Monday, November 18, 2013

Burning Man Stories: 2013 Shirt-cocking

There is a phenomenon at Burning Man. Encouraged by the atmosphere of acceptance and free expression, some men walk around wearing a shirt but naked from the waist down. They have been labelled shirtcockers and called out as tacky by the independently-published Burning Man rag, Piss Clear. Indeed the look is tacky and uncreative, but this distaste for the outfit has spread through the community and in some cases, morphed into outright hostility.

I've seen a sign by the entrance of a camp that expressly forbade shirtcockers. My dad tells a story of being excluded from singing Karoake by his lack of bottoms. I was curious about this seeming discrimination in a community that is usually so open. Online I found a deep well of hatred from burners towards shirtcockers, albeit internet forums are notorious for unfettered snark. Frankly, I never had a desire to dress in this particular style, until I found I could annoy and provoke people by doing so. I didn't want to just shirt-cock, I wanted to stir the pot a little.

I considered organizing a protest group of shirt-cockers to march on center camp and offer free coffee to all who join our cause. I soon found I lacked the motivation to carry this out.

Instead, I came up with a little visual gag regarding the practice: When I went out, I was no ordinary shirt-cocker. I had on a tiny pair of pants, which I'd cut out of denim and taped to my left thigh. If challenged on my shirt-cocking, I would simply point to my three-inch jeans and say "Look, I'm wearing pants!" If this was further challenged, as the pants being not big enough to count, then I would make a big show of conceding to the challenger, and proceed to pull off the tiny pants, and then my remove my shirt (being naked is fully accepted, of course). But by doing so, I would reaveal a tiny little shirt pasted to my chest, so I would still be shirt-cocking, but this shirt would also be "too small to count." Thus, check and mate. This had always been more or less of a joke, but this year I put it into practice.

I had no luck in getting people to spontaneously challenge me, and decided that next year I will enlist one of my campmates as a plant, and script out the whole thing as a piece of guerilla theatre.

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