Thursday, October 15, 2009

Burning Man 2009

As is usually the case, I missed out on yet another Burning Man. Long-term readers know this is my yearly ritual. I end up pouring through the pictures and wishing I had gone, while making empty promises for next year.

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.
Of the ones including nudity....
  • 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.
The old stats (from 1999) estimate about 5% go nude or top-free. My estimate is 0.6%, but that includes a set amount of error. Much of the nudity probably isn't captured, and many photographers probably choose not to upload photos with nudity. If I do the same experiment next year, it'll be possible to compare my estimates. Otherwise, I need to stand on top of an RV at the event and count with my own eyes to get a number comparable to 5%.

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.


Anonymous said...

How do I request to have my blog added to your blog list? I added your blog to my list of naturist links. Thanks Naturally Nude.

Academic Naturist said...

But ONLY because you are a TNS member and have good content on your blog! (Ignore the fact that other links in my list may lack these things.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the adding my page to your blog. Also thanks you both for taking a stand in defending and promoting naturism. If more naturists were like you, there wouldn't be a problem.

Weazie said...

Found your blog. I've been going to burningman for several years.

I think you may be right that nudity is down a bit at the event. And your analysis I think proves why (but not for why you may think): So many cameras.

The reason why so many women choose to wear pasties (or a top) is that they don't want nude pictures of themselves on Internet. "What happens at burningman, stays at burningman" is simply not true in the age of flickr, etc.

In general, at burningman there is a culture of "ask before taking a picture," so the amount of nudity at burningman may be underrepresented in pictures because many participants decline the request to have their picture taken. On the other hand, because there are enough nonconsentual pictures out there, many people (especially women) are not nude in public for fear of where those pictures will end up.

Burningman is, among other things, about self-expression. For some people, that includes nudity, but for others, that includes costumes (includes costumes that you, personally, may not "get"). Burningman is about respecting the personal choice, even if it is a choice that you, personally, would not make.

Weazie said...

One more thing: bodypaint is a pain to wash off in a desert where there's no showers (unless you brought your own or are borrowing a friend's). ;)

Anonymous said...

your statistics derived from uploaded pictures is erroneous because those pictures only capture bits of time and not the whole "picture". you should go there, see for yourself and take your own pictures. also, would you upload pictures of your own self nude?