Institutional Scholarship

Feelin' the Burn(out): America, Burning Man, and the Birth of Post-Cold War Culture

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dc.contributor.advisor Friedman, Andrew, 1974- Canada, David 2020-08-06T21:05:51Z 2020-08-06T21:05:51Z 2020
dc.description.abstract Between September 1990 and September 1999, the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert expanded its attendance from 90 to 23,000 people, growing from a scattered campsite into Black Rock City, a proclaimed bastion of American counterculture. This thesis posits Burning Man as a cipher for the United States' post-Cold War political, social, and cultural landscape, attributing its meteoric rise to a palliative acceleration of the 1990's outward speculation, inward anxiety, and fixation on historical myth. Conversely, it uses Burning Man to interrogate the period's common historiographical status as a post-Cold War, pre-9/11 cultural interregnum, accentuating the profound affective and imaginative energy present amid its boosterist triumphalism, material and psychic precarity, and postmodern pastiche. Linking it to a locus of cultural, commercial, and state conjecture, this project proposes that Burning Man's foremost cultural origins lay in Silicon Valley's (counter/cyber)-cultural Internet and its libertarian digital utopianism, refining event historiographies that describe its inception through generic countercultural platitudes. Modeling the Internet's commercial scalability through its fusion of social and economic liberalism, the festival mirrors cyberculture's conceptual amenability to dot-com capitalism, demonstrating corporate consolidation as an outgrowth of countercultural ideals, not an external imposition. While the event also showcases internal dissent to this transition, this thesis indicates its profitability and subsequent encouragement of pecuniary interest, underscoring the shortcomings of performative protest under post-Fordist informational capitalism. Identifying a thematic culmination in Burning Man's built environment, the study turns to its digital, nuclear, frontier, mall, and suburban spatial imaginaries to elucidate the relationship between its speculative mode and insurgent historical materiality, emphasizing utopian aspiration's ironic reproduction of gendered, governmental, indigenous, and racial suppression through Nevada and urban planning history. This study utilizes interviews with Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, magazine and newspaper coverage, event-specific press, government paperwork, mock advertisements, site plans, and participant ephemera to construct its portrayal of Burning Man and the 1990s.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of History
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Burning Man (Festival)
dc.subject.lcsh Counterculture -- United States -- History -- 20th century
dc.subject.lcsh Social change -- United States -- 20th century
dc.subject.lcsh Nineteen nineties
dc.subject.lcsh Cold War -- Influence
dc.title Feelin' the Burn(out): America, Burning Man, and the Birth of Post-Cold War Culture
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Dark Archive until 2025-01-01, afterwards Open Access.

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