In Defense of “Bucket Listers”

Based on the amount of complaining I’ve heard about it recently, we really don’t like it when random people put Burning Man on their bucket list and then try to show up.

I just can’t figure out why we’re unhappy about this.

I mean, if it’s the kind of thing a person thinks they’ll like, shouldn’t it be a thing they do before they die?

Why is that a bad impulse? Where does it go wrong?

I don’t think it does. And I say that as someone who had to be all but dragged to my first Burning Man. Like many people who are now long-term and dedicated Burners, I had an artist friend invite me to go to Burning Man … and then encourage me … and then pester me … for years. And I kept saying “no.”

I finally had to not only move to San Francisco, be between jobs, and get my at-the-time girlfriend’s okay, but THEN be offered a free ticket after helping out with an art project, before I finally said “yeah, okay, as long as I’m on the West Coast with nothing to do and have a free ticket and a place to camp, and everyone’s supportive, I might as well stop by and see if I like it.”

Which I think makes it pretty clear that I have absolutely no credibility with which to judge someone who takes it on themselves to say “Wow, I see these amazing pictures from an event happening out in the middle of nowhere, how about I try to go there and see it for myself?”

Those people – these bucket listers – are not only cooler than me, but their attitude is arguably far more in tune with Burning Man’s spirit of do-occracy. If there was enough room for me at Burning Man, a guy with all the self-reliance and community spirit of an entitled coma patient, then surely people who go out of their way to be here because they want to see what we’re up too have something to offer.

I mean, come on. Curiosity, motivation … these are good traits, right? We can work with that, right?

To the extent that there’s really problem here, it’s in that expression: “see what we’re up to.” Coming as a tourist to a place where there are no spectators does create a problem. But that problem isn’t that they want to be here – or that they come here. Those are both benefits.

No, the problem is that when you have a friend telling you “come in, you’ll like it,” you get a much more accurate account of Burning Man as a culture, and all the ways in which you need to engage to get something out of it. When you’re looking at amazing pictures on the media, you don’t get any of that.

We used to be a community that grew by word of mouth.  Now that we’re a community whose reputation is spread by media accounts and viral videos, the “spectacle” of Burning Man – seeing it – is all too easily divorced from the “doing” of Burning Man – the active participation that the culture is about.

I don’t blame people who have no exposure to Burning Man’s culture for not getting this – it really, really, goes against the grain of how we’re conditioned to experience events – even as I celebrate the curiosity and desire to engage that brings bucket listers out to us.

But there is a square to circle here. How do we get them from “seeing” to “doing”? From spectators to participants? How do we get people drawn by the spectacle to stop watching?

The answer, I think, is not by condemning them for wanting to play with us, but by taking their energy and curiosity and their desire to be here, however ignorant, as an invitation for us to play with them.

In general terms I imagine this happening in three ways:


  • Focus on direct connections with incoming Burners. Any media campaigns that we unleash, any text we write or videos we produce, however effective, will ultimately be spectating in nature. The only way people who don’t already get how to be participants will experience it for themselves in advance of the Burn will be to have direct connections with real people out in the world. Creative, participatory, experiences through either the Burning Man Project or (more likely) the Regionals cannot be substituted. Even if they still don’t “get it,” once people have a direct connection to a Burning Man community, the process will have begun.

Which means that buying a ticket should be more like the beginning of rehearsal for a play, or the start of a blind date, or the opening salvo of an intervention, than making a transaction.

If we can’t connect with people in person, can we have surreal text message conversations with them? Invite them to Facebook groups where people pass around surreal quests and send back accounts of what happened? Any human connection in which they can participate rather then just absorb is a step in the right direction.


