A “Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro” exhibit at Burning Man last week sparked a protest and concerns from the San Francisco branch of the Anti-Defamation League, reported the Jewish News of Northern California.
The eerie exhibit featured scores of mostly nude Barbie dolls being forced into ovens by G.I. Joes with guns — or being crucified — at the extreme art and performance festival where anything goes in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
One of the signs on the exhibit read “Arbeit Macht Plastik Frei” — a play on the message “work will set you free” at the entrance of the Auschwitz death camp during World War II. A banner on an RV called it the “friendliest concentration camp” at Burning Man, which ended on Labor Day.
While some “Burners” support just about anything, many were disturbed by the exhibit. “We’ve received a number of complaints,” Seth Brysk, the central Pacific regional director of the ADL, told the Jewish News in a story the ADL also posted on its website.
“Certainly, individuals have a right to free expression,” he added. “But using that free expression to trivialize the Holocaust for the sake of political, social or artistic ends is still deeply offensive and inappropriate. And we would ask people not to do so.”
Exhibit creator James Jacoby, 65, told the Jewish News that he has set up the exhibit at Burning Man for 20 years.
“It’s a little dark,” conceded Jacoby, who said he is Jewish. But “part of the magic of [Burning Man] is that it’s not vanilla, Disneyland, pro-family. There’s a lot of nudity. A lot of sex. A lot of drugs. It’s not a family-friendly environment. And our camp isn’t, either.”
“We certainly don’t want to trigger anybody,” he added. “But Burning Man is not a safe space. It’s not Yale University. You don’t get to run and hide from something you don’t like.”
Jacoby also pointed out: “There’s 1,100 theme camps. If you don’t like ours, go to another one.”
People at Burning Man stay in themed campsite areas. Jacoby’s exhibit is part of the Barbie Death Village site.
One exhibit defender, Ron Feldman, who said he donates to the ADL, referred to other depictions of the Holocaust in art, like “Springtime for Hitler,” a parody from the musical “The Producers.”
“It’s ironic. It’s political critique and commentary,” Feldman told the Jewish News. “It’s definitely not anti-Jewish in any way.”
But Brysk said the display “tarnishes the memories of those who died” during the war. He added that “particularly in the current environment ... [with] increased extremism and hatred, we think it’s more important than ever to preserve and respect the memory of the Holocaust.”