Thursday 29 September 2016

Katie Byrne... the festival and the Nudey Man

Why do we reach for the camera instead of helping the inebriated?

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Irish Independent features writer Katie Byrne
Irish Independent features writer Katie Byrne

I'm just back from the Burning Man festival and all I'm capable of doing is a lip-smacking raspberry sound or a boy-oh-boy whistle when people ask me how it was.

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I experienced the full potential of humanity at the hippie festival of art in the Nevada desert. I realised that one's jaw does actually drop when they are awestruck. Ultimately, however, I learnt that the apotheosis defies description. Just go - that's all I have for you.

Burning Man veterans told me to expect magical things to happen on the playa. Sure enough, we were sprinkled with synchronicities, epiphanies and serendipities.

Lessons were learnt. Wisdom was gained. One friend fell in love. Another got engaged. And I found Nudey Man.

Every so often a friend would come back to the RV with a "wait till you hear..." story. My contribution to this cosmic wonderment was that I had bumped into Nudey Man. Again.

It really is something that I saw Nudey Man at least twice a day at an event of 70,000 people. We never spoke but we were on nodding terms by day two. By day four I was able to identify him by the tuft of hair on his lower back.

Nudey Man was about my age and he danced like his life depended on it. He didn't have much in the way of rhythm - he looked more like he had just stepped on hot coals - but what he lacked in groove he made up for in stamina.

He was at every stage I visited, doing what can only be described as the samba in fast forward.

He even appeared by my side when the temperature had dropped to two degrees. I was wearing six layers, a shearling coat and a blanket. Nudey Man was still naked and still dancing, only now he had some sort of flashing gizmo attached to his penis…

It was at this point that I began to suspect that he was either a) superhuman or b) had taken a superhuman dose of LSD. More than likely the latter.

It was also at this point that I became protective of Nudey Man. Every time I saw someone reaching for their camera I shot them my finest dirty look and danced a little closer to him in an act of solidarity.

I wasn't expecting to see people taking clandestine photographs at Burning Man, but old-timers tell me there is a new wave of attendees that don't respect the etiquette or understand the spirit.

They say this year's event had less art and less heart. Some say that it's starting to attract the crowd from the more commercial Coachella festival - people who fly in and fly out before their hair gets too dusty. I certainly saw pockets of these people. There were parties that were more Italian Vogue than vintage Woodstock and places where it was more Pilates-honed exhibitionism than warts-and-all nudism.

Nudey Man was surrounded by a group of these uber fashion types when I encountered him at a sunrise party the following day. They were wearing kaleidoscopic neon leggings, moon boots and fur coats so big they should have had permits for them.

One of them had a professional camera and another was pointing in the direction of snap-worthy moments. I imagine they ran a post-ironic fashion magazine with a name like juxtaposition (all lower case).

I've met plenty of these types at Fashion Week events and the likes. They tend to travel in tribes, they rarely smile and they bring an anxietal edge to a party that is in full flow.

They soon made a beeline for Nudey Man, which is where I stepped in. Just as the photographer was about to press the shutter, I placed my hand over his lens.

"What are you doing?" barked his sidekick. "He's okay with it."

"It's very obvious that he's not in his right mind," I said. "So what you're about to do is violation."

"We're not going to publish them," she said.

"Everyone is a publisher today," I replied.

The whole episode was very un-Burning Man, man, and when they eventually walked away I was left wondering if I had done the right thing.

Consent, or implied consent, when someone is clearly under the influence is a contentious issue.

Maybe Nudey Man is raging that I railroaded his opportunity to get on to the pages of juxtaposition magazine. Or maybe he woke up on Monday morning and wondered where his clothes were.

What I know for sure, though, is that surreptitiously photographing or videoing people in a state of inebriation is wrong on all levels.

We're just coming out of festival season where this carry on is rampant. There's always someone slumped on the grass with an oversized tricolour hat sitting at an unfortunate angle; and there's always someone whose first reaction is to reach for their camera rather than to offer help.

This is rape of a human being's vulnerability and we are all complicit in it if we don't stop the video from being recorded or if we forward it on when it is sent our way. KPMG Girl, Drunk Scouse Girl... you know the videos I'm talking about.

We've all had nights out that we're glad we can't remember. Maybe you were Pissed Woman in Dingle Chipper or Drunk Man Gets Thrown Out of Nightclub.

The truth is we've all been Nudey Man in one way or another. We're just lucky some mean-spirited little s*** wasn't around to document it.

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