Primal Screaming over Burning Man (and the war of cultural appropriation)

The_ScreamOne gets the impression that many Burners thought that when Burning Man got big enough for the forces of liberal consumer capitalism to notice it, that those forces would just roll over and plead for Larry Harvey to rub their belly. Or that the New York Stock Exchange would hang the 10 Principles on the wall and replace the opening bell with dub-step.

That was never going to happen. Burning Man’s entry into the world as a genuinely large scale movement was always going to be a complicated, messy, clash of ideas.

And now that Burning Man has grown big enough and popular enough to be co-opted by market forces, those forces are trying their level best.

Burning Man has been imitated – on the surface – by people trying to make money for some time. This attempt at full-on appropriation is beginning in earnest now, as opposed to 10 years ago, because without a merchandizing arm (which Burning Man has always refused to do, its recent asinine experimentation with scarves as donation premiums aside), it is difficult for appropriators to make money without scarcity. Not impossible, but difficult enough that the massive machine of the marketing/lifestyle complex didn’t really turn its sights on Burning Man.

Now that we’re living in an era of ticket scarcity, however …

Yet as the conflict is joined, the many Burners who talk about Burning Man as though it had “sold out” – as though it had been defeated – are confusing the ending with the beginning.   They are declaring that the civil war has been lost because shots have just been fired against Fort Sumter, when in fact this is a prelude to the massive conflict to come.

Burning Man culture and the Burning Man organization haven’t lost a fight against liberal consumer capitalism – they’ve only just begun it.

This – what Burning Man is going through right now – is what that looks like at the beginning. The early stages.   When market forces decide not to care that we have 10 Principles or that some people put their life into a theme camp for others to enjoy and now can’t get tickets.

What’s happening now was not only inevitable, but predictable: from Walter Benjamin to Theador Adorno to every fucking post-structuralist some of us were forced to study because we took an English class in the 90s, there is a huge body of literature and research showing that yes – yes indeed – when a counter-culture gets big enough, the forces of liberal consumer capitalism try to appropriate it for their own ends. And, so far, they have been successful every time. That’s how Che Guavara ends up on T-shirts made in third world factories and sold to college students whose dorms are cleaned by immigrants making minimum wage.

The fact that it’s happening is why discussion about Burning Man has largely transformed from a dialogue into a primal scream.

Which is fine – primal screaming is certainly radical self-expression (so long as you’re not screaming just because the cool kids are), and we ourselves, or people we know and respect, are getting left on the outside. If that’s not worth screaming about I don’t know what is. But what’s interesting is that we’ve heard so many of these primal screams elsewhere. The things people are screaming about Burning Man are not only not unique to Burning Man, they’re practically derivative of the wider culture.

Recently the author Broke-Ass Stuart wrote a screed about trying to live in San Francisco – and he hit all the same beats as many Burners outraged by the Org’s inability to get them a ticket.

Replace “San Francisco” with “Burning Man” and even the headline fits perfectly. “San Francisco is Slowly Shifting Away from Being Our Neverland” – that could be the title for any number of angry manifestos about how Burning Man has lost its authenticity and become a playground for the rich.

Make the same replacement and this paragraph works too:

“Idealism can be a dangerous thing when you live in a place that so thoroughly encourages it, but it’s even more treacherous when it feels like that place is crumbling away. When you’ve built your whole life around living in San Francisco and not ever really growing up, what do you do when San Francisco grows up without you?”

Some parts of the article don’t even need to be transformed from the city by the bay to the city in the desert:

“(A)s more and more Peters and Wendys and Lost Boys and Tinker Bells are pushed out of the city, I wonder if we can continue with this fantasy. Can a Peter Pan like myself survive in a Neverland diaspora?”

What we’re seeing is that one of the primal screams that people frequently make about Burning Man is structurally identical (sometimes word-for-word) with one of the primal screams people are making about being gentrified out of San Francisco or New York.

That’s not the only time this happens.

The accusations that the wealthy and powerful have taken control of Burning Man echoes quite closely the accusations that the One Percent have taken over democratic government and institutions. The complaints made about the rich gaming the system in the one align very closely to the other.

