Every year, media coverage of Burning Man gets it wrong. Scott G presents many myth-busting details about the annual celebration held the week before Labor Day on the Playa of Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada.

Fiction: In the media, Burning Man is sometimes called an unstructured hippie event that plunges participants into a ritualistic freak show of mob-rule.
Fact: There are rules for safety. There is a city map. There is a plan. Within those self-imposed protective limits is an informal structure that encourages self-expression, participation, audience interaction, and the opportunity to achieve the poetry of the soul.

Fiction: Burning Man has been labeled pagan, secret, mystical and/or anti-Christian.
Fact: The Burning Man celebration is a carnival of life without concern for religious dogma or polemic.

Photo by Sean ChristopherFiction: Burning Man takes place either in San Francisco or somewhere in the desert.
Fact: While the first events took place during the summers of 1986-1990 at Baker Beach in San Francisco, the “gathering of the tribes” then moved to Black Rock Desert in Nevada where it has grown to encompass 39,000+ people.

Fiction: The location disturbs the local residents.
Fact: The Playa is an uninhabited part of the Nevada desert, 120 miles north of Reno and 12-15 miles from the towns of Gerlach and Empire, Nevada. Nearby residents tolerate or enjoy the colorful annual parade of participants; they certainly enjoy the estimated 10 million dollars the event pumps into the local economy. Further, the local
communities will be receiving donations of free solar power for their public buildings after the event.

Fiction: The date of the event is part of the planners’ covert ritual.
Fact: Burning Man is always the week leading up to and including Labor Day weekend. In 2007, the dates of the event are Monday, August 27 through Monday, September 3rd.

Fiction: Believers in supernatural phenomena take part in Burning Man.
Fact: They may, but the event itself is firmly rooted in reality.

Photo by Steven FritzFiction: Burning Man is an excuse to dress wild, act crazy and lose your inhibitions.
Fact: That may be true for some participants, but the aim of Burning Man is to explore the possibilities of noncommercial communal living as well as the exploration of individual and group artworks on a daily basis.

Fiction: The event is sometimes compared to Woodstock, either the peaceful one in 1969, the more commercial version in 1994 or the one that got out of hand in 1999.
Fact: People who attend Burning Man make their own music as part of weeklong discoveries of self-expression.

Photo by Ted BeatieFiction: The event is nothing but a non-stop rave.
Fact: The last rave at Burning Man was in 1996. As the variety of music on Burning Man Soundscapes demonstrates, all types of music are associated with the celebration, from pulsating trance to contemplative classical, and everything in between.

Fiction: Burning Man is a youth movement.
Fact: People of almost every age group participate in Burning Man.

Fiction: Burning Man is full of illegal drugs.
Fact: Your city will have far greater drug-related medical emergencies at the next legal rock concert than have ever occurred at Burning Man.

Fiction: Burning Man is somehow related to “The Wicker Man” films.
Fact: Oh come on, have you actually seen those movies?

Fiction: Anarchists are behind the Burning Man event.
Fact: Perhaps this confusion comes from promoting radical self-expression, but participants experience freedom, not license. Don’t confuse the freedom to shout with the freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

Fiction: The apocalypse and/or Armageddon are welcomed at Burning Man.
Fact: Firearms are not allowed in Black Rock City, and there is a volunteer security team of several hundred people. There is also a long list of rules that are enforced for the good of the community and the safety of its members. There may be a lot of wild clothing, body paint, anti-mainstream art, and a great deal of music and/or noise, but the parking lots at many sports arenas are closer to the apocalypse than Burning Man.

Fiction: Burning Man is not good for the environment.
Fact: Each year, no trace of Black Rock City remains behind. The desert is left as it was found.

Fiction: Burning man is just an excuse to party.
Fact: While there is music, dancing, sculpting, painting, poetry, and communal interaction at Burning Man, the event is an ongoing social experiment. People may have fun, but the plans and goals are in line with creating a society that transcends the commonplace concerns of modern living.

Fiction: Burning Man is an attack on mass culture and consumer society.
Fact: Burning Man is an alternative to mass culture and consumer society.

For more information, visit

Our thanks to photographers Ted Beatie, Sean Christopher, Steven Fritz, Stewart Harvey, and SNOOK. Their contributions to this article are in the true spirit of the social experiment.

[tags]Burning Man, myths exposed, commune, gman, Scott G, social experiment[/tags]