Mocking Burning Man’s muddy catastrophe is just the latest example of how we cope with the rich

Thousands of people find themselves in the sweltering Nevada desert every year to seemingly party, connect and make art. But this year, Burning Man left more than 70,000 of its attendees stranded in the desert after heavy rains created mudslides. This led state officials to close off the only road leading in and out of the town, telling festivalgoers to shelter in place and reserve their resources while the storm passed through — and so, chaos ensued.

What exactly is entertaining about an event that prompts rich people to party in the desert for a week?

The festival – which typically costs from around $500-1,000-plus to attend – invites creatives of all types to experience “grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community, and civic engagement,” the event’s archaic website said. The nine-day-long event in Nevada is held in Black Rock City, a makeshift town that festivalgoers annually help build for the event. As enticing it sounds to spend nine days camping in the Nevada heat during the summer, nothing about Burning Man sounds like it’s made to actually be enjoyed. 

This time around it seemed like what Burning Man was selling doesn’t correlate to the experience that festivalgoers had at this year’s event. I don’t know what enlightenment people are looking to be fulfilled by Burning Man but the bucketloads of money people spent to be there just for them to be trapped in heavy rains and a mudslide for days with no way out — doesn’t feel like it’s the peak environment for self-improvement. Even outside of the unforeseen meteorological issues, what exactly is entertaining about an event that prompts rich people to party in the desert for a week?

And the internet agrees with me. A plethora of people have taken to social media to meme the disaster at Burning Man this past weekend. A Twitter (now X) user critiqued the event: “Burning Man is the perfect example of how many rich white people recreationally manufacture hardship because they are immune from it systematically.”

Watching seemingly rich white people in their own dangerous self-made, avoidable disaster from afar is how the working class copes.

Another user said, “Burning Man attendees have never been good. It has never been ‘alt culture’ for a bunch of white people to go out onto native territory and treat it like empty space. There is nothing more status quo than treating the land like an inanimate stage for your self-involved pageantry.”

It may be dark but watching seemingly rich white people in their own dangerous self-made, avoidable disaster from afar is how the working class copes. Chris Rock and Diplo were literally picked up by fans at Burning Man and escaped the muddy mess that was preventing most people from leaving. And while poking fun at the pain of rich people may not be the healthiest outlet as a way to deal with America’s economic strife, it’s all the internet has. All we have is making fun of dumb, rich people being dumb and rich.  

There have been plenty of other moments recently of rich people utterly failing in misguided attempts to be thrill-seekers. Earlier this summer, a group of billionaires went down into a submarine to explore the remains of the Titanic which is at the bottom of the ocean floor somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. The Titan submersible lost all communication almost two hours into the expedition. The story captured the nation in play-by-play live updates of the passengers’ chances of survival.

While people waited for updates, everyone poked fun at the frivolity of the expedition. Videos of the submersible showed that it was controlled by a cheap video game controller. Other reports shared that it cost each passenger $250,000 to travel on the submarine. Even “Titanic” director James Cameron, who has dived to see the wreckage of the infamous ship numerous times said, “I thought it was a horrible idea,” in an interview with Reuters. No matter where you went the “eat the rich” memes were in every corner of the internet, and if you weren’t on the internet the 24-hour news channels were covering the countdown of how much oxygen the missing submarine had left. Later it was reported that the submarine suffered a catastrophic implosion that likely killed the five passengers instantly amid the intense water pressure.

There is a rich irony in the submarine tragedy — an expedition to see the wreckage of the Titanic, which also housed rich passengers and a captain who was told that it would be too dangerous, also suffered the same fate. People on the internet thought that’s what they deserved for not listening to the multiple warnings that it would be a potentially life-threatening journey; the passengers even signed waivers that mentioned the possibility of death multiple times.

In cases of frivolous rich people’s decisions — a critique of their wildly inappropriate thrill-seeking should always be socially acceptable. That’s why people make jokes, it’s the only way we bring their frivolity back up to earth where we live, instead of deep into the ocean where they are.

They spend their obscene and endless pits of money on meaningless experiences like Burning Man or a Titanic submarine expedition when people are fighting and striking to make liveable wages. It’s so American. And in response, as working class people we take the jokes too far because what else is there? Their wealth isn’t going to be distributed to us when they die. The mockery is loaded with a big dose of humble medicine. I’m not here to pass judgment on the people who have made jokes and memes about Burning Man or the missing submarine; I’m also a part of the problem. I do want to clarify that even though we don’t have any stake in this, there is a moral responsibility to understand that just because we are engulfed in tragedy every day we should not become entirely desensitized to it.

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