Protect our playa culture: Art Vikings Want YOU!




I saw the eBay auction, and I dreamt of Vikings on the playa.

Art Vikings, who sail across Burning Man to pillage their natural enemies, and possibly steal their meat.

By now, many of you have seen the eBay auction too (it’s old news).  For $95,000 a group of 10 can be given the “ultimate Burning Man experience,” renting campers, an art car, and staff members to pick up after them … effectively outsourcing the values of “self-sufficiency” and “creativity” to hired help.

This automatically creates comedy.  One has to laugh when the auction notes that the company will provide:

  • 5 RVs
  • 5 Staff members to set everything up, remove trash, remove black and gray water, and lay down Astroturf
  • Food and water, along with a grill;
  • An art car
  • 3 bottles of Dom
  • Generators (maintained by staff);  and
  • 10 mountain bikes …

And then goes on to say “You will have to decorate your own bike to stay with the Burning Man spirit.”

That’s brilliant right there.

“Your bike,” it adds, “is YOUR identity!”

One wonders if this is some master satirist at work.

But no matter how hard we laugh, it’s not a joke.  If anything, the outsourcing of key elements of Burning Man by people who want to come to the desert without leaving their comfort zone is the next great struggle for the spirit of the Man.

Every counter-culture phenomenon gets appropriated at some point – all you have to do is be noticed.  Now that the conglomerate that owns the subsidiary that manages the chain of “independent” clothing boutiques has heard of Burning Man, the wallets are coming out.

What do we do as it becomes increasingly common to have hired help set up camp and keep it clean?  How do we handle scalpers buying up cheap tickets and selling them at an obscene mark-up ($95,000 for TEN?) as part of “package vacations?”

Most of the sensible people I know … in the best sense of the word … say “nothing.”  We can’t start deciding who’s “worthy” of going to Burning Man, or pretend we can fully understand someone’s intentions, or judge them purely by the size of their wallet.  And they’re right, of course.

But I propose a more pro-active response:  Art Vikings.

Camp Art Vikings will send our Viking scouts across the playa to find package tour camps and paid labor.  Then we will send our war parties, on Art Longboats, across the dust to Art Raid them.  We will take their meat and their women and their best alcohol, deliver them to a random camp, and celebrate together.

Whenever someone complains, we will remind them that if radical self-reliance means anything it has to mean protecting yourself from Viking attack.  Didn’t they read the 10 principles?  Besides, when you get down to it, this is all a giant performance art piece.  Have you got something against art?  What are you, un-Burning Man?

I love the idea of having that argument almost as much as I do the Viking raid itself.

My sensible friends are appalled by the idea.  Isn’t the very act of deciding that someone’s camp should be raided petty and vindictive?

It’s a fair concern:  It’s already too easy for people to get petty and judgmental at Burning Man – to think “I’m riding a bike and you’re not!” or “how about getting a REAL costume?” – attitudes hazardous to a creative event’s health.  But what if the Art Viking raid is actually an invitation to people to come out of their prepaid bubble and party with us?  A means of living out the creative, fun, participatory spirit we want the event to express?

That’s an approach that treats Burning Man’s ability to attract people different than us as a challenging strength, not an Achilles heel.  Which is exactly right.

Burning Man is going to increasingly attract those who want to have a chauffeured experience of the playa … to window shop for chaos.  And it’s a good thing:  the ability to attract people from all walks of life to a socially radical event is exactly what makes Burning Man a serious cultural challenge to the status quo … as opposed to more conventional radical cultures (like, say, in San Francisco) which actively try to punish anyone who isn’t “radical” enough, thereby marginalizing themselves.

Burning Man says “Come in!  Have a great time!  Participate!” and therein lies its strength.

But to think that “participate” means “just show up” is to let greater participation dumb us down.  Alongside “inclusion” in Burning Man’s values is the commitment that there are no spectators, which means you can’t expect to have a safe distance between yourself and the playa around you.  It says explicitly on the ticket that you might die.  If you come to Burning Man and don’t understand that you could die, you haven’t been paying attention – it’s right out there.  If you come to Burning Man and think that you won’t be challenged, you haven’t been paying attention.  It’s right out there.

You are always welcome to come as you are, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll leave as you came.

In this sense, the best way to protest trends we don’t like at Burning Man is not to put forward prohibitive rules or ignore with scorn or contempt, but to create something fun, chaotic, and hopefully artistic (in admittedly the loosest sense) that pops bubbles by making Burning Man more interesting, not less.  Maybe “Art Vikings” doesn’t get the balance right … that’s fair … but it’s the kind of response that I love to see people put forward.  If Burning Man is threatened with commoditization, with people creating bubbles of privilege, the appropriate response is something fun as hell that makes them glad to see those bubbles go.

