Perhaps it's an obsession, but deep down I believe that Burning Man represents an experiment for a clothing optional society (among many other things). Nudity is completely legal, and accepted by other attendees. The city is very hot and sunny during the day, and dirty all the time. Going nude seems like the logical thing to do if you want to stay cool and not have filthy clothes. When a clothing-compulsive society lands themselves in Black Rock City, do they take the logical path?
This year I wrote a script. Quite a clever script, actually. It downloads all the pictures without duplicates in 5 photo streams (tags: burningman, burningman09, burningman2009, BM09, BM2009) over a variable amount of time (depending on how busy the feeds are, 10 minutes to 75 minutes). It saves all the pictures along with the original links so I can view it on the flickr page if needed. Note that it will miss pictures when there are more than 20 uploaded between updates, which happens often enough to bug me. Google Reader is worse since it has much slower updates. I use Plumeria (windows program) to delete or save photos one at a time. This results in a large representative set of pictures chosen basically at random, which is better for seeing how the event really is. I let the bash script run on my 15 watt Zonbu (linux) since the event started, and just shut it off this week.
I suffered through a total of 21,142 pictures from 660 different flickr accounts. What did I learn?
- Don't do this again next year, though I probably will since I have a baseline now.
- Most people take really bad pictures and have a strong urge to upload every one of them.
- Professional photographers offer small resolutions with watermarks, and their pictures usually aren't as good as amateurs who share in full resolution.
- Men often wore shorts and no top.
- Women often wore bikini tops (or bras) and shorts.
- Despite the freedom of top-equality, women almost always wore tops and the men didn't.
- For a vast majority of group/crowd photos, there wasn't a single instance of nudity.
- Roughly 600 of the photos included nudity of some sort within the frame. (That's almost 3%) Beware that there are groups of several photos that depict the same scene, so I tried to limit it down to unique people when tallying numbers.
- There were a lot naked men, mostly photographed by chance. Sadly, I don't have an accurate number. Saving naked men caught by chance was an afterthought a few weeks into it. I consider the women to be the canaries anyway.
- Excluding the Critical Tits parade (but possibly including after-party):
- About 35 women were brave enough to go naked or only in body paint among the general public. (In other words, bottoms were exposed.) 4 of these were obviously modeling.
- About 120 women went top-free without cover. Some were for erotic situations (12).
- About 43 were top-free but with bodypaints.
- About 27 were exposed by wearing see-through clothing, all except one wore bottoms.
- For for no good reason whatsoever, about 41 decided to wear pasties. Why would you even bring pasties to an event with legal nudity?
- Out of 43,435 total participants, about 225 women and a guess/estimated 35 men (based on this old stat, but likely more) exercised their right to bare breasts or be naked and happened to be caught by a camera, flickr, and my script. That's almost 0.6% of the population. Remember that it excludes the Critical Tits parade and party, which typically sees hundreds topless.
All-in-all, I get the feeling that nudity at Burning Man is on the decline. I know the American society is at war against nudity more than ever, and it seems like a lot of college students have been more prudish than usual in recent years. Seeing less nudity at Burning Man, in my opinion, confirms that American culture is getting more prudish. In all the pictures I've seen, there was only one topless firedancer, and no topless stiltwalkers. In years past, I saw many of them each year. It worries me that so many women are opting for pasties (ouch!) instead of simple body paint. It also worries me that so many are putting on skimpy tops, and sometimes even layering up with a bra under it all. (Why wear a bra at this event?) It seems that more have done this in recent years.
This year gives me a reasonable baseline for tallying up nudity via flickr pictures. Next year, I plan to travel to Burning Man and perform the same experiment that got the old 1999 stats. Ha! More realistically, I'll probably end up cruising pictures again. At least next year I can draw some conclusions statistically.
I'd love it if any of my readers can contribute. If you attended BM this year and in previous years, in your opinion has the amount of nudity changed? If you go next year, please stand on top of your RV for a while and do some counting.