Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.L.A.

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Arts (M.L.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities

Major Professor

Andrew Berish, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Benjamin Goldberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sara Dykins Callahan, Ph.D.

Keywords

Ernst Bloch, Radical Inclusion, Utopia, Counterculture, Hope, Decommodification

Abstract

Burning Man, a weeklong experience in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, has become an oasis for those looking to escape the corporatized grasp of modern culture. Burning Man serves as a reprieve from judgment and allows participants to embrace and perform their inner identities. The intensions of Burning Man have been widely debated, from scholars concentrating on the rejection of consumerism to analyzing sacred space and religious connectivity for festivalgoers. What deserves further analysis, however, is the utopian nature of the event. I will explore previous utopian attempts--literary, political, etc.--and define what characteristics from those societies were present during the inception and following early years of Burning Man. Using the work of Ernst Bloch I will establish Burning Man as a not-yet-conscious utopia, a product of Larry Harvey's vision, and define the increasingly imminent threats to the event's utopianism. The segregation of ideas at Burning Man, between veteran Burners and newcomers, is attributed to the perpetual struggle to balance and create meaning within a society designed to provide autonomy for its citizens. I will look at how changes in popularity and population have transformed the once utopian retreat into an amalgam of conflicting ethos. I argue that this once thriving counterculture is facing an extreme shift away from the original structure of the event in terms of meaning, experience, and understanding.

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