is everyone really naked? 10 common misconceptions about Nevada's Burning Man festival

Burning Man kicks off this weekend in Nevada. You know the one. It's that festival where all the stoned hippies run around naked in the desert setting bonfires. Or wait, is it the one where P. Diddy and Mark Zuckerberg wear costumes and pop champagne bottles while dancing to EDM? Whatever you think you know about Burning Man, here are some common myths dispelled.

You barter for things

There's no bartering or exchanging of goods and services. In fact, commerce of any sort is strictly verboten. But there is a culture of no-strings-attached gifting which can take any form, from a jaffle to a foot massage. One of the coolest gifts I ever saw was a grey-haired lady sitting at a folding table with a sign that read "advice from an elder."

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Everyone is naked

Some people are. Daytime temperatures are sweltering so most people aren't wearing much more than they would at the beach. And costumes (or outfits, as burners prefer to call them) are a huge part of the culture, which means some people are in tuxedos and tutus while others are wearing nothing but body paint. To be honest, the nudity isn't all that noteworthy compared to some of the crazy, elaborate outfits.

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Everyone is on drugs

Burning Man is actually one of the least overtly druggy festivals I've ever been to. Of course a lot of participants do drink and take drugs, but there's a lot more to the festival than a huge rave in the desert. There are tons of activities, workshops, performances, theme camps and art installations to explore. Personally I love hanging out at the jazz cafe and checking out a couple of TEDx Black Rock City talks.

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It's a music festival

There's a lot of music and a lot of art, but the festival doesn't organise any of it. Instead, Burning Man provides space and support for participants to entertain other participants for free (remember the gifting thing?). If there's a band or DJ playing that's because someone - or more likely a bunch of someones in a theme camp - decided to haul equipment out to the middle of nowhere, build a stage and set up a sound system. That's why there's no festival lineup or headliners, except for Daft Punk who play at the trash fence every year.

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It's just another big festival

Festival attendees are usually passive recipients of a curated experience. Burning Man is about participation and contribution; it's a joint creation that everyone is responsible for. It takes a lot of work. Just getting yourself and your supplies there is a major logistical undertaking. But I've never been to another festival where I had such a strong sense of ownership and such a high level of personal involvement in the festival as a whole.

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It's life changing

Burning Man provides a positive, safe environment for participants to do whatever they want, including exploring their boundaries and trying new things. Plenty of people have had deeply transformational experiences at Burning Man. But plenty of people have also left the playa dusty, tired, happy - and essentially unchanged. Both are totally fine.

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You can do whatever you want

Sorry, but it's not an anarchist free-for-all. Undercover cops patrol the playa, and so do volunteer rangers who make sure everyone's adhering to the community's self-imposed rules. Although burners will usually come and tell you personally if they think you're not acting in accordance with the Burning Man ethos. We're annoying like that.

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It's only for young people

Burning Man is actually an all-ages event. Lots of people bring their children, and I once chatted to a young woman who had brought her grandmother to the playa. As long as you can handle the physical conditions, there's no such thing as "too old for Burning Man." It's such a friendly, open and accepting community that I doubt anyone would feel uncomfortable simply because of their age.

 

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It's for hippies/ Silicon Valley billionaires

Hippies and Silicon Valley billionaires definitely do like Burning Man, but so do lots of other people. Last year my camp included a chef, an actor, an investment banker, a teacher, a meditation instructor, a writer, a tech developer, a digital producer and a tour guide. Who you are and what you do in the "default world" really doesn't matter on the playa, which may be one of the reasons celebrities like it. Well, that and the fact that it's really fun.

It's not what it used to be

This one's true. It's been 30 years since the co-founders first burned an effigy on a San Francisco beach and Burning Man has changed a lot over the years. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Each year's festival is a reflection of the people who are there to generate it, which means change is built into the system. The only thing more predictable than Burning Man's constant evolution is burners constantly complaining that it used to be better.

 

Photo by @Sahra_Luke | Balloon chain, 2014. | #burningman #blackrockcity #brc #

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Have you been to Burning Man? What are your tips?

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