  • Make Burning Man less convenient. I know, I know, for many of us Burning Man is pretty goddamn inconvenient already. But I’ve been struck by the degree to which the tourist mentality seems strongest in those who can get in and out of Black Rock City most conveniently. Which is to say that the problem isn’t so much that someone is super rich, or new, or inexperienced, but rather that our community is something they can take casually. Their ability and inclination to skip the shared hellscape of sacrificial inconvenience that getting in and out of Burning Man is for so much of us means both that they are lacking a common experience of our community, and that they take their presence within our community much less seriously. Is it any surprise that people who join in our shared struggle better undertand it?  Money is all too often a way you solve issues that you don’t want to pay attention to; time and personal engagement are ways you solve issues that you take seriously enough to pay attention to, however much money you then apply. The more barriers to entry we can put up that cannot be solved by money, but can be solved with time and/or community engagement, the more likely we are to separate the bucket listers who really want to know what’s going on from the circuit party tourists who are just going along for the ride.


  • Stop producing so much media focused on dancing, scenery, and explosions, and create more media showing people participating. It’s easy to create a Burning Man video of a big art piece or an explosion, because they’re there and convenient to shoot. But that convenience, once again, is part of the problem. If we must run a media campaign to engage the spectating of our culture (and yes, I suppose we must), we should emphasize the parts of Burning Man that the media isn’t going to show anyway. We need more videos of people engaging with one another, pranking one another, participating in each other’s stuff – on and off playa. And we need to make sure that bucket listers see them, and know that we celebrate and model this.


All of which is to say that bucket listers are an asset, not a problem – but we have to make sure that they are given the opportunity to understand what participatory, decommodified, gifting cultures are and to engage with them. That’s on us. And we have to give them direct connections whenever possible with which to practice. Anybody who is willing to try that, at personal inconvenience, and still come and play? Probably a real asset to our community in the long run, who should be welcomed and encouraged.




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

67 Comments on “In Defense of “Bucket Listers”

  • JV says:

    It’s over, man. The BMORG are hellbent on growing the event and attracting “influencers”, meaning the wealthy. They’re willing to utterly denude the event in exchange for an ever growing population cap, all while making it easier to access for those with means. Higher fees and lower numbers for vehicle passes. RFP for more and larger charter planes. Pre-sale ticket holders have no per person limit and can also participate in the main sale, while us plebs who can’t afford pre-sale only get one go around if we beat the odds and score our limit of 2 tickets in the main sale. How much more clear can they make it as to who they are catering to?

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    • Stephen p lasalle says:

      I remember my first burning man experience in 2008 standing next to this 70 something woman burning man was on her bucket list she had a brain tumor which gave her only a few more months to live she wanted to spend one of her remaining weeks accomplishing an item on her bucket list

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  • roissy says:

    I’d be happy if they just had a understanding of Leave No Trace…

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    • FearLess says:

      That can be a function of the community. I saw someone drop something on the Playa one year who was immediately confronted by another Burner saying ‘No, that’s not cool. No one is here to pick up after you. It’s your responsibility’, and under the patient watch of three of four of us, the trasher picked it up.

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  • Beyond saying to people it’s a week in a desert, they usually get to the flashy pictures with a moments internet effort, personally I drill Innuendo’s guide to Burning Man into them again and again and again – – spot on with the media comment, a season’s worth of sharing other peoples short explosive spectacle videos does nothing to educate people about the principles.

    I’d be happy to see a stipulation on registered cameras / media, that they need to include / feature the principle elements of radical participation (amongst others) as part of them getting approval to publish.

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    • Sky Devine says:

      Thanks for the video link. As someone who’s interested in participating in a Burning Man in the future, it was amazingly helpful.

      I am worried about the stigma of “new people” coming without doing their research first. Which is why I’m reading through comments here. It seems like my kind of place though, honestly.

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  • Parsec says:

    The way to combat this is by pre-emptively exposing folks to the culture through local pop up events with a focus on education and outreach. In the case of the Burners Without Borders projects I have been doing in Corpus Christi with beach cleanups and micro-burns to give folks a taste while delivering education on the grass-roots local level. We need to reach out to these stage 1 burn addicts while they are fresh and get them participating in building art, learning how to use tools safely and effectively and then turn that energy into volunteer hours that make a real difference in our local worlds. That is how we fix shit, I have been doing it for almost a decade.

