Thousands of people have flocked to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert over the last week for the annual naked faux-hemian orgy known as Burning Man. Now in its 28th year, the weeklong festival is expected to draw a crowd of 70,000 Burners to the transient “Black Rock City,” where clothes, taste and modern currency are purely optional.
With the mainstream’s awareness of Burning Man, however, has come criticism. Today die-hard Burners argue that their debauched art fest has become a party for Silicon Valley kids and other 1 percenters—and The New York Times backs them up. What was once the domain of drug-addled graduate school dropouts is now filled with billionaire techies, air-conditioned RVs and personal chefs.
But this change is more than subjective or anecdotal. Census data collected by organizers of the festival from the last decade bears out what so many dreadlocked fire jugglers have been saying for years. Since 2003, the Burning Man website has published the results of an annual survey of the festival’s attendees that asks Burners many questions about themselves, including their personal incomes. Those incomes, the numbers show, are on the rise.
In 2003, the largest percentage of attendees surveyed (31 percent) reported incomes of $25,000 to $50,000. In 2013, just 22 percent of survey respondents reported incomes in that range, in light of a 12 percentage point increase in the percentage of respondents who reported incomes of more than $50,000. Additionally, just 10 percent of Burners surveyed in 2003 reported incomes of more than $100,000 a year, versus 21 percent in 2013. In 2013, 2 percent of those surveyed even reported incomes of more than $300,000.
So Burners are making bank and we have concrete evidence that, yes, “the playa” is filthy with fat-walleted bougies. But now that there’s statistical proof that all those griping Burning Man purists are right, it’s up to them to come up with something that’ll drive those hated richies away—maybe a motor-vehicle ban or millions of gallons of rain.