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Burning Man Journal
All The News That's Fit To Burn: 1998 Winter Newsletter

The New American Holiday
by Darryl Van Rhey

From ancient times, Western Civilization has defined itself in relation to a western frontier - an imagined realm of freedom, a place where all is possible - and America is the inheritor of this tradition. We believe in the powers of the individual and rewards for personal initiative. For this reason, Burning Man has been called "The New American Holiday." Where else, but in America, would people be invited to pack their belongings, journey into a desert wilderness, and there create the portrait of a visionary world? It is an audacious idea.

And yet, our country is also the most industrial of all industrialized nations. Today, as Americans, we live in a world in which the power of the individual seems dwarfed. Who or what is any one of us amid the impersonal forces which drive corporate business or government bureaucracy? We have become a passive people. Our freedom to choose has become the freedom to choose between products. Our inner lives, increasingly, do not belong to the world around us. We have been deprived of community. We live, as consumers, in isolation from one another, and our political liberties begin to seem trivial.

Burning Man is based on the idea that it is yet possible to take all that is best about America - our love of freedom and our belief in the unique power of every individual - and use this as a building block from which to form a model of community in our post-modern age. In 1998, participants in Burning Man are invited to convene upon the plain of a great desert playa. Here we will engage together in a struggle to survive amid a landscape that is formed by awesome natural forces. Participants will sport costumes, erect architecture, create original artworks, invent games and public pastimes, make music and contribute performances.

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During seven hectic days and nights the world of Burning Man will swarm with surreal visions, each a personal epiphany within a great collective dream. Some will craft unique and self-expressive worlds, public environments called "theme camps" that are shared with the surrounding community. Many others will connect to our society as volunteers, becoming city builders, desert rangers, town librarians, newspaper reporters and community lamplighters. The temporary city we create together will have grandeur - civic monuments and large-scale works of art - and it will have rules. Yet, all of these rules will immediately derive from a common struggle to survive upon the sheer and desolate surface that forms our playground.

In the vacant heart of the Wild West we will fashion a new world that's driven by necessity and fed from depths of passion that reside in every one of us. Our event is about immediacy: immediate physical need and immediate self-expression. Above it all is Burning Man. Astride a pyramid, he'll stand as singular and solitary as any hero who ever rode into the West. The sight lines of our city will converge on him. At night he'll radiate a halo of self-generated light, and on Sunday, September 7, he will burn. Join us, along with thousands of others who come to the desert, and discover why.