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    • JV says:

      The people going to regionals or other local events where Burning Man type activity is happening are not the problem. People who attend those are seeking out the kinds of experiences that an event like Burning Man offers. The bucket listers and other music festival circuit people are almost certainly not attending the local events, they are in for the spectacle alone and the ones that are a concern have the means to (literally) jet in, pay someone to build and provide necessities, and jet out with very little effort. They’re buying a vacation package, it just happens to be at Burning Man.

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  • TBONE says:

    I truly hope you have some sway with the BMORG. While you preach about erecting barriers to the disengaged, those with power continue to lower those barriers – by continuing to give Premium Access and Placement to the Commodification Camps like White Privilege Ocean and their Paying Customers who fly in for the weekend on an expanded Airport schedule while the filthy peasants lug in the art and the infrastructure far below. Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, people came to Burning Man because someone they knew said YOU ARE A BURNER, and you should go with us. Today, Princess Booty OOntz flies to Burning Man and stays with spaghetti-armed Techbros, on their dime, so they may serve as Mistresses of Merriment – and the BMORG encourages it.

    Your words are wise, but what can WE do? BMORG has no interest in skewing access away from the be-feathered hot chick and her entourage. Year after year, they bend over backward to not only accommodate, but advantage those who fly from Ibiza to Coachella to Future Further to Burning Man in a circuit of consumption and waste and “enlightenment”. I agree with so much of what you have to say, but nothing WE do will make any difference as long as those with power continue to sell out the experience WE create to useless observers and those who profit from OUR labor and creativity.

    To be honest, I’m surprised they allowed you to publish this. They don’t usually encourage deviation from the New Principles.

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    • A work n player says:

      Homerun! Well said, I hope we cross paths next summer.

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    • Off White says:

      I’m a plebe and haven’t met the folks you’re describing, but you sure write a persuasive commentary. I agree it would be a better event if money buy privilege, that would be, what, I guess more of a throwback than revolutionary? Certainly counter to the mainstream culture. I met a lot of folks last year who were there for the first time, and almost universally they were fine additions and most were planning what they would bring to add to the whole shebang the next time.

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  • Andrew says:

    Well, we have vehicle passes these days. How about we only sell them to non-virgins (or at least to someone with an account that’s purchased a ticket some previous year). Not only would that encourage ride-sharing (which is great for gayte / exodus), but it encourages ride-sharing with people who have been at least once. Meh, the downsides are pretty obvious and I’m sure there must be better ideas out there.

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  • Robyn Barnes says:

    “Make Burning Man less convenient.”

    Yes, yes, that!!

    The airport, and on-site RV rental, makes going to Burning Man as easy as tying your shoe (if you have lots of money). Limit, or put a stop to those and Burning Man will become 10 times better. Unfortunately, coddling the rich is high on the BMORG’s agenda, and they support those two programs fully.

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  • ZedMailman says:

    Shut the airport. While it will inconvenience a handful of burner pilots it will also get rid of people who are too important to wait in a line.

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    • hm says:

      Have you ever been to the airport there to either fly or pick somebody up?

      Even when only one flight is coming in or out it can take 2 hours to get through ‘customs’…

      The cost of a flight is as much as many people pay to rent RV’s per person.

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      • ZedMailman says:

        I have, on a couple occasions. I like the airport, but like so many things, it’s changed so much. I got a gift of a ride in a skydiving plane once. Great experience.

        But 2 hours at peak time is laughable. Rich privilege and 90% of them don’t even have to do that. How about a mandatory 8hr holding area that is shaded but you have to sit on your luggage? I spent 6 in line to get in a few years ago. Took 8 to get back to Reno last year leaving at 5am.

