Nudist Clothes-Freedom at the Burning Man Festival

The Burning Man Festival is a contemporary ritual, a "postmodern carnival of the absurd". And nudity is fully acceptable attire. These links offer photographic proof - and quite a few unusual images. Burning Man attracts primarily a young crowd - belying the canard that only old, fat folks like to be naked.

The urge towards freedom from a rigid dependence on clothing is not limited to certain cultural or age groups, but it may well express itself in different ways. It's possible that the Festival, and other events like it which may develop, represent for the current generation of people 18 to 30 years of age what "free beaches" did for people of that age in the 1960s and 70s.

The large majority of people at the Festival don't go nude, at least most of the time. But anyone can be nude if they wish to be. It's an interesting lesson in how nudity fits smoothly into "everyday life" (if it can be called that in this context) when each person is free to choose how to dress without the usual social taboos.

Although nude people at the Festival are a minority, in contrast to conventional society, they are an accepted minority. Perhaps this is a pattern for a broader part of our society in the future. If you're curious to see whether and how this can actually work - try visiting the next Festival.

Nudity is often a part of the artistic statements that participants create. It may be in the form of body painting, performance art, living tableaux, or whatever an active imagination can conceive. This kind of art is a heightened form of self-expression, but nudity can be a part of any self-expression.

In his essay The New American Holiday, Darryl Van Riley says

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.

It seems to me that these remarks apply very well to people who have discovered the value of nudity and wish to make it a more important part of their lifestyle. Though we know this way of living is in tune with our best instincts, it is poorly understood by the world at large. Our desire for community with others of like mind is frustrated by the simple practicalities of finding and interacting with each other in the midst of an indifferent and sometimes hostile society that is madly rushing to nowhere, under the self-serving illusions promoted by huge, impersonal mass institutions of media, business, government, and religion. Under such circumstances, our inner lives not only don't belong to the world around us - they don't even belong to ourselves.

People need places they can turn away from this, to find each other, and to find themselves. Sometimes in solitude, and sometimes in community.

The noted science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, in an article about the 1996 festival published in Wiredlamented how our society provides convenient venues for many less creditable activities, while art is exiled to a remote desert:

It's all exactly backward. If you want to have a naked pagan art fair, you ought to have it in the padded comfort of a sealed, air-conditioned casino. It would be perfect for this kind of activity.

If you want to divorce somebody or feed the gambling bug or lick your chops over paid nudity, then you ought to have to creep off to do that in some remote boondocks where the rest of us don't have to witness your gross behavior. I wonder how our culture got into this oxymoronic situation. It can't be good for us.

Perhaps this exile is ending. The "Festival" began in 1986 as a one man's essentially private gesture. Attendance really began to take off in 1994, and at the same time Web pages started appearing (just as the Web itself was emerging). 1995 and 1996 were "classic" years. The 1997 nudism event attracted about 20,000 people, and there are signs that many spin-off events at a variety of other locations are starting to occur.

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