Experiential tourism increasingly resembles a disaster movie
This week’s online amusement for the snark police was laughing at the unfortunate Beautiful People who got stuck in the mud at Burning Man after monsoon conditions drenched Nevada and California this month. Clips like this did the rounds:
Brits, of course, responded that this looked like Glastonbury on a good year:
Nontheless, this was a little more gnarly than your average UK festival, in that Burning Man takes place in a desert many miles from the nearest town, and the mud meant vehicles were unable to leave or arrive, or bring water or empty the toilets.
At times it looked like a surreal A-list disaster movie - Diplo and Chris Rock reported trekking through the mud to hitch-hike their way out (Chris Rock thinking ‘first the Oscars then this? Never leaving home again!’)
The situation could have got quite serious. President Biden was briefed on it. There were rumours of an ebola outbreak. Conspiracy theorists immediately concluded the ‘lockdown’ was some kind of psyop, while the Christian right were jubilant at a rainbow appearing over the muddy desert, taking it as a sign of God’s righteous wrath at the pagans.
For the sans culottes of the internet, it was all big lolz. Nothing better than laughing at Silicon Valley tech millionaires stuck in the mud. How’s your libertarian self reliance now huh? How’s your AI algorithm doing in the mud? Hahaha rich people suffering! (In fact, some of the memes were quite funny - I’ll share some after the paywall for those of you with a dark sense of humour).
I’d make two quick points:
Burners actually dealt with it pretty well. This is a group with very strong social capital and resourcefulness (plus enough drugs to ride out most emergencies for a week or so). Some said it was their favourite burn ever. The joke’s on us and our boring, mud-free lives! Damn those pesky burners, still having fun…
If this can happen to the tech elite, it can happen to anyone.
It strikes me that, more and more, unpredictable climate is leading to holiday and tourism emergencies. I think of cruise ships being quarantined during the pandemic, of tourists collapsing in heat waves in Italy, or having to be rescued by boats from Crete on fire, or Maui on fire. I think of the scouts annual jamboree, which took place in Korea this year, where numerous scouts had to be taken to hospital with heatstroke and dysentry. And their motto is ‘be prepared’ ! It’s hard to be prepared when the climate is changing so quickly and extremely.
Our way of life is changing. We are emerging out of the brief manic era of hydrocarbon industrialism, which among other achievements gave us mass tourism and the fetishization of the sublime tourist experience - climbing Mont Blanc, sailing down the Nile, diving at the Great Barrier Reef, encountering lions in the Masai Mara, raving at Burning Man, and so on. You’d sail or jet to your exotic destination, have your Big Wow moment, get your Canaletto or your Instagram pics, and go home back to industrial drudgery for the rest of the year, savouring the after-glow and dreaming of the next escape.
But in the last few years it’s getting harder and harder to escape reality, and these sorts of getaways are resembling less Room With A View and more Survivor. We want a nice gentle dose of the wilderness. Instead we are getting a triple-dose of nature in its most extreme, Herzogian form.
What will this mean? Well, travel insurance might start becoming more and more expensive, just like house insurance against natural disasters is now impossible to get in some parts of the western world. And perhaps we will see, or are already seeing, a decline in global travel as people decide to stay home, stay safe, and plugged into a VR experience of Burning Man. But home isn’t safe anymore either. Nowhere is safe on our little over-heating Planet Earth. Which is why Burning Man 2054 will happen on Mars.
After the paywall, some snarky Burning Man memes, and this week’s links on ecstatic and psychedelic ethics and integration. All subscriptions support our research on psychedelic safety and ethics.
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