As a three time participant I suppose I am as qualified as anyone to unofficially answer the questions, what is Burning Man and what is the attraction?
The plain and simple answer (IMHO) is that Burning Man is an annual gathering of capitalist refugees seeking to escape a DDSS (Different Day Same Shit) existence of the real world.
Once a year Burning Man participants come from lands near and far to create a temporary community in the middle of the Black Rock desert. The citizens of the temporary desert metropolis called Black Rock City are encouraged to express themselves by creating art and wearing outlandish costumes.
The irony (IMHO) of extreme self expression at Burning Man is that each festival pretty much has the same basic shit year after year. By that I mean lots of the art at Burning Man consists of not too subtle decorations incorporating the self-indulgent themes of sex and drugs, most of the clubs play some kind of techo, during the festival the pounding sounds of percussion instruments are relentless 24/7, playa dust is every present, too too many fat, ugly old guys walk around butt naked and too too few beautiful, youthful women walk around naked.
As far as what is the attraction of Burning Man, well from my personal observation two primary motivations come to mind. The first motivation being a popular image projected by various media and by word of mouth is, that Burning Man is a hedonistic spectacle where people are encouraged to participate, in other words its one hell of a party. The second primary motivation for attending it seems to me is, the basic ritual and perceived symbolic meaning many participates find at the burning of the man (kind of like Beltane celebrations in Scotland).
The perverse attraction I find to Burning Man is that its sort of like attending an irreverent family reunion, filled with friendly eccentric relatives.
The reason I might keep on attending is, Burning Man is a venue where artists and persons somewhat interested in art (persons such as my self) can learn about and try a multiplicity of unconventional artistic disciplines if so inclined. For example at this years Burning Man, I learned how simple and inexpensive it is to build a propane canon/flame thrower and the basic theory of how to build a relatively safe liquid flame thrower.
A reason why I would suggest someone should go to Burning Man is simply, because it might be an inspiring journey. As in the real world where some people might find inspiration to have an adventure after reading about foreign lands, at Burning Man some individuals might be inspired to create art in the real world by simply walking through the dusty confines of Black Rock City.
Since Beyond Belief was the Burning Man theme for 2003, I decided to get into the spirit of things an take along the specter of President George W. Bush to play on the playa, then exorcise at the burn. Figured this way I could take a series of unique Burning Man 2003 pictures.
The sun glasses and National Organization of Real Men tee shirt might be the right thing for George to wear if he wanted to be incognito riding a Harley down in Texas, but it is far from NORMal attire in Black Rock City.
IMHO George would have liked the theme Beyond Belief because its a phrase that he might be able to relate to. Just imagine President Bush saying: