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I have often wondered why there are so many mannequins at Burning Man. Doesn't it seem repetitive, copycat, been-there-done-that? Ho hum, another weirdly painted or decorated or mutilated mannequin.

But something finally dawned on me this year, and it's been right there under my nose the whole time. Burning Man. Burning Man has never been about a flaming wooden stick figure. It's about man—mankind—at our best, worst, most creative, most exaggerated, most weak, most strong, most human.

It's no coincidence that the Man is a man, and not, say, a golden calf. He's the iconic symbol of a festival that celebrates humanity.

The mannequins, too, are human figures—but unlike the towering, universal Man, each reflects the specific vision of a single creator, decorator, or amputator.

Some of these individuals I would hate to meet in a dark alley (see above). But even the sinister creations should not necessarily be taken at face value. Because how many of them are intended to stand in contrast to humanity? A dead symbol of what we living beings are not? A monstrous, crippled object that, by its very presence, highlights the beauty and vitality of the real human figures passing it by?

And then, of course, there are those visionaries who discover a stylized beauty in these plastic mandroids, inviting us to contemplate a future, or a parallel universe, where humankind has spun off in strange yet enchanting aesthetic directions.

Suddenly the mannequins all make sense to me. They are individual splinters of the big wooden Man who invites us to explore and celebrate what it means to be human.


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©2006 by Philosopher