Say what you will … raiding someone’s camp is participatory.  It gets them involved with new people, and offers them a scenario to engage with.  Instead of scorning them and refusing to party with them – effectively what it means to ignore them and hope they go away – we’re engaging with them in a very direct manner .  And if we’re silly enough, chaotic enough, and having enough fun … that is, if we do it right … they’ll go home and think:  “God, life was so cool when we were being raided by the Art Vikings.  That was my favorite part of the week.  But next year, goddamit, I’ll be ready for them:  next year we’ll have an inflatable moat!”

Tell me that doesn’t make you excited for next year.

It’s sure the Burning Man I want to be part of.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at)


About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

27 Comments on “Protect our playa culture: Art Vikings Want YOU!

  • brian says:

    YES! Extreme and controversial but funny.

    another idea.

    1-Set up your own playa expedition type company add.

    2-Set aside just enough of the money you make to transport all the “clients” to the playa.

    3- use all the rest of the money to create an awesome art project.

    4- When they arrive, march all “the clients” up to the volunteer sign up area and wish the best of times.

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  • Kenn Kushner says:

    While I appreciate the sentiment of Caveat I think he MAY be taking it a bit far. I live in New York. I have always had a strong desire to go to Burning Man (I have a good friend who has participated since it’s inception). I have been busy with my life, raising a family and running my business. It just has not worked out either financially or with the timing for me to make it to Burning Man. My youngest son, who was raised knowing of the event, became a Burner last year and is going again this year. The logistics of my going are substantial and a price tag of about $10,000 is really not that far off with all things considered. If they threw in a flight it would be really close. So I would not be so judgmental about a would be Burner. My heart and soul are in the right place and there are times when I have thought “If only I could just pop out there and go, I would love it”. It just might not be about the cashish but about the possibility.

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  • MaryMisfit says:

    I think that this is a fabulous place to start being radically inclusionary. In my humble opinion it captures the spirit of the event nicely. I’d love to be part of a raid…and where do I report these commodification camps to the Vikings should I find one while wandering about? (this year I’m focusing on suburb travel since, in previous years, I haven’t made it far off the Esplanade)

    and Kenn – as with anything in life…if you are waiting for “the right time” it’ll never happen for you. Travel, kids, and burning man all seem to be things that one must make space for and a commitment to in order for them to be realized.

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  • Michele says:

    I am up for this. I have viking in my blood and since I missed my Thunderdome fight last year due to extenuating circumstances, a viking raid is right up my alley… You name the time and place or just help let us know where your camp is and I will rally the men!

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  • Michele says:

    P.S. Kenn… $10,000 is pricey even for Burning Man. I think over all I spent $1000 for everything… ticket, food booze, gifts, supplies, ect. if I had to fly it would have been another $400… You don’t NEED an RV.

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  • Bootsy says:

    Oh, I love you CM! Every post just gets better and better…

    I have to admit my first instinct for insta-burners is scorn (ridiculous and anti-bm as that is) – I see art commercialized and truth commodified far too often to simply laugh it off. But your approach is far more sensible; we all have to start somewhere, and maybe these playa prefabs have the best of intentions but don’t know any better. As a wise man once said, you can’t get angry at a dog for not knowing algebra :)
    So let’s bring on the Viking raids, strip these poor bastards of their false gods and unwieldy civilization, and welcome them to the real burning man!

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  • Shannon says:

    If I took one of these tours to BM, I would LOVE it if a viking party raided our camp. Talk about being included in the chaotic romp that is BM! I can buy a bottle of Dom when I get back. Being raided would be a truly epic story to tell my friends. “oh ya, well last weekend we were raided by a band of vikings”…that pretty much owns the Watercooler talk.

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  • Vinay Gupta says:

    I am Hexayurt Guy, and I approve this message.

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  • Piney says:

    This is fantastic, And it just might make this 95,K group Really Understand Random Acts of Art!!! We have a travel trailer…a old biddy that was sitting in someones back yard for 6 yrs rotting, cleaned out the vermon and turned it into a comfy spot, weather proof, not really. But for less then what most peeps pay to rent one for 5 days…we’ve had it for 3 yrs and still havent hit that dollar amount.We run a awesome busy Booby bar and go out for 17 days to provide a drink for every person on the playa…you need a funky place to die! But were so busy working with other burners on their projects prior to the event,Fire conclave gigs, Stitchers n bitchers of Reno, and all our own prep(BTW no fundraisers built the booby bars or ever support her).
    Hopefully these richy’s might use some of their money(cause they aint got no time) to throw at some of next yr’s art fundraisings…a good can come out of a bad!

