Welcome to the Burning Man Media Frenzy. Here’s how we win it.

Photo by Polaris
Photo by Polaris

Did the sideways attempt by an astringent horse-meat peddler to associate its tacos with Burning Man on a television commercial get your ears burning?

It did mine.

And then there was a New York Times article suggesting that Burning Man is “running on fumes” because Paris Hilton tweeted about it.

Really, New York Times?  You’re a newspaper quoting Paris Hilton’s tweets, and *we’re* the ones who are running on fumes?  I’d humbly suggest that the Principles of Burning Man are a lot more stable than the pillars of journalism just at the moment, thanks.

Then there was P. Diddy.  Then there was Stacy Kiebler (full disclosure:  I don’t know who that is) talking about Burning Man on “Live with Kelly and Michael.”  (I’m assuming that’s actually a real show, and not a clever prank.  It sounds fake).

Then there was the photo spread on The Atlantic’s site.  And the photo spread in Business Insider.  And the animated GIFFs on Buzzfeed.  And what I’m just going to assume were dozens of photo spreads on the Huffington Post, because honest-to-God do I not have time to actually check.

And then there was what’s-his-name … the internet billionaire … and then the other internet billionaire (I have a hard time telling them apart).  And the twins from the movie about the website.

And then there was the sorta-outrage that Mark Zuckerberg would helicopter in and help give away grilled cheese sandwiches.  Which is baffling, because:  is there actually a better use of his time?  Anything that keeps him from working on Facebook is a win.

And then John Stewart made a crack about Burning Man on the Daily Show …

Yep:  our ears are burning.  When titans of industry come looking for something that a guy with a tutu and a tent has been rocking for years, you know you’ve got the world’s attention.

We are in the eye of a media storm, and it’s not going away.  If we grow – it’s a story.  If we shrink – it’s a story.  If more celebrities come to Burning Man – it’s a story.  If celebrities skip Burning Man – it’s trend piece.  Like the celebrities whose presence now annoys us, Burning Man is hounded by paparazzi.    At this point there is nothing we can do to avoid being news, even if it’s filler.  Even if it’s celebrity driven jackassery written by fashion reporters trying to be cultural critics.

We have gone from being something that nobody reports on because nobody’s heard of us, to something that every major news site needs to have 700 words and a photo spread of, even if they’re terrible.

It kind of makes you long for the days when the only people paying attention to Burning Man were the 700 Club, and they thought we were Satanists.  Don’t you miss that?

But … get used to it.  This is what success looks like.

Burning Man has become a cultural touchstone.  Which – unless we intend to hoard it in the Caves Beyond Time for the Chosen Few to participate in and then never tell anyone about – is what we want.

If we want Burning Man to have an impact on the rest of the world, then the rest of the world gets to look at us.  And talk about us.  And even misunderstand us.  Such misunderstandings, though regrettable as individual instances, are how the process of communication moves forward.  It’s how engagement happens.  We get to make Burning Man (largely) on our terms.  We don’t get to tell the rest of the world what its first impression should be.

We can’t fix the world while holding it at arm’s length.  Nor can we be radically inclusive while demanding creative control over the imagination of strangers.

Yes, terrible articles about Burning Man are going to happen … as are the stupid daytime talk show interviews … as are the sideways attempts by astringent horse-meat purveyors to link Burning Man with their tacos on network television … as is the inevitable feature film in a “Burning Man like” setting … and celebrities are going to swarm over us like flies on bacon …

… and it’ll be okay.  Really.  This is what winning looks like.  We have hundreds of Regionals all over the world.  We are looked to for solutions by important sectors of society.  (Sometimes in ways that disturb me.)  We are a relevant cultural movement.  And relevant cultural movements get talked about, and misrepresented.  It’s the cost of playing.

The only thing that matters is that when people come to Burning Man or go to a regional event, that they find a community that lives the 10 Principles and has incredible fun doing it.

That’s it.  All the rest is bullshit.


  • Burners have more fun;
  • Burning is good for the people who do it;
  • and anyone can play,

… we win.

That’s all we need to do to keep on track.

And if you don’t like the way thousands of new people are doing it when they get here, have more fun than they do.  Be so much more interesting that they want a piece of what you have … and then give it to them.   Be good to them.  Just the way they were to me when I showed up, and someone probably was to you.

If that’s what people find when they come, we win.  And that’s all about us, and how we Burn.  We should do our best to help media portrayals be accurate, but our best tool with which to engage the world has always been our creative spirit, rather than a sense of outrage.

Outrage is cheap.  Art and Whimsy are precious.  Burning Man is a generator for Art and Whimsy, making it a pearl beyond price.  We can afford to be misunderstood, so long as we have that.