        The rich leverage every single little piece of purchase that they can and the airport has turned into one of their key “needs”. Paris Hilton doesn’t carpool or wait in lines. We need fewer car passes and more lines.

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  • Issimo says:

    With @40% virgins each year and 10 principals to work with the reasons to attend far exceed the variety and purpose of all the theme camps and art projects that have ever come to Burning Man. Art & society require observers just as much as creators and doers in order to complete the circle of creative aesthetics and community.

    Sometimes radical inclusion is tough but it is always awesome.

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  • Donna Borchers says:

    Sounds to me like what once seemed an interesting thing to do has now become nothing more than a rich man’s playground. I have no further interest in ever participating now. Turned off.

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  • Zaphod says:

    That, my friend, is an impossible topic. Thanks for bringing it up. Convenience is the hallmark of America, it’s what we export. Without convenience we whine. It’s the greatest downfall of society. There is very little struggle at BM. Everyone brings way too much in typical American fashion. Make participation mandatory. BM would be better off if the attendees had to work for their ticket. What if you had to do 100 hours of useful public service in your community and have it signed off by the mayor of your town before you were even allowed to buy a ticket? Participation would be down to under 10,000 people. It’s time to change it up. You are right Caveat, it’s far too convenient. It’s time to make it worthwhile again.

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  • Deb says:

    A thought from the ignorant… I am an artist and love what i have seen about burning man, not just the flash and bang fancy stuff, but the art and the thought of how the f* did you get all the materials out there to build that??!! And the time it must have taken, and the tools and how to power them!! What about a “pay to play” idea, if you purchase a ticket and have no display or idea to share you are required to donate time in helping another artist?? Not sure how the logistics would work, maybe two types of tickets?? just an idea from someone who if health were to allow it, would like to partake in all that does encompass burning man.

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  • KDB says:

    This event and the fashion that seems to define it now is sooo beat (like 6-7 years ago beat). But it’s still fun as hell…Even though it’s pretentious and often times lame. Catwalk narcissism and ego undermined the burn. Couple that with catering to money and this event lost its ‘festival’ soul years ago. There was a time (not that long ago, maybe 10 years) when the event consisted mostly of artists and festival cultures types. Sadly that is long gone. I wish we could bring back the stupid and ridiculous. The raw and often times gross. They can start by eliminating wealth camps and letting people fend for themselves as was once the case. Anyhow…Glad I got ‘er (uh, him) while the gettin was gooood!! Yeeeeehaaawww!! See ya next year.

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  • Vicky says:

    Hi, as someone who wants to go there, and lives oversees. I’ve heard about Burning Man many years ago and wanted to come ever since. But the logistics of me getting there (and the money I would need to male my dream come true) are just beyond my reach for now. I think for anyone without means wanting to get there, there are already enough barriers. I cant imagine having another condition like helping an artist when I dont live in the US. I’ll get there one day, with the help of my San Jose friends, no doubt, as only death (and hospitals) can get in my way.
    So I just wanted to say, not all newbies want to just get it off of their Bucket List. But they have to work their asses off to buy the ticket (which is expensive to middle Europeans), plane tickets, get a car once in US, get all the necessary equipment and drive there. I guess that’s no little feat.

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    • Andre Berzins says:

      Hear Ya, Vicky. I had to save 18 months to go from Brazil. It is no small feat.

      I may be wrong, after all I am a burgin, but they are not after people who work their ass out and face huge logistics challenges, but the entitled brats who think money is their passport to understanding the culture.


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  • Robert says:

    One simple rule will fix this problem: no private toilets allowed. I don’t care how rich you are, if you suffer the Blue Rooms with the rest of us, you’re all right by me.

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  • Oden says:

    I have met many “bucket listers” but I have never once heard any of them say that they don’t wanna come back. They don’t just come and tick something off to never look back, even if that was what they first intended. Instead I see many who are planning their costumes and projects for next year before they have even left the Playa. Get off your high horses, you were burgins too.

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    • Dave says:

      Great point! I came