Another example: the idea that Burning Man’s system of art grants and money distributions isn’t fair to artists – that they deserve a bigger share for their labors, that they need to be able to make a living doing what they do – is also a close match to the arguments being played out about musicians making money (or not) on streaming music services and writers making money (or not) as publishing houses dry up and newspapers die.

I say this not to suggest that any of these issues aren’t relevant – they are obviously incredibly important – but to say that the things that most anger and divide us about Burning Man are also the things angering and dividing us outside of Burning Man.

Meaning that surprisingly little of the discussion about Burning Man these days is really about Burning Man. We are conflating Burning Man with the rest of the world. We are fundamentally angry at the mechanisms of appropriation themselves. Most of the primal screams are at the very least harmonious with this plaintive cry:

Can we please, PLEASE, have something good in our culture that doesn’t reduce down to what you can buy?

That’s a fair question. A great question. And it’s fair to ask it of Burning Man. Many of us cared about Burning Man in the first place in part because Burning Man appeared to offer an approach to dealing with these issues. The whole premise of Burning Man as a social movement, as a non-profit, as an alternative culture, is that Burning Man’s approach to life can mitigate or even overcome these issues. That may or may not be naïve, but it’s what a lot of people (myself included) think.

But understand the enormity of what we’re asking. We’re asking Burning Man to come up with an approach to gentrification that works for displaced people. We’re asking it to come up with an approach to governance that bypasses (or at least strongly mitigates) the disruptive influence of extraordinary wealth; we’re asking it to figure out how artists can be reasonably compensated for their work in the 21st century digital economy.

And we want them to do it now, so as to facilitate us and our friends making it to the playa next year, if possible.

That’s a goddamn lot.

I truly believe that Burning Man has a shot at not giving in to appropriation the way every other large-scale counter-cultural movement has.

But it’s going to be a struggle. And it’s going to suck. And there will be setbacks. There will be experiments: some will work, some will fail, some will seem like dumbass ideas in hind-sight.

But in the end, the question of whether or not Burning Man culture actually does stand for something that can’t be bought, or whether it’s one more lifestyle choice represented on t-shirts and fast food commercials, has virtually nothing to do with the Org and the decisions it makes.

It has to do with us. It’s our call.

Burning Man as an organization is a hybrid form between what organizations were and what they might become in this emerging culture. It has to be: nobody knows how to actually run a sustainable large scale organization according to Burner culture.

That means it’s going to have to make compromises, try half measures, determine what it can do – engage in “the art of the possible.”

But you don’t have to. And ultimately the fate of our culture hinges on whether or not we sell-out, not whether or not the Org does.

If a critical mass of people refuse to commoditize, regardless of what the Org says, then the culture changes. If on the other hand a critical mass of people ignore decommodification, no matter what the Org does, the culture will remain the same. The same applies to every principle, and every Burning Man tradition that we cherish.

This is a do-occracy, after all. If you expect Burning Man to just change the world for you while you wave glow sticks at passing art cars, then you are under the illusion that your role in our culture begins and ends at the gate.

It’s important that those of us howling a primal scream realize: when people say “if Burning Man isn’t doing it right, start your own thing, do it yourself so that it gets done right,” that’s not bullshit. That is the essence of what makes this culture work. That we don’t just leave it to the Org to Burn, but that we do it ourselves. And if the Org is getting it wrong, fuck ‘em. Do it right. Just don’t let the culture go.

Convincing people, one by one, that nothing can possibly change because nobody’s good and pure enough is one of the great weapons of the status quo.

But we don’t need saints. We just need people doing what they love about Burning Man. Especially as part of communities.  Especially if you’re angry. Especially if you’re outraged. It won’t be easy – if it were easy it would have been done already – but if you once looked at Burning Man and thought “this has the potential to change the world,” then we need you to take that banner up. You don’t have to give the Org a penny. You don’t have to do it for Larry. But do it. The fate of Burning Man as a culture rests not on how many people are willing to pick it up as an excuse to be free libertines, but on how many people are willing to place its mantel upon themselves as a new conscience.

We are the culture, and the fate of the culture rests with us.

Go for it.

 

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat Magister

A member of Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center, Caveat served as the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca from 2008 - 2013. He is presently working with Burning Man's education department on a cultural studies curriculum for Burning Man culture. Caveat is the author of the short story collection A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City, which has 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

47 Comments on “Primal Screaming over Burning Man (and the war of cultural appropriation)

  • Tina says:

    >Burning Man has been imitated – on the surface – by people trying to make money for some time.

    The first year this happened was 1997. What Larry did.

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  • John Smith says:

    When has Burning Man ever been against market capitalism? Are you kidding me? I guess when it started there may not have been ticket sales, but for as long as I’ve been involved its cost a boatload of money to go, and there have been boatloads of dollars and exorbitant amounts of fuel burnt in the name of a week of gifting. Gifting btw isn’t new to America. Christmas is also about gifting. Christmas is a market driven machine.

    Burning Man has also worked extremely hard to control its trademarks and image. None of this was “gifted”.

    Maybe some people just don’t like the smell of their own shit?

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    • John Smith says:

      PS. I love Burning Man. I’m just saying it is entirely rooted in the American dream. It’s an absolutely American capitalist festival that places no emphasis on sustainability or the environment. This is great btw, because its allowed for unbelievable magic and freedom. But let’s just not kid ourselves that its not part of the capitalist machine.

      You might look to Rainbow gatherings if you want to escape capitalism a little more.

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  • Caveat Magister says:

    @JohnSmith

    I’d never argue that Burning Man is wholly against market capitalism per see. As I wrote in “Does Burning Man have a Favorite Economist” (http://blog.burningman.com/2012/10/opinion/does-burning-man-have-a-favorite-economist/):

    “(M)arket-based activity supports what Burning Man is trying to do – we burn easier with it than without it – and it therefore has a place.”

    “Decommodification is one of Burning Man’s core principles, that doesn’t make the culture reflexively anti-market. Burning Man is pragmatic on questions of market capitalism.”

    Indeed, I agree with you (and have stated elsewhere) that Burning Man is only possible because of the level of excess produced by the industrial and post-industrial economy.

    But one of the key features of the mechanisms of appropriation that liberal capitalism unleashes on counter-cultural movements like Burning Man is that it places the market above all things. Everything can – and should – be thought of in terms of how it an be bought and sold.

    That is fundamentally incompatible with Burning Man. Burning Man’s principles – and the experience of it – are very clear that some aspects of life are more important than their price tag, and cannot be reduced to the status of a commodity. Burning Man places market capitalism in the service of other values – the market is good to the extent it supports them and bad when it doesn’t.

    The question now facing us is whether Burning Man’s principles, and the kind of life they support, will continue to be experienced as intrinsic goods, or whether they will be appropriated, packaged, and sold by market forces – thus becoming hollow versions of themselves. Can we conceive of, and move towards, a life that holds itself to a higher standard? Can we go beyond the market when the values we hold and the experiences we aspire to call for it?

    It’s a question not limited to Burning Man, as I’ve tried to indicate here, but it’s very much at the heart of what Burning Man is going through right now.

    Make sense?

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  • John Burner says:

    Don’t have a ticket?
    Rush the gate, Bring your friends!

    Or are you telling me that all of you washed up hippies cant even manage a old fashioned civil disturbance.
    (Bring your car and supplies, just remember scissors for the fence!)

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  • TTATC says:

    “The question now facing us is whether Burning Man’s principles, and the kind of life they support, will continue to be experienced as intrinsic goods, or whether they will be appropriated, packaged, and sold by market forces – thus becoming hollow versions of themselves.”

    Would you say the controversial for-profit plug & play camps big , particularly the big dollar ones, likely are at the vanguard of this process?

