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
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.
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
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.
Maybe there's more.
New religions usually proceed from synthesis with older ones. Myths,
legends and stories are constantly upgraded, updated, improved, reshuffled
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
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
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
I'll read the book
and can't wait for the movie.
Happy St. Diana...er,
Labor...ah, Burning Man Day.
Be well. Raise hell.
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.
said the country could use some such every 20 years or so, and we
are well past due.
piece and Z what I mean.
Be well. Raise hell.
1998. 2004 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 9/6/98.