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  • Andromeda says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post over the last month or so and the more i consider it, the better of an idea i think it is. in fact, i will be volunteering at the airport this year. should i be keeping an eye out? ;)

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  • jewels says:

    brilliant idea!! reminds me of the policia chupacabra!!! remember those days? they took away that facade of BM being a place of pure love and bliss. they gave it a shade of darkness, polarizing all the blinding white light. i liked this, creating some sort of chaos to aid in our need to practice our reactions and responses in times of dark love. and yes, it was with love they did this, in a strange way, these are the ones that teach us. our antagonists are our instructors. they give us lessons and show us the world upside down. perhaps these big wallet people are begging to be taught a lesson, they just don;t know it yet. this is the beauty of BM, at least for a moment, people will consider another perspective. enjoy it this year lovely people, cannot make it due to financial reasons, wish one of these 95 k guys could fit me in on their deal. then i could be the trojan horse woman waiting for my vikings to come rage against the machine!!!

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  • 24/7 says:

    Yeah, there have been rumblings of doing more than that to these ‘packaged tours’. Not to the people mind you (many of these guys might come back next year and build something amazing), just to the paid-infrastructure. Sure hope they have insurance on those generators.

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  • tendency says:

    I have always desired to run amok raid and rampage style…

    Thank you burning man, making dreams a reality! :p

    Between the on-playa raids at Undercity and this I may yet live the dream.

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  • Gearbox says:

    I can wait to form my own local chapter of Art Vikings. This sounds awesome.

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  • Nathan says:

    I love this idea. One of the greatest things about burning man is that it inherently crumbles the walls you’ve unnecessarily built around yourself and helps the real you come out uninhibited to enjoy the playa. If people decide to come only to build walls it really only ends up taking away from their experience. A Viking raid would get them into the connected feeling of burning man and melt away those walls and bridges that have artificially been built up.

    Honestly I think that in every day life the haves and the have nots are too seperated, with gated communities etc. That shouldnt be the case at BM. It’s fine to bring what you want and have what you have, but in terms of community all should be open to the possibility of meeting others and being part of a larger whole.

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  • great post, keep on posting for update.

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  • Shenanigans says:

    I see now that the Warbringer was laying his foundations early!

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  • go2Paul says:

    I like the Viking idea and it’s a logical extension of pre-existing Playa performance art. have any f your camps been raided by the French Maid Brigade? Annually they descend on our camp wearing maid uniforms and “dust” – mostly moving the stationary dust of horizontal surfacs into an airbourne state.

    The $10K per person seems like a lot until you look at the costs involved – RV rental at $5K ($2500 er person), 20KW generator and fuel for a week of 24/7 operaion = $4000 ($400 a person), shade structure, art car, daily water / sewage, food, tickets for the staff, gifting / swag, etc. etc, etc …..,

    Merpus and I spend $10,000 each year (we’re on our 10th) and we own our RV, shade, generators, etc. (RV maintenence, new stuff for next year included). The las time we were part of a major theme camp our camp dues were $1200 that supports the gift of a major music camp). We also spend 3 solid days just before each trip getting loaded and another 3 days after de-dusting, recycling, and repacking PLUS the set up and tear down days on-playa (we are always early entry and Wednesday departure). That is a week each for 2 people that has to be valued. And, OK we do mount have a VERY comfortable camp that is a big part of our gift to the Playa.

    I support these entrapraneurs who are bringing strangers to our city for what I hope will be a life changing experience, showing them what a magical place we and our 50,000 friends can create. Hopefully they go home with a spark in their heart and make that default world a slightly better place.


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  • Paul Spinrad says:

    Screenplay / graphic novel idea: Romantic comedy with first-meeting scene of Art Viking raid on fancy package-tour camp. Crude Art Viking guy abducts sheltered girl who is freaked out and put off at first. But things develop, with horizons broadened in both directions.

    Relationship develops fast on-playa (as often happens, amid great visuals, of course), but then the new couple encounters a second set of challenges upon re-entry– the differences to bridge are wider in the real world. Final scene is a beautiful playa wedding that many of the former package-camp participants actually put work into themselves.

    Or it could be Art Viking girl abducting sheltered guy– what do you think?

    I see a lot of fun possibilities! If others want to brainstorm on this story with me and work up a treatment (and share ownership and authorship), I’d be happy to facilitate.

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  • Playa Nai`a says:

    “take their meat and their women”? Watch yoʻ ass, muthahfukkah! Viking ARE women.

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  • Playa Nai`a says:

    Paul Spinrad: count me in, for “Art Viking girl abducting sheltered guy”!

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  • Roman says:

    A sobering (well..) and inspiring call to action, Sir Caveat! And an even better solution. I hope to be raided, although I’ll fight hard to make sure we don’t deserve it!

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  • chanel says:

    There was a group of Vikings, Visogoths, Gauls, and other tribes at Burning Man a number of years back. One of my campmates was involved with them and they roamed the playa and had, albeit planned assaults, on other camps willing to engage in pseudo battles, pillaging, even a wedding uniting two of opposing tribes. It kind of reminded me of Animal Control group that roamed the city and staged truly fun art.

    I think this is a truly great idea and one thing I love about Burning Man is the satirical, parody of it all. Participate!!! In the end, get a sense of humor, and if you don’t come to Burning Man, please leave with one!

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