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  • sid swerman says:

    Don’t run the gate!
    Two years ago, sans ticket, 10th burn, met a few people (with the same thing in mind) on the hillside Sat night. We had a fantastic burn watching the burn with glasses. Maybe this is the future. 70K ticketed burners on the inside…. a quarter mil burning on the outside! BORG/Washoe County nightmares…. but i bet there is a strong contingency plan to prevent this ever happening. Good luck with that.

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  • Tivo says:

    @Caveat Magister
    “…unleashes on counter-cultural movements like Burning Man”

    How is Burning Man a counter cultural movement? It’s not a TAZ anymore, it’s a TZ. It’s not counter to anything in the mainstream culture. Art, fire and music is not counter cultural. Camping is not counter cultural. Dressing up in costumes in not counter cultural. Giving people things is not counter cultural. The ticket holders themselves are mostly yuppies pretending to by anarchists, under the very watchful eye of the State.

    Even the fact that BM is a crowd-sourced event – that’s not counter cultural. The whole event is a pre-packaged holiday in the desert where you get to bring things and make things. The safety nets provided to the ticket holders make anything like self-reliance unnecessary. The week is filled with scheduled rituals that are almost no different than the year before.

    It’s a complete co-opting of the actual counter culture that BM replaced, those daring enough to put themselves out there and accept the risks and dangers of having real autonomy and earning the personal rewards that brings. Without autonomy to really do whatever you want; to have no rulers, that doesn’t exist. It can’t be bought or sold. But someone BMorg found a way to do that in a way that is most (aside from the visual spectacle) lackluster.

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  • DrBwts says:

    Plug & Play, that’s all you really need to know about the current trajectory of BM. The camps are already commodities. The place is losing its crazy & turning into a holiday camp.

    Its still fun but its not what it says on the label.

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  • HoneyBee says:

    There will always be spectators, asshats and other irritants in this thing we call life, but Caveat has provided Fair Warning. We, as a people, are facing the same things people always face: growth and evolution. To keep this event healthy and viable, we must continually reinforce, acculturate and live the 10 Principles.

    Burning Man without the 10 Principles isn’t Burning Man.

    Merchandisers have developed a science around making people think they “need” this crap, but we don’t. We don’t “need” 90% of the stuff we already own. To maintain Burning Man as a growing, evolving, non-marketable global entity, each of us must commit to those 10 Principles that separate us from the status quo of merchandising.

    At the org level, we can only hope that legal and other measures will be used to protect against merchandising of the event and the destruction of the 10 Principles (such as ending turn-key camps, which are counter to radical self-reliance, at the very least).

    At the individual level, it is up to each and every one of us to commit to the 10 Principles that make Burning Man what it is. What does this mean?

    It means, don’t purchase Burning Man merchandise, ever, and educate those who do.

    It means rethinking what you buy before you go. Gifts are far better from your own hand than any plastic crap made by underpaid workers in the Third World.

    It means, participate in the community of your camp and the event. Interact! Create!

    It means cover up logos, pack out your trash, and be sure to tie everything down securely when you leave.

    Be responsible for yourself and the event.

    “Responsibility is the price of freedom.” – Elbert Hubbard

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  • Peace says:

    Princeton came out with a study last week that showed the U.S. is no longer a democracy, it is an oligarchy. If 70 percent of the people want A and the top one percent want B, then B is going to happen. The elites are in control. This is not surprising. Our liberal democracy where we had a thriving middle class, an involved electorate, and social safety net, was an aberration in capitalistic societies. Burning Man has always been an oligarchy where an elite few decided what was good for the many. In Burning Man’s case it could be called a benevolent oligarchy, but it is an oligarchy just the same. Maybe not rich vs poor, but a few powerful people deciding what is good for the mass of Burners who have to do what the org dictates. I am not saying the org was evil in this. It is how things developed naturally. What I am saying is maybe it is time to grow past this.

    The Founders have stated they want to spread the Burning Man ethos across the world, but their chosen method has been to mimic the exact process that has brought the world to where it is. They looked for elites with power, influence, and money to fill out the non-profit board and set the future for Burning Man. Based on that we are saying to the world “we are just like you, but we wear funny cloths and party harder, so you don’t actually have to change anything”. It doesn’t matter what words about community, creativity, inclusion, and self-expression are used if the model for the community doesn’t differ from the model for the societies we are attempting to change.

    It is time for the powers behind Burning Man to actually do something radical. Something crazy and creative. Something that could actually serve as an example that could change the world. It is time for the powers behind Burning Man to institute this weird thing called democracy. It has been said “I would rather be governed by 535 people chosen randomly from the phone book than congress”. Well I would rather the event be governed by 20 random Burners than people chosen for their supposed influence, power, and wealth. And it doesn’t have to be random. We could say you have to have participated for at least five years. We could nominate people we think represent the culture best. We could put their Burning man vitae on-line, and we could vote. Now that we have Burner Profiles, that shouldn’t be too hard to do. When the founders transferred ownership of Burning Man to the non-profit, they said they were gifting it to the community. That will only be true when the community has a true say in how the organization is governed.

    I appreciate everything the founders have done to get us this far. Now is the time for some radical courage. Now is the time to trust the community. Now is the time to really give control of Burning Man to us.

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    • TTATC says:

      Nice fantasy. I am too much the cynic. The “founders” are drunk on fame and fortune, and I don’t think much else about the event matters to them a whole lot.

      A few years back after spending a few days pre-opening, a day or two before the gates opened, the impression that “it is almost showtime” came to mind.

      Here is a topic you might develop Caveat, Burning Man as show biz.

      Any other many year long timers out there feel the following? The general social ambience of the place is transitioning from participation to partying. Anyone see it differently?

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      • Peace says:

        I’m not that cynical. Creativity is as much an turn-on as money and power…more. It’s just that money and power are easy. The problem with America is we got lazy and let the oligarchs take over. Burners tend not to be lazy. I believe the founders when they say they want to have a positive impact. i just think they are going about it in a uncreative way. Traveling places and giving PowerPoint presentations is not going to get the job done. especially if you let the whole thing decay under the same influences as the rest of society because you failed to be creative. Creating a board of everyday Burners would have a huge impact.

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      • Pink says:

        Last year I loved the time pre-gate opening. Finally understood how some people can leave during ‘showtime’.

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      • Admiral Fiesta says:

        I’ve had this same feeling, especially this last year: that all my hard work (and the work of those around me) is essentially creating a show for European tourists and startup bros to come and enjoy. Not that there’s inherently anything wrong with putting on a show, but this particular show (couched as it is in the trappings of a “participant only event”) is not something I’m interested in putting that much time and effort into. Tragedy of the commons, I suppose.

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      • Bob C says:

        > The general social ambience of the place is transitioning from participation to partying. Anyone see it differently?

        That is exactly how I see it happening, but the event is still being marketed as otherwise; not unlike fast food places market their product as made from real meat.

        IMHO, it’s not about the ticket scarcity, its about the lack of participation which has transformed this once unique experience into yet another festival. It’s still a pretty cool festival as far as they go, but no longer that unique.

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  • TT says:

    >Burning Man without the 10 Principles isn’t Burning Man.

    The 10 Principles have only been around since 2004.

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  • Peace says:

    @TT Wrong. The principles were stated publicly in 2004, based on what had happened organically since the beginning.

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    • yomom says:

      a lot of pre-2000 burners can’t even name the ten principles. check out the 12 choatic principles if you want to described what ‘happened organically since the beginning’

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      • Caveat Magister says:

        I think it’s fair to say that a lot of contemporary burners (most?) can’t name the 10 Principles if asked. That includes a number of people who are active and engaged burners by any definition.

        In my conversations with them, many burners have told me that the principles – in some form – are incredibly helpful to them as aspirations and road maps. They are, undoubtedly, an important component of our community and a great guide to what makes Burning Man what it is. But … there was a Burning Man before there were 10 Principles, and honestly I don’t think anybody comes to Burning Man because they’re looking for 10 really awesome principles.

        It is the nature of our experience that people are drawn to (come on, right?) and then, when the ask “what is this?” the 10 Principles come in handy. Are helpful.

        Put another way – whatever their utility: can you talk about Burning Man without the 10 Principles? Yes. Can you talk about the 10 Principles without Burning Man? Not so much. They’re useful and important, but that fact remains.

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  • TT says:

    There were no sacred principles prior to 2004. You were free out there from rules which was the whole point to begin with. People didn’t need principles to guide them along, they just had them. Until the whole thing go so big that the retards coming in needed to be reminded (or educated) to clean up after themselves and be nice to other people.

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  • Peace says:

    You are confusing a principle with a rule. Principles are something you chose to follow yourself, rules are imposed. Radical inclusion is a principle and always has been. No guns is a rule.

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  • TT says:

    I can see I’m dealing with a rationalization hamster here, so I’ll just love you and leave you with this – there are no rules in life, only guidelines. Everything else is called, laws – which you must obey or you might have to pay money or go to jail. .

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  • Dobonian says:

    @Peace–

    Lovely and radical idea, to turn the event over to a randomly-selected group of burners. Then you start qualifying it. Reminds me of lots of the discussion around PnP camps–people saying, let’s make a rule, no paid workers on playa (EXCEPT for construction crane operators putting up the Man), let’s make a rule, nothing for sale on the playa (EXCEPT ice and coffee), and so on.

    Please take this as food for thought, not criticism, but: I think every qualification, every exception, reflects a fear that the radical idea in the main clause, whatever it is, won’t turn out the way we want it to. We should dig into those fears, haul them into the light–what’s the bad thing that will happen if we don’t qualify and make exceptions? Maybe it isn’t so bad. Maybe we should take the risk. I think that’s the spirit of Burning Man.

    But maybe I don’t know shit about it. Last year was my first burn, and I lost out on tickets this year. So far, anyway.

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    • Peace says:

      i think you are right, random it is.

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      • Dobonian says:

        See my reply to SVE below. Maybe Nevada Burning Man could carry on as is, and East Coast Burning Man could be the random-authority Burning Man. It would make for an interesting experiment.

        And doesn’t the phrase “random authority” just have more of a Cacophony Society ring to it?

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  • Caveat Magister says:

    Admiral Fiesta’s response in one of the threads above gets it exactly: we’re not trying to solve a particular “Burning Man” problem – we’re trying to solve the Tragedy of the Commons (among other things). This is where the action is happening, and the struggle is being joined. (Or abandoned. Up to us)

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  • Playa Nai`a says:

    Yes! It’s always struck me (five-timer) as ironic that one can actually BUY ice and hot drinks. Why not give them free? Computerize the system to avoid abuses, and raise the tix price, if necessary (OMG), but, can’t we get with our own program?

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  • simon of the playa says:

    Comrade.

    The BRCCP welcomes this Blog as further evidence of our need to exist.

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  • Meo says:

    This is totally random, and not exactly related to the article per se – but it is a compliment to everyone on this comment string. I work in digital publishing, and never have I seen such thoughtful commentary and debate on an article. EVER. You guys rock!

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  • Jason1969 says:

    Thanks Caveat, it’s clear BM’s problems are a microcosm of everthing when it gets too big. Population is the key driving force of all the problems. The roads to Gerlach are not getting bigger anytime soon, population to the event is at close to max, BM can’t keep growing.

    It’s also funny that it seems that the event always HAS to happen forever, right? Like it’s a law or something. The machine is too big to stop now.

    Honestly, what can really happen at this point to change ticket scarcity? Two events? Two different weeks of BM with a week or two in between? Possible? Adopt a ticketing system of less Radical Inclusion, like one must prove intensions, apply for a ticket like an art grant, then be held accountable for actions for entry in years future? Possible? Or just keep doing the same thing and let it be the weird cluster that it is? Yup. Not many options.

    I would really love to see next year’s theme be: No Burning Man. That would be the only way to truly shake it up and see how the community reacts. The ultimate cacophony, the only one left.

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    • G says:

      I think if the BMORG declared a non year, (or a fallow year as Glastonbury calls it) something like a massive 4th of Juplaya would take place. The BLM would have a fit.