Neither the media nor the tech billionaires nor the celebrities can dilute us if we’re having more fun than they are.  No outrage needed.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man is an art project on the run from Burning Man’s secretive “Area 12.”  His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com


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

36 Comments on “Welcome to the Burning Man Media Frenzy. Here’s how we win it.

  • jbaz says:

    Well said sir always a pleasure to read your blogs and while I have checked this site every day for the last two years I’ve never included myself till now…….so I’m coming out on your post about inclusion…..fact is your right no matter what happens now people will notice us…. So I say keep on keeping on doing what we do because its who we are……… I can’t tell you how much people have started to notice our little paradice untill last year alone people in my home town had never even heard of the burn and I live in Yerington less then a hundred miles away but now EVERYONE has an opinion this year from both ends of the spectrum its either I can’t believe you go to the satanic orgy feast or I can’t wait to join you next year……….either way I smile and nod and let them know there’s no place in the world like black rock city……..we have a little bit of everything for everyone people will talk no matter what but is burningman any less because Paris Hilton took note? lol has the magic this place put on the soul been lost because pdiddy was here? Naw not in my opinion……..

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  • G says:

    “We are looked to for solutions by important sectors of society. (Sometimes in ways that disturb me.) ”
    Perhaps a future essay of yours will elaborate on this point?

    I was thinking the other day that if Mr. Zuckerberg budgeted as much of his income for gifting as I do with my entirely modest income, that man could have handed out some incredible swag. However, then the image of people coming to BRC with the hopes of scoring something of real material/monetary value is totally disturbing.

    Another awesome essay Caveat!

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  • G says:

    The vibe I have gotten these past first two days back at work is that Burning Man must have gotten some rather significant media attention. I base this on the reactions of people in my organization who have come up to me and asked “you went to Burning Man?” The tones in their voice seem to give it away to my mind. In years past the tones of voice for puzzlement disdain and dread. This year the tones of voice are bright and inquisitive and respectful. I wonder if the mentioned presence of the celebrities has anything to do with this. (not that celebrities have not always been there)

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  • Gosh darn it! I missed out on the give away grilled-cheese sandwiches flown in by helicopter. Message to Mark Zuckerberg, next year I’ll be camped near 5:00 and along L – tent and van covered by a green parachute. Please stop by and fill my ice chest with grilled cheese.

    Who are P. Diddy and Stacy Kiebler?

    This is one of the neat things about Burning Man when I’m there on the playa. I have no idea all this nonsense happened until I get home.

    Thank you, Caveat, for keeping us in the loop.

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  • playa princess says:

    Very nice…. Thank you for addressing this. I couldn’t agree more. The best way to change the world is to be the change you want to see. The more humans who experience the burner life the more life changes to burner ways. I still wished the greeters still spanked virgins though. All they have to do these days are roll in the dirt. I say make Them all question us and the whys. This is the beginning of a beautiful change in the world we know as default. Be the 10 principles you want to see others be.

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  • Hurry says:

    That NYT mini-article amounted to clumsy word shavings for the consumption of Manhattan lifestyle magazine readers who are too busy coordinating money managers and housekeepers to tackle the entirety of a Gawker post. Quantum barf.

    Then again, CM is right. This is exactly what winning looks like. If they ain’t talking shit, it means you ain’t doing shit.

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  • Heather Golightly says:

    Absolutely lovely article!!
    Exactly what needed to come from the Burning Blog
    (and without a minute to spare)

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  • HiLo says:

    I agree with the main sentiment of this article in many respects but the mass proliferation of plug and play camps do not help ensure these values get passed along properly. So celebrities can fly in and then talk about it via mass/social media without really understanding what radical self-reliance means. It gets spread to the masses with no context and those that “don’t get it” start to out weigh those that do. Not to mention so many RV’s are too much of a burden on the services out there. Oh well, the tide has turned, BMorg is “winning” at the expense of those that make the event what it is.

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  • Dan says:

    “The only thing that matters is that when people come to Burning Man or go to a regional event, that they find a community that lives the 10 Principles and has incredible fun doing it.”

    Herein lies the problem. Every year, the community grows. As it does, those exercising the 10 principles become fewer and fewer as a percentage. This is most prevalent is the value of radical self-reliance. We’d like to think that BM is encouraging decommodifiction, but the reality is, its more commodified than ever. Between, power companies, water deliveries, RV deliveries, and flights in and out, self-reliance is not something people do at BM any more.

    Just because these services aren’t transacted on the playa does not mean there is no commercial transactions. And its precisely these services that allow those with means to show up, which is great. Unfortunately they leave without truly appreciating the principles and learning from them; which does matter.

    My vote is to eliminate these vendors and services and make people radically self reliant again. I still welcome Zuck and Diddy, but drive yourself in. Learn what it means to conserve food, water, and energy for a week. Learn what it means to deal with your garbage or cook for yourself and those around you. Only then will any of these celebrity appearances matter.

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  • Pluto says:

    Dan, I love how you closed your post “Learn what it means to conserve … drive yourself in and deal with your garbage..” It seems to me that this is the crux of whether this attention and these appearances do harm or good. What I’m not sure of is how you actually limit those services.

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  • Sadhu Two Hat says:

    Well said, Caveat. Burning Man provides the perfect set and setting for the enactment of the truth, “you find what you’re looking for.” I myself look for the surprise and mystery that comes from the unhurried exploration of deep connection with others. It hardly affects me that there are 70,000 people on the playa, or that half of them are tourists. I see the people who see me. I expand through time with the people who match my frequency. I see dead people, and fuck me if they’re the most vital people I know.

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  • Mark Nyon says:

    “We can’t fix the world while holding it at arm’s length. Nor can we be radically inclusive while demanding creative control over the imagination of strangers.”

    insightful sentence.

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  • S-Mom says:

    Didn’t get to go to Burning Man this year, and I was thankful for all the wonderful pics that kept showing up in the MSM, while, at the same time, was horrified that it was all over the news this year.

    I am not the typical Burner (whatever that means?), I am one of those “senior Burners” and I am so happy to be able to go out to BRC and join in on the fun without judgment. I have met the most wonderful people of all ages out there. To me, it’s home.

    Wouldn’t have been cool if P Diddy had stepped up and played a set? Have some of those other “bougies” contribute to the scene in some way? That would have been pretty cool!

    Share the love, People, share the love!

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  • PDL says:

    Well put. There’s more of us on the playa, and I feel the BMorg is doing what needs to be done to keep it that way. After 13 years of longing to go home 2011 was my virgin year and I’ve been going home ever since, every year gets better, every year I get more and more involved, this year we registered as a camp and gifted with pride and held strong to our 10. I love vollentering on the playa and being a year around burner. I also keep things in check, I was once a virgin and look at me know, I’ve never been a spectaror, lets remember that we were all vigins at one time and most of us turn out to give back to the playa in big ways. Being 45 this year I can tell you that BM and it’s amazing peeps, from BMHQ to the streets of BRC has changed my life and I’m so happy to be a part of this amazing community, I’m already planning 2014 and how I can bring more positive energy to the playa. We know what HOME is, nothing can change that. Thank you for the experiences, 2014 here we come :)

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  • simon of the playa says:

    “we will TEACH them to wear the reee-bon”

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  • Lady Di says:

    Thank you for the reassurances. This growth makes me nervous, and I work hard to try to remember Radical Inclusion.

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  • Saguache says:

    Here is the only headline I really care to read about Burning Man

    “BMORG Fixes Ticketing So Everyone Who Wants One Can Buy One”

    YOY its getting harder, not easier. I wanna go home!

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  • “Outrage is cheap. Art and Whimsy are precious…”
    “Neither the media nor the tech billionaires nor the celebrities can dilute us if we’re having more fun than they are. No outrage needed.”

    Love this! Great piece.

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  • drdeb says:

    hahaha.. celebrities(my camp had some, lead singer of this, CEO of that, you know , the usual..) fade into the dust and get covered by dust too. They participate, grow, cry, and learn. And the world is better for this. The 10 principles stand. Love this article. love us!
    but don’t forget, to BURN, means MORE than just going and living the principles, it means to stand as close as you can to the fire/conflagrations, and truly feel the burn, get as close as you can , then take one step closer, Stay as long as you can and stay longer. Burn , baby, burn.

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  • tobb says:

    Yeah, it sucks because regular people are going to find out about our secret clubhouse in the desert, where commodification is invisible and our self-righteousness is pervasive in our big little city; the perfect symbol of conspicuous consumption, where irony doesn’t exist.

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  • Peter "Gumby" Rocco says:

    I have finally returned home down under to prepare my new experiences for inclusion in the default world. Thank you Caveat for such a solid piece on explaining why my emotions , thoughts and ideas are still in a wonderful place . We do not need to drink the cool aid as we are the cool aid as long as we strive to live the 10 principles.

    Burn those ears , Burn .

