“Light weights.” That was the reply when Diplo posted a video of himself, Chris Rock, and several others escaping this year’s Burning Man after heavy rains left thousands of other Burners stranded and unable to leave. It was a small thing, but also encapsulated a growing divide between long-term attendees and those who show up expecting a weeklong Coachella in the Nevada desert.
“Old-timers like myself tend to relish in the chaos,” says Eddie Codel, the San Francisco–based videographer who called Diplo and Rock lightweights on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter. “It allows us to lean into the principle of radical self-reliance a bit more.” Codel is on his 15th burn, he’s been coming since 1997, and Diplo wasn’t the only escaping Burner he called out. When someone else posted a video of RVs stuck in waterlogged sand, he posted, “They were warned.”
’Twas ever thus. Burning Man may have started as a gathering of San Francisco counterculture types, but in recent years it has morphed into a confab of tech bros, celebs, and influencers—many of whom fly in and spend the event’s crushingly hot days in RVs or air-conditioned tents, powered by generators. The Playa, as it’s known, is still orchestrated by the Burning Man Organization, otherwise known as “the Org,” and its core principles—gifting, self-reliance, decommodification (no commercial sponsorships)—remain in place.
But increasingly the Burning Man tenet of “leave no trace” has found itself butting heads with growing piles of debris scattered in the desert following the bacchanal, which can draw more than 70,000 people every year. It’s an ideological minefield, one laid atop a 4-square-mile half-circle of tents and Dune-inspired art installations where everyone has a carbon footprint that’s two-thirds of a ton.
A lot of this came to a head before rain turned Black Rock Desert into a freshly-spun clay bowl. Last week, as festival goers were driving into Black Rock City, activists from groups like Rave Revolution, Extinction Rebellion, and Scientist Rebellion, tried to halt their entry, demanding that the event cease allowing private jets, single-use plastics, and unlimited generator and propane use. They were met by attendees who said they could “go fuck themselves,” and ultimately the protest was shut down by the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal police. (The route to the event passes through Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation.)
Last Sunday, as news began to spread about the Burners trapped by the rain, reactions grew more pointed. In one popular TikTok, since deleted, Alex Pearlman, who posts using the handle @pearlmania500, lambasted Burners for contributing to climate change while “building a temporary city in the middle of nowhere while we’re in the middle of an unhoused fucking homeless problem.” Reached by email, Pearlman said that TikTok took down the video, claiming it was mass reported for content violations. The creator challenged that, and it got reinstated—then it was removed again. “My reaction was, ‘I guess the community guideline enforcement manager hitched a ride with Diplo and Chris Rock out of Burning Man,’” Pearlman says.