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  • Matthew Hopkins says:

    I just want to say I disagree with almost all of this “lost fantasy” nonsense. My wife and I were able to get our tickets right there on the travel agency website using our AARP membership coupon. We were even upgraded for free to a deluxe room at our camp. My only complaint now is that we were wait-listed for the Burn Night Art Car Tour.

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  • National Rainbow Gathering says:

    We welcome Burner refugees! July1-7 ,Who knows Where, USA

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  • jorge gringo starr says:

    I met a young first burner last year who was stuck outside (because of rain and mud) camping along the highway with hundreds of others… and it was the highlight of his trip, sharing, eating and drinking, singing and dancing. Once inside he found himself looking for those same roadside campers, that essence of togetherness.
    Yes, it’s a festival, but one of the best. But there are other festivals and pilgrimages in the world… without the exhibitionism, RobotHeart, and fire dancers. This year I will miss that random neighborhood bar, at 6th or 12th and Heaven or Doomsday, with the Israelis, cowboys, half-naked NY nurses, and Italian mechanics all drinking tequila. Salud.

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  • SVE says:

    One idea: tag teaming tickets. You get a burn partner, first one sets up camp – experiences 4 days. Hands ticket to burn partner who stays last 4 days and breaks down camp. Another suggestion: as with all experiences in life, experience your burn as though it is the last one you’ll ever do.

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    • Dobonian says:

      @SVE, I heartily agree with your second suggestion. As to the first, here’s a counter-suggestion. If I were King of Burning Man, I would establish an East Coast Burning Man scheduled to run the exact same dates as the Nevada one. Go all out, with a second Man, a second temple, arts grants to fund big attention-getting art pieces, the whole nine yards. Tickets to both events would be sold in a single sale–you could specify Nevada/East Coast/don’t care when you entered the queue.

      This could double ticket availability at a single stroke. The deprecated populations–bros (whatever they are), and European tourists (for whatever reason they seem to be deprecated here)–would be split, bros most likely staying out West, Euros most likely landing East. Us East Coasters would be able to burn better, because our logistics would get a lot simpler, more like they are to West Coasters now.

      Just have to find a suitably inhospitable location on the East Coast. Maybe there’s an abandoned industrial site that would enable us to camp on a vast expanse of concrete–our East Coast playa.

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  • Steve says:

    I didn’t have the patience to read through all the replies. People certainly _are_ angry. I have no doubt that Burning Man has evolved over the years — obviously it had to.

    My first experience with Burning Man was last year, and it was mind blowing.

    The primary argument against naysayers who claim that Burning Man has already bowed to market forces is that ticket sales actually *are not* that expensive. If you consider the scale & cost of organizing something like this, the fact that there are no stockholders getting rich, the fact that at the end of the week, the playa has been combed & cleaned — the tickets are a pittance.

    The fact of the matter is that if this was run by a for-profit organization, tickets would be well over $1,000, simply because they could still sell out at that price.

    That is all.

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  • Nik says:

    If anyone finds themselves “needing” currency relative to one world that is so widely known as arbitrary hogwash in the other than i would make an assumption/proposal that we would only need a system that imitates and remains relevant and in scale to the imaginary weighted “value”.

    This can be done through a gifting service where someone who someone who makes something inputs how much energy/emotion they put into producing this item. than inputs a customizable need/barter buffer. than other people request that item from them and may gift them “value given” and the request is than answered by the gifting party with a final input for the arbitrary system that it mirrors to satisfy the consumer market thus supporting artists. I’ve been thinking about this for a while as i am an artist and subsequently often find myself broke as a joke. does this “bazar” theory sound sound?

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    • Dobonian says:

      @Nik, a little hard to be sure what you’re getting at, but if I’m reading it right, you are proposing a system that I actually imagined for a novel I’ve been writing. My protagonist lives in Dobonia, which has an economy based on reputation rather than currency. His job at the Ministry of Art and Commerce involves negotiating currency-based trades among vendors in other countries that result in artists’ works being exported from Dobonia to outside collectors, and durable goods being imported to Dobonia from outside suppliers. The Dobonians’ hands thereby stay clean of any currency transaction.

