Skip to content

Burning Man 2013 Theme Announced: Cargo Cult?

November 30, 2012
Burning Man 2013 Theme

Burning Man 2013 Theme: Cargo Cult

The Burning Man Organization recently announced the theme of the 2013 event: Cargo Cult.

Huh? Yes, if you ask me, this is a jaw dropper of a theme.

Each year Larry Harvey, without or without a little help from his friends, comes up with a theme which is announced the night of the Burn or sometime soon after so that the citizens of Black Rock City can get their theme on.

Harvey typically offers philosophical perspectives with his theme pronouncement, and this time is no exception, beginning with this quote from science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The “Cargo Cult” theme for 2013 invites Burners to investigate, interrogate and explore three related questions: who is John Frum, where is he really from, and where, on spaceship Earth, are we all going?

According to Harvey,  John Frum is the “Visitor from Elsewhere, dispenser of endless abundance and wielder of mysterious technologies.” John Frum is also known as Quetzalcoatl, Osiris, even “Bob.” Writes Harvey, “His cargo is splendid, his generosity boundless, his motives beyond our understanding. But across the ages and around the world, the stories all agree: one day he will return, bearing great gifts.”

Perfect theme for a gathering that operates on a gift economy, eh?

Harvey explains that the “Cargo Cult” refers to the World War II events where American GIs landed in the South Sea island chain of Melonesia “bearing with them unimaginable riches: magical foodstuffs that never spoiled, inconceivable power sources. Just as abruptly the troops departed, leaving only broken, rusted Jeeps, crumpled beer cans, and the memory of Spam. To the astonished eyes of the natives, this was a miraculous occurrence, and they yearned for the return of abundance. Accordingly, they built totemic sky-craft in an attempt to summon back these Visitors and their legendary leader, the man the Melanesians called John Frum” –as in “Hi, I’m John from Seattle” or “This is John from Denver” which evolved to calling all the GIs “John Frum.”

Harvey suggests that the Myth of Return is relevant to us today. For example, he asks, “What if your electricity went dead and stayed that way — would you know how to make the current flow again? Can you fix your car if it breaks down, or build yourself a new one? Like the islanders, most of us are many steps removed from the Cargo that entirely shapes our lives. We don’t know how it’s made, where it’s made, or how it works; all we can do is look beyond the sky and pray for magic that will keep consumption flowing.”

2013 Man Base
Pavilion design by Lewis Zaumeyer, illustration by Andrew Johnstone

Harvey indicates that “Burning Man 2013 will court the return of our benevolent Visitors from Elsewhere by constructing an enormous replica of their sky-craft, hewn from the primitive materials of our backwater planet. Burning Man will stand atop this streamlined structure, majestically revolving like an interstellar beacon. Within this three-decked vessel participants will encounter the Temple of the Navigator, a shrine that features six hand-operated zoetropes that will function as prayer wheels. These will rehearse what little we know, or believe we know, of John Frum’s story. A sweeping observation ring surrounding this central chamber will afford panoramic views of both the playa and our city.”

Harvey thinks this will draw alien Visitors who will stimulate our planet’s faltering economy. He invites artists to create altars for the aliens at the Burning Man pavilion: “Participants are encouraged to contribute propitiatory offerings to these Space Age shrines. Artists are also invited to propose homemade interactive technology that may be installed on our saucer’s upper Flight Deck (consult our online Art Guidelines for details).”

Harvey admits that the only spaceship worth considering is planet Earth: “Each and every one of us, it is held, must find our Inner Frum: the first step toward salvation is to give our gifts to fellow human beings.”

All works of art, regardless of theme, are welcome at Burning Man; see Art Guidelines for more information. To apply for a grant to fund the creation of artwork for Burning Man 2013, see art grant guidelines.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2012 10:55 pm

    Reblogged this on The Real McTeag and commented:
    this is an enjoyable article about the always interesting burning man festival.


  1. The Republican Cargo Cult Explained « The Real McTeag
  2. Burning Man Gangnam Style? Tix on Sale! « art predator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Crushed Grape Chronicles

Adventures in Wine Exploration


Taxi Talk Without Tipping

Querus Abuttu

The "Q" Review

Jack Elliott's Santa Barbara Adventure

. . .tales from one man's wanderings, regional insight and history

The magical world of wines from Grocery Outlet

The best and the worst of Gross Out.

Stephen McConnell

A Daily Journal of Fruit, Structure, Varietal honesty, and Balance.

Sonoran Images

Photography by Steven Kessel


Diary of a Wine Student

Syrah Queen

Wine, Food & Travel Resource

The Paper Plane Journey

About my passion for wine and travel

Briscoe Bites

Booze, Baking, Big Bites and More!

Mythology Matters

Matters of Myth, and Why Myth Matters

Smith-Madrone News

Good Thoughts & Great Wine from Spring Mountain, Napa Valley

Fueled by Coffee

Lifestyle, food, parenting, DYI

Bottled Bliss

Day-colored wine, night-colored wine, wine with purple feet...

Do Bianchi

Negotiating the Epistemologic Implications of Oenophilia


Global wine culture

Elizabeth Gabay MW

Wine, Food and History: from the Rhone to Piedmont

Budget Trek Kashmir

Family run Company Specialist Trekking in Jammu & Kashmir, North Indian Himalayas,

Oldfield's Wanderings

Objects in blog are closer than they appear

Memorable Moments

With Lists & Adventures That Keep Life Interesting

Vinos y Pasiones

Información acerca de bodegas, vinos, gastronomía y enoturismo.

Best Tanzania Travel Guides

from Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti and beyond


The Best Guide in Tanzania

Pull That Cork

Wine makes our life more fun.

Always Ravenous

Adventures in Food and Wine

Joy of Wine

"Wine cheereth God and man." -- Judges 9:13

Side Hustle Wino

If you're not having fun, you're not doing right.

Vineyard Son Alegre

Organic Wine And Olive Oil From Santanyí, Mallorca (Spain)

L.M. Archer

wordsmith | consumer, b2b + b2c

What's in that Bottle?

Better Living Through Better Wine!


My humble wine blog


When food and wine click!

The Flavor of Grace

Helene Kremer's The Flavor of Grace

The Swirling Dervish

Wine Stories, Food Pairings, and Life Adventures


Living La Vida Vino!

Dracaena Wines

Our Wines + Your Moments = Great Memories

Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Gretchen L. Kelly

%d bloggers like this: