I’m headed to Black Rock City for the weekend. It sounds like something out of a videogame but for the uninitiated (a group to which I suppose I still belong) it means I’m going to Burning Man. It also means subsisting in the open Nevada desert for more than a couple days. In honor of these terrifying conditions, I present to you a list of my Top 5 Desert Pop Culture References that I will take with me to BRC:
5. The English Patient — An epically long and (curiously) epically lauded movie about some dude who gets his face burned off in the desert. Overall I remember feeling pretty lukewarm about this movie — didn’t love it as much as the critics, didn’t detest it as much as Elaine Benes — but the sheer length of time it took to watch burned lasting images of desert sandstorms and Kristin Scott Thomas into my mind forever.
4. “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)”, The Simpsons — In this classic episode Homer finds himself hallucinating in the desert after eating a lethal pepper at a chili cook-off. This may have genuinely been my first clue to comprehending the subversive potential of mind-altering substances; personally I’m thinking heatstroke might have the same effect.
3. Star Wars — Who could forget the desert planet of Tatooine, with its Jawas, Sand People and double sunsets? Given the propensity for kooky costumes at Burning Man, I fully expect every camp to look something like Mos Eisley.
2. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — Thompson’s classic travelogue of Vegas and the surrounding Nevada desert, ostensibly reported entirely from an altered state of mind. I think it’s going to be pretty difficult not to channel Thompson’s prose (or Johnny Depp’s narration) during all the madness I expect to see this weekend.
1. Frank Herbert’s Dune — I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished this book. But from the bits that I read last year I understood quite viscerally what it meant to be on a desert planet where any exposure to the elements could spell immediate death. People going outside on Arrakis have to wear special suits just to harvest their sweat, for Pete’s sake. And let’s not get started about the giant sand worms. Here’s hoping BRC isn’t anything at all like Arrakis, but if it is, I feel a little more prepared for it.
I feel certain I’ve missed some other glaringly obvious ones (Wrath of Khan was #6 if you’re curious, though I don’t even remember if there truly was a desert), but that’s all I’ve got right now. Did I mention that at night the desert is supposed to turn to Hoth-like temperatures?
See you on the other side