"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Fire This Time



Did you make it to Burning Man

this year?


Did you hear it might be the



[Burning Man]

Blowing up on Santa Ana winds

from the L.A Cacophony Society,

floating down from Portland like

fog, the information fronts

converge in San Francisco,

resulting in a Burning Man rumor

precipitate: Latest reports have

the yearly festival relocating

south of the border.



Never fear: Burning Man has

survived relocation before.

Besides, moving to Mexico is the

surest sign that Burning Man is

indeed the New American Holiday.

(Who knew that the giant sucking

sound was really just a greedy

inhalation of pot smoke and

playa dust?) That, and the fact

that you can't launch a search

for "sell-out" (+naked people

+co-optation) without hitting at

least a couple of sites devoted

to this year's crypto-corporate



Of course, the peculiar affinity

of Burning Man's neopagan ritual

and the oldest profession's

latest incarnation as HTML

whore has not gone unnoticed. On

the web, picture archives from

the Temporary Autonomous Zone

threaten to outnumber postcards

from the Magic Kingdom, and the

haunting homogeneity of both the

Burning Man images and the

narratives that accompany them

speak of product identity and

quality control strong enough to

make Uncle Walt thaw in his

grave. We suspect that it was

this trick of self-branding (of

a sort more Martha Stewart

than modern primitive) that

attracted the attention of

way-new economists and MTV

alike. The only thing that kept

Burning Man out of Business

Week was that no one would admit

to making - or seeking - a



Goddamn hippies.



They'll come around. People have

been trying to pass off

self-marginalization as

self-sacrifice for as long as

media martyrs have been in vogue

(well, at least in Vanity Fair),

but it's hard for an artist to

survive completely outside the

mainstream unless he's actually

dead. Unable to maintain cred

without resisting interviews,

unable to eke out a living

without granting them,

compromised creative geniuses

are doomed to a press purgatory,

the walking wounded of the




America's own Miss World said it

best when she rode a threat -

"You will ache like I ache" - to

profitable promise, and a career

résumé that can

now safely drop dead references.

No stranger to suggestions of

sati, we wonder what the widow

Cobain would make of recent

self-immolations in India, the newly

crowned global beauty queen, and

her curious, parallel curse to

"make the world as happy as I



Some argued that the police

crackdown that accompanied the

Miss World finals would only fan

the flames of protest. Since the

coronation went off without a

hitch, we have to ask: Whose

sari now?


[Stone Goddess]

Apparently, the hotel

housekeeper's. Irene Skliva, the

18-year-old Greek model who won

the controversial crown, greeted

reporters in clothes she copped

from a chambermaid. It's a twist

on the usual Cinderella story,

but the traded trousseau

probably isn't the kind of

cultural exchange that pageant

organizers were hoping to



[Overturned Truck]

The businesses that brought these

ceremonial pyrotechnics to the

subcontinent couldn't have

predicted the heated debate that

would follow. Still, in a

country that's seen disasters on

a scale most Americans can only

conjure in the context of

fantasy (and even then, not

terribly effectively), resisting

cultural destruction might seem

like a comparatively easy

project; fighting the invasion

of Pizza Hut and KFC, which

sparked earlier exhortations to

go extra-crispy, takes on only

money and not the megacosm.


[Ms World]

What hotheads don't understand is

that corporations are the new

forces of nature, migrating to

wherever the atmosphere is the

most receptive, then changing

the climate themselves. It's a

feedback loop of emissions and

permissions, and India's hosting

Miss World was an attempt to

pitch a tent amidst those gale

force winds of change.


Reuters reports that the

competition did make some

concessions to community

standards, but the pageant

officials' real interests were

thinly veiled indeed: "In

deference to Indian mores, the

contestants wore long

transparent skirts." Onlookers

and organizers appear to have

missed the point, if not the

peepshow, for what India really

has to fear from Miss World is

not the "commercialization of

beauty" (a skin trade for which

India is already well known) but

the beatification of commerce,

and the crafty way

commodification disguises itself

as entertainment or vice.

Nothing actually changes about

the event, you see - everyone's

still naked underneath their




Defining themselves in contrast

to the neon nightlife across the

desert, participants at the

domestic Burning Man like to

think they're gambling with only

their lives. However, the amount

of energy, time, and money that

goes up in smoke in the middle

of Black Rock City is a ritual

of excess that only late, really

late, no-more-snooze-alarm-this-time

capitalism could harbor.

Affluence has given us the

freedom to revert back to

nakedness, but all it really

celebrates is that we've got

money to burn.

courtesy of Ann O'Tate