      But as far as gifting goes, this isn’t gifting, it’s a complicated form of barter. A gift is not dependent on the expectation of a return. It’s just giving your work away for the sake of giving it away.

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  • TTATC says:

    @ Caveat,
    When the BMORG board of directors is joined by several wealthy entrepreneurial people who are heavily into profiting from festivals and selling sleeping spaces and more, I am a bit at a loss how participants’ committing to continue practicing a culture is going to counteract those directors who are steering the event in an ever more profit oriented and commercialized direction
    Thoughts?

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    • Dr Bwts says:

      Too many punters not enough participants or to put in a more profit minded frame, more punters less participation.

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    • Caveat Magister says:

      @TTATC

      I think we’re giving the ORG too much credit for being able to influence events. Given the larger cultural forces at work, I think Burning Man would be in much the same place if it were run by an order of monks who had taken vows of poverty.

      Here’s the big picture, as see it:

      While The Thing In The Desert will always be important, I think the future of Burning Man culture will be decided on what I’ve elsewhere called Burning Man’s frontiers.

      (http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/burning-man-playa-10-principles/Content?oid=3102997)

      The fundamental question about Burning Man’s survival as a culture is not “how awesome is Burning Man” but “is it sustainable and scaleable enough for ordinary people to live this way in their communities?” If it is, if that answer is yes, then it will thrive in the world outside of Burning Man, even if the Burning Man ORG itself fucks everything up. If it isn’t, if the answer is no, then no matter how much the ORG gets right.

      The ORG absolutely can be helpful in this process, but the truth is that they’re not the vital factor. Local initiatives are. In that sense people who say “screw the ORG, I’m going to do something right where I live and get it RIGHT!” are probably doing the biggest favor they can for Burning Man culture, and the vital question is how much (if anything) the ORG does to support those efforts.

      Does that make any sense?

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  • Dr. Baron von Realz esq. says:

    I think part of the problem is that we may be mainstream and we are no longer the counter culture. Yesterday I heard a radio ad for AT&T, I was not paying attention until I heard the word group hug and then one of the speaker said I smell bacon? One of my burner friends says I have “burning man on the brain” is it just me or have we cross that line. ”What happens if we become part of the default world?” that is my primal scream. Were like a dog chasing a car the question is what happens when we catch it?!
    Peace
    Dr. Baron von Realz esq.
    )'(
    “Burning Man’s entry into the world as a genuinely large scale movement was always going to be a complicated, messy, clash of ideas.”
    – Caveat Magister

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  • Schnauser says:

    Caveat I’ve previously on these pages called you an unrepentant shill for the BMorg and I’ll do it again; not on the payroll, not an official spokesperson but I’ll bet you haven’t paid for a ticket – let alone taken your chances in the ordinary sale – for years, if ever.

    “The question now facing us is whether Burning Man’s principles, and the kind of life they support, will continue to be experienced as intrinsic goods, or whether they will be appropriated, packaged, and sold by market forces – thus becoming hollow versions of themselves.”

    I’ll ask again in the words of an earlier contributor:
    “Would you say the controversial for-profit plug & play camps big , particularly the big dollar ones, likely are at the vanguard of this process?”

    And add my own words:
    “Particularly if the P&P camps are run by ‘not for profit’ board members, or if the founders of the event are still not disclosing the remuneration they receive(d) in any capacity from whatever entity is currently running the event?”

    What the hell would I know, I’ve only been three times – and only since 2011 – but each time I journeyed to BRC from Australia and each time it was with the expectation that TTITD would be different to any other gathering I’d ever been to in the world. This year I’m living in the US and not going to be journeying to BRC; too many contradictions, too much obfuscation and way too much mumbo jumbo from all angles.

    Makes it sound like the shopping channel on late night TV.

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  • Corey says:

    To paraphrase Gandhi, “Don’t be the change you hate seeing in the Burn.”

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