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GenX and Boomers : Burning Man and Woodstock

I’ve just come from a mild version of Burning Man, the east coast event called Playa del Fuego. It was my first such event, and I generally find Burners my kind of people. It was pretty easy for me to conclude that Burning Man is mostly organized and attended by Gen Xers — duh — though it was initiated by Boomers who, in good Boomer fashion, pointed to something important and believed in it.

Here’s an overly simplified version of Burning Man: It’s a city accommodating 40,000+ people; it’s  built, occupied and then completely dismantled in the desert. Everyone who attends is self-responsible for their health, safety and behavior. Everyone contributes. Some of the underlying principles include: Do-ocracy (Do what needs to be done … don’t talk about it), manage your Moop (you’re responsible for all your trash … no public trash cans or dumpsters … and that includes no dumping of gray water), Bring everything you need (nothing is sold or allowed to be sold at the event other than ice and coffee), and basically, “You can die here in the desert, so, plan well, pack well and be really, really smart about your choices.” In short, Burner events are astoundingly well-organized, and the people who attend are astoundingly well-prepared.

Let’s go back almost 40 years to Woodstock: Absolutely filthy living conditions. Poor planning. Bad onsite management. And very little self-responsibility of the attendees for food, water, hygiene or behavior. Oh, and it was a one-time event, never to be repeated with any degree of seriousness. Now, Woodstock was a high point for the Boomer generation, and, of course, there was a ton of good from the experience. Both for those who were there and for the generation that called the event theirs.


But, man-oh-man, when I look at these two events through a generational diversity lens, it’s just so clear. Woodstock represented all the good and the bad of the Boomers: Let’s come together for vision and values and religion. Let’s not tend to those nasty details (like food, water and sanitation). The Prophet generations (today’s Boomers) are marked by a belief that moral leadership will solve nasty problems. Who could argue with a love-in? Right?

Fast forward to the Gen Xers getting together around art, music, love and such, and you get Burning Man, an extreme venture to an extreme environment where the logistics are profound, the systems for learning and bettering the event each year are tight and where each participant has to actually be self-responsible in order to survive and walk out of the desert alive. It also has the downside of GenX: extreme everything. *Extreme* is too much for many people.

The subject and comparison deserves a much more thorough analysis, and if anyone knows of any writing on the subject, I’d love to read it. Pass it along in the comments section with a link to the site. I’d appreciate it.

Love in. Rock on.

Burning Man MOOP (Matter our of Place) map.

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