As heavy rain turns Burning Man 2023 into a muddy mess, a deluge of unsympathetic jokes has swamped the internet outside Black Rock City, the temporary location built annually for the nine-day festival in the remote desert of Nevada.
The more than 70,000 attendees at this year’s event are stranded in the dry lake bed of the Black Rock Desert after officials closed almost all entrances to and exits from the festival, though some have managed to leave the festival site on foot.
Organizers have asked attendees to shelter in place and conserve resources such as food, water and fuel. Storms hit the festival Friday and continued all through the weekend, pouring months’ worth of rain in a span of days. At least one death has been reported, the Pershing County, Nevada, Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
The festival became a top trending topic on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, this weekend as observers online expressed their disdain for those wealthy enough to shell out as much as thousands of dollars to spend a week at a dry lake bed in the middle of a desert. Attendees have historically included celebrities, influencers and well-known billionaires.
“Burning Man is the perfect example of how many rich white people recreationally manufacture hardship because they are immune from it systematically,” an X poster wrote.
“You’re laughing?” another viral X post read. “Influencers at Burning Man are unable to fulfill sponsored content agreements and you’re laughing?”
Social media consultant Lia Haberman said much of the humor comes from the perception that people are punching up.
“I think there’s a general perception that the people who attend Burning Man are very privileged and entitled,” Haberman said. “These are incredibly wealthy people who are able to go sit up in the desert for a week, have fun and party and then go back to their very comfortable lives. So the idea that they’ve been inconvenienced is, in some way, sort of humorous.”
Despite one death having been reported so far, most people online still most likely view the storms at Black Rock City as harmless in the long run. But if more injuries or deaths begin surfacing, she said, their facetious tone may change depending on the gravity of the situation.
On TikTok, some festivalgoers have been documenting their experiences. One user said in a video that attendees “kept partying” and helped one another through the storms.
“We are thriving out here at Burning Man in spite of all the chaos,” she said in the video. “I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Burning Man community was going to come together and support each other.”
Others are taking the opportunity to share commentary criticizing the ethics of holding an event like Burning Man, especially after police drove out climate protesters blocking the entrance of the festival last week.
“If you dont want to be trapped in a flooded lake bed, dont have a festival in a dried out lake bed in the desert,” read the caption of a TikTok commentary video that racked up nearly 500,000 likes in a day.
Jokes also circulated on Instagram.
“Am I a bad person for lowkey enjoying their demise? 🤭” read a top-liked comment on a carousel of memes posted by Saint Hoax that poked fun at the events.
Many of the uncharitable takes proliferating on social media are reminiscent of the internet’s morbid jokes about the passengers aboard a submersible headed for Titanic when it disappeared in June.
Some experts have previously said that dark humor online is sometimes to be expected, even in times of tragedy.
“Dark humor is a natural byproduct for some of the most fortunate people on Earth being in an unfortunate situation,” Jessica Myrick, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies the psychology of media use, said in June following the online reaction to the submersible explosion. “And lots of internet users wanting to talk about this really unusual event with others who have a similar sense of humor.”