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  • burnerfromafar says:

    I have followed Burning Man vicariously through the internet for years. It is my secret pleasure, my porn I guess. I sat at work and home during this year’s Burn waiting for pictures to pop up, googling Burning Man 2013 over and over for any new photos or blog updates. It is something I know I will never attend, but I am fascinated with it. I do not consider myself a free spirit, but admire all you free spirits out there. I say more power to the media. If people there don’t fit in with the rest of the burners, oh well. It is an experience you make. I love reading especially first timers blogs. I like the comment above where someone said “You were all virgins once” so be accepting, be open, and have a grilled cheese on that guy who claims he created Facebook!

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  • Johnny says:

    My fears are associated with the speed at which new people are developing interest based on a desire to be associated with celebrities, debauchery, and what have you, rather then an initial interest in a festival of art and experimental community. I find this troubling due to competition for resources such as tickets and space that have been leading to a high ratio of uninitiated that render a major challenge in educating that many people as to a 10 principle modality. We don’t want a sluttier cochella… we want burning man.
    PS: there is a taco bell commercial too….

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  • Most of the low-rent articles are for baiting searches, so they don’t matter much. The daytime talks hows? Same thing.

    They’re disposable and meant for page views, advertisers, viewer numbers … they don’t matter and no one will remember them the next day. It’s like the Super Bowl, in that people make a big deal about it but forget about it the moment it’s over.

    Some articles are very well written (like the two about the BLM special agent’s memorial and the hilarious one about the Canadian woman). Pictures run the gamut from crooked HDR pictures that look like wedding photographers shot them to some seriously good professional work, and everything in between.

    Does any of that matter? No.

    No one cares, but they do care about Burning Man.

    Did you hear that rumor about that disillusioned guy who wants to start his own Burning Man on private property?

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  • Pluto says:

    to burnerfromafar:
    Never say never. I am 61, and this was my first year, attending with my daughter was is 20. I didn’t fit in, anywhere I went, but plenty of people welcomed me!

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  • Mario says:

    I am 23 and this year was my first time going…………it changed my life.

    I met so many great people this year that helped me realize things in my default life that I probably would have never noticed before…deep… deep understanding with myself and the world around me.

    The community helped me be a better person and I will try my best to make sure that when I talk about Burning Man with friends and family that I don’t only talk about the parties, drinking, and so on……. I will remember to truly appreciate the principles and learn from them and help others learn Radical Inclusion the best I can.

    Thank you BRC community and I will see you next year on the playa.

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  • davemarr says:

    If our goal is to change lives and the world around us, we can’t just welcome or appreciate the ones most like us — in fact, its the ones most unlike us that are important.

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  • Cam says:

    Ah…..yes, you bet I crave the days when ALL of the reporting was about half-crazed, fully naked, satanists in the desert praying to the burning icon…but OUR biggest gift is the lessons we can teach about our principles, morals, and good-natured spirit. Thank you for making the point! I’ve seen the world slowing adopting BM culture for many years and it always has felt good. This year, people have asked a hundred times, “how was Burning Man this year?” My response? “Burning Man is now mainstream”. I miss the past but I must admit…I LOVE watching the mainstream virgins watch in amazement as we play until we drop…then they join in..and wonder why the hell they didn’t come earlier. They will re-enter as we did…trying to understand what the hell just happened to them, and why they’ll never be the same. Burning Man IS changing the planet, one person at a time and our job is to show them the path…

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  • Buse says:

    I just love you so hard right now.

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  • nikolaus heger says:

    I arrived with my friends at Burning Man 2001. It was nearly midnight and the 6 of us started to drill holes and cut PVC pipes (in hindsight – why the hell didn’t we do that beforehand??) with portable drills, manual drills, and hacksaws, in order to assemble a geodesic dome following instructions I’d downloaded the day before from the internet.

    Within 2 minutes, our (new) camp neighbors showed up with some more drills and ready to help. We took a picture of one of them. I’ll never forget this moment. THAT is burning man. Everything else is BS. Well said.

    This is the pic: http://d.pr/i/bpjR

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  • Hi there! I just wanted to ask if you ever have
    any trouble with hackers? My last blog (wordpress)
    was hacked and I ended up losing several weeks of hard
    work due to no back up. Do you have any solutions to stop

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  • Vertumnus says:

    well written — good job Caveat….

    nice to see you on Playa this year as well…

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  • Hi there, everything is going nicely here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s genuinely excellent, keep up writing.

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  • I have one computer running Vista which is connected to the internet and I want to be able to get the internet on my second computer (that’s got XP) which is connected via a crossover cable. What do I need to set to be able to surf the net on my second computer?. The LAN connection is running fine, I just don’t know what to set and where to get the net working on my XP computer..

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