Naked (Burning) Man (& Woman)

I monitor these fledgling posts like a mother hen sitting on her eggs. Call me insecure, but I’m constantly curious as to what people really react and respond to. It’s also part of my profession – measuring results. I’m fanatical about it, and take pride in the fact that I’m maniacle about creating campaigns that can track and measure response. This blog is no different.

Early tracking results have recorded a skewed interest for a previous post about my virgin experience at Burning Man this year. This may be in part due to the timeliness of the topic, but I’m guessing it’s mostly those who know me, and their curiousity about how I adjusted to the extreme camping and self-reliance conditions. As I admitted before, my wussydom is well known. So in the spirit of Ted Turner’s recent comments on the Iraq war, I’ll continue to “give ’em what they want”, in part as an act of diplomacy, but mostly to break the monotony of purely business related postings.

Onto today’s topic – naked people. I’ve said it before, I have no problem with naked people in public. I was sickened and shocked to learn that in today’s world, you can get terminated from your job by exposing images of nakedness in art to children. This is NOT good news for the Venus De Milo, Rodin’s “The Kiss”, or the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo da Vinci is spinning in his tomb.

What does it mean when we can’t accept the human body in any other context than sexual? Why do we prejudge people who are comfortable enough in their skin to dash their togs and run amuck? Secretly, I think many people say it’s “ok”…but underneath that acceptance is a deep seated fear that the majority of nudists and naturists are…well… perverts. Don’t get me wrong… I’m sure there’s more than one naked guy or girl out there who does it for the sexual thrill of seeing others of the opposite (or same) sex naked, but from my admittedly limited experience on the playa, nothing could be further than the truth.

Not everyone would agree with me:
“Whatever Burning Man supporters claim, know this, the event is a 24/7 bacchanal of booze, drugs, nudity, S&M, public sex, and bad art, all done in a scorching flat dry oasis of misery that reminded me of the surface of Mars. This drug orgy is translated by event promoters on the BM website as a “radical experiment in self-expression.” Wasn’t that Jeffery Dahmer’s excuse when asked about the body parts in his fridge?” Whoa…someone has issues.

Personally, I saw a virtual river of booze. Little to no drugs, plenty of nudity, some light S&M (I was the laughing “victim” of three drive-by-one-whack-spankings), not one incident of public sex…and bad art…well…that’s a matter of opinion. I didn’t see one piece of art I’d consider “bad”, and wonder, really, what “bad art” is.

But I was challenged on my perspective on public nudity. On one occassion, a more-than-middle aged couple pulled up next to our camp in their very clean, tidy trailer. Once stopped, they immediately began claiming their plot of playa by staking a small area in front of their encampment with colorful pinwheels and twinkling mini-lights. Folding armchairs were placed outside their door, and you could immediately tell they were “open for business”.

Within an hour of getting settled in, they came over to introduce themselves. At first, like anyone, they were a bit tentative…but more than curious as to who their neighbors were, and how we were faring against the elements. As first timers, I think we might have looked like we were struggling a little. They seemed nice enough, and we talked about how many times they’d attended, and why they were here again. Throughout this time, they looked like any truly regular neighbor from any midwest hood. Average folk…nice, “conservative” couple.

Within an hour of introducing themselves, they’d tossed their togs, and begin exploring in the buff together. And this time, she (“Breezy”…her poignant playa moniker) came back with a welcoming gift of beaded necklaces. Beautiful long strands of beads lovingly made by hand… presented in the spirt of giving and friendship. And naked from the waist up, sporting merely a pair of sandals, and a sarong.

My first reaction was to ask what it was like…how do you discard your insecurities and jump into daylight without a thought of being ridiculed or ogled? Should I talk about it? Should I constantly maintain eye contact? What are the rules to seeing someone nearly your Mother’s age standing in front of you, acting completely without care, but without a top on?

Within the first two minutes of conversation, the novelty had worn off for me. Breezy (it finally dawned on me why she chose that name) was just our generous neighbor, and although I’d never guess it from our initial encounters – she and her husband were up for exploring wearing nothing but a shady hat, a covering of sunscreen, and a welcoming smile.

Throughout the week, we spoke many times. On the night of the burning ceremonies, they came to visit to show us their “costumes”. Breezy was deep red. Her husband was navy blue. We discussed the challenges of dying one’s body impermanently with a rich color that could be removed. “It’s all about good food coloring” they’d say….and you can get it all off with vegetable oil. OK….too much information…but if I ever did try it, it’s good to know where others have succeeded.

And they were just the beginning. Many of our neighbors would come to visit us clothed initially… largely to see what kind of people we were. Our camp was cool. Clothed…but cool. You could easily tell we weren’t judgemental, or uncomfortable (openly)…and within a meeting or two, they’d rejoin us in various states of “disclothier”. At first, you’re surprised…but within a short period of time, I lost all sense of their nudity, my coveredness, or anything other than our communication. To me, that was a personal breakthrough of ideology.

One other related event on the Playa occurs on Friday afternoon: “Critical Tits”. The organized mass bike ride is modelled after the Critical Mass bike ride in San Francisco. In SF, thousands of bikes join for the Friday evening commute, taking over the road and obviously feeling safe in numbers. On the Playa, women who want to enjoy the freedom to not wear a top (a freedom men enjoy in ordinary society) ride together in a massive chain of bikes. There are thousands of them. But even at Burning Man, topless women will get enough unwanted attention to scare them away from the event.

I was warned before going not to stare or take pictures. “There are butch lesbians out there that will kick your ass” was my warning. So I left the camera at camp, and headed out with Tom The Enchanter to take this event in.

Yes…there was apparent ogling by men in the crowd. Get over it. Thousands of naked breasts are going to draw testosterone laden gazes. The women rode with pride, in various states of dress and undress…some painted, many with very clever clevage coverings. There were crashes, a few bumps, but overall a sea of women expressing the freedom of naked upper torso expression we men have always enjoyed.

For me, the moral of my experience confirmed some feelings and attitudes. If you’ve got a problem with nudity ~ check your reasons. I’m not being judgemental, but I do wonder why we puritanical Americans can’t adopt a more liberal European attitude about public nudity (and nudity in art). After all, we enter the world without clothing…why do we often care so much about what we’re wearing after we’ve died?

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not jumping around the playa in the buff anytime soon. I’m just not comfortable being naked in public…and probably never will be. (I can hear the sighs of relief going up out there among friends). But judging those that do there, or on a public beach, or private resort seems a waste of time, and says something to me about those who are so vehement about criticizing those who do.

2 Responses to “Naked (Burning) Man (& Woman)”

  1. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    This topic is quite trendy on the Internet right now. What do you pay the most attention to while choosing what to write ?

  2. Burning Man: Counter Culture or Social Utopia? « smartbrandblog Says:

    […] From the humbly generous (and naked) couple in their late 70’s that I was graced to meet my first year, to the circling of friends that will gather once again at our traditional camp location – it’s the people that you meet, and the art that you experience that is Burning Man.  If, however, you do want to simply go to the desert to “party like a rock star” – that’s your choice…but you may actually miss the powerful, lasting personal transformation that Burning Man offers you. […]

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