The Burning Man DMV

When people think of Burning Man — the annual culture festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert — they often think of something like this:

Yes, there are tourist tees at Burning Man. But there’s much more to the festival than nudity and high weirdness. (Important as they are to some people.) Burning Man is about radical creativity in both art and human endeavour.

And where you’ve got human endeavour, you’ve got bureaucracy. Especially if you bring an art car as your contribution to Burning Man.

Before your creation sets a wheel on the playa (the dry lake bed upon which Burning Man takes place), it must acquire a registration tag from Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicles. The volunteer DMV bureaucrats have no small job, and of course no pay. But at least there have been cool t-shirts to wear. Note the repeating “Burning Man” motif in the gingerbread border of the “DMV” shield.

The Burning Man DMV has lines, checklists, inspectors, and documentation: just like the regular DMV. It’s the vehicles that aren’t regular: giant bunnies, starships, motorized sofas, and of course iron monsters that breath fire. The DMV must certify your vehicle by a number of standards, such as:

  • Does your vehicle have actual brakes? Can it do a steady five miles an hour? If it breathes fire, does it do so responsibly? Are there lasers, and can you assure us that the person operating them won’t be drunk?
  • Does your vehicle possess adequate running lights for night operation? Can people see it coming at them in the dark? In the middle of a desert?
  • Most important: is your vehicle sufficiently mutated? Does it look radically unlike the motor vehicle you started with or, better yet, not like a motor vehicle at all? Glueing random abalone shells to your ’91 Taurus may not merit registration. But add enough artful neon tubing, and you never know.

With the right answers, you’ll soon cruise the playa with mutant pride — and a DMV tag — to the ooohs and aaahhs of alt-culture vultures.

The Department of Mutant Vehicles’ recruiting video represents the operation as a pretty cool gig. So if someone asks you what you did at Burning Man and you answer, “I worked at the DMV,” say it with honor.

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