Labor Day, Burning Man & St. Diana, Princess of Wales


Great religions start out as popular science fiction. Both art forms rely on telling interesting stories. We derive entertainment, education and inspiration from entrancing tales. They give us common frames of reference and serve as major components of the glue holding societies together.

Whether told by ancient cave dwellers over a fire or by actors on television beamed to living rooms, only the media are different. Audiences remain the same.

Jesus of Nazareth sold his ideas through stories. The New Testament notes that he spoke in narrative in order to fulfill ancient prophesy that he would work through parables. It was also smart salesmanship. Jesus knew how to get his message across. People remember imaginative stories.

The saga of the seven days of creation is easy to understand. The Big Bang theory remains difficult.

Give people a beginning, middle and end and they can understand just about any point the storyteller or moralist is trying to make.

It wasn't long after Roswell that people started noticing that Ezekiel's wheels and flying saucers were kissing cousins.

Elias rode a fiery chariot up to heaven. Wonder who had the right of way if he got near Apollo making his rounds with the sun?

Around the world, whether as Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the Holy Trinity, our gods mostly come down from the sky.

Viewing science fiction as seedling religion goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of the 1970's Star Wars movie trilogy. Star Trek and Star Wars present morality plays with themes going back to ancient Greece.

To see where they're headed, just look at a slightly older movement. Over the past 50 years, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard's work has morphed into a full-fledged religious organization called Scientology, the name itself a gloriously redundant Latin-Greek put-on.

From a scriptwriting standpoint, there is little difference between angels and aliens. Both come from a world we cannot presume to fully understand. Both work miracles based on some power or technology about which we can only imagine. When confronted by such unknowns, our first impulse is fear followed shortly by worship. If you bow down before the strange entity, it might not hurt you.

Human imagination and emotion are wondrous qualities. If we can dream it, we can do it, given time, perseverance and perspiration.

Which brings me to the Burning Man, a mushrooming pagan ritual disclaimed by proponents as the desert equivalent of the Seinfeld TV show: it's about nothing. Just fun. Laughs. Recreation.

Perhaps not.

Maybe there's more. New religions usually proceed from synthesis with older ones. Myths, legends and stories are constantly upgraded, updated, improved, reshuffled and repackaged.

Catholic religious rituals are reformulated versions of mass adoration ceremonies for Roman emperors. The fertility goddess of the ancient Incas effortlessly transmogrified into the Blessed Virgin Mary. To this very day, natives and newcomers alike continue to party hearty during planting season.

Burning Man offers humor, fertility, mysticism, pageantry, lots of stories and, apparently, one hell of a good time.

People have always needed such things. They look to systems of faith to fill the gaps, to answer the questions they cannot answer themselves.

Burning Man participants have chosen the perfect American holiday weekend upon which to establish a new confluence. Labor Day, like Victory-Japan Day and Victory-Europe Day, is fading.

To avoid Red Scare allegations of communism or socialism, our celebration of the American worker was placed as far away from worldwide May Day as possible without gambling too much on snow. Labor Day is now pretty much just another excuse for car dealers and carpet sellers to bombard us with meaningless and fraudulent TV advertising.

Labor Day has been cheapened in direct proportion to the value of the American worker. Corporations, with the full cooperation of bought-and-paid-for officialdom, export U.S. jobs to third- and fourth-world countries with impunity. And they can write off the shutdown expenses against federal taxes.

Burning Man presages a new era of high-tech tribalism as the country devolves into smaller, more manageable parts in reaction to the central government's predatory corporate policies.

Mother Nature abhors a vacuum and a religious replacement for Labor Day already looms on the horizon: the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

She died in an auto accident on Labor Day weekend last year. Her death blew political and union leaders off television for weeks. She has started the process from celebrity to sainthood. Her supporters will soon seize Labor Day as their own.

Rather than fight her, the Burning Man will probably join her, embrace her with open arms. Most religions require mother-fertility goddesses and Diana fits the bill perfectly.

As I understand it, the festival is jam packed with writers and other artisans. From them will emerge new myths and stories to launch a new religion for the Age of Aquarius.

I'll read the book and can't wait for the movie.

Happy St., Labor...ah, Burning Man Day.

Be well. Raise hell.


Writer's note: The day after this column was filed with my editor, I received the September, 1998, edition of Z Magazine. Still on news stands, its contents should appear on their website in about three months. Therein, you will find a delightful article by Barbara Ehrenreich entitled "Transcendence, Hope & Ecstasy, a historical look at political passion and fun."

She traces what are essentially the ancestral roots of Nevada's annual Burning Man paganfest. Ms. Ehrenreich notes how much time which people, especially in Europe, used to spend on festivals and partying.

"What amazes historians today is the 'truly prodigious' amount of time devoted to such festivities: 16th century French peasants could expect to spend days amounting to a total of three months of the year, or an average of one day out of four, in carnival revelry....In 17th century Spain, a contemporary estimated that a total of five months of the year were devoted to saints and observed with festivals," Ehrenreich writes.

"It was the dissident Soviet writer Mikhail Bakhtin who rescued carnival from the historical margins, pointing out that it represented a ritualized rebellion against authority in all forms."

"In carnival, the poor created (according to Bakhtin) 'a utopian realm of community, freedom, equality and abundance,' marked by the inversion of all normal hierarchies," Ehrenreich notes, then goes on to a checklist of costuming, role-playing, satire and mockery of the establishment.

"Festive folk laughter...means the defeat of power, of earthly kings, of the earthly upper classes, of all that oppresses or restricts," Bakthin wrote.

"At least for the duration of the festivities," Ehrenreich disclaims, but goes on to a checklist of revolutionary activities spawned in a carny party context.

Juxtapose the Burning Man with Ehrenreich's article and you will come away with hope for the future. The reason Burning Man is remarkable in the uptight United States of the Righteous of Right was perhaps best put by Carmen Butta, a writer for the German newsmagazine, Stern.

"You wouldn't have this in Europe," she told the Reno Gazette-Journal, "because we are not as Puritan as Americans. We have this attitude every day."

At long last, Nevada is apparently living up to her potential, reminding the country how to properly party. If a bit of revolution evolves from it all, so much the better.

Thomas Jefferson said the country could use some such every 20 years or so, and we are well past due.

Read Ehrenreich's piece and Z what I mean.

Be well. Raise hell.


Copyright © 1998. 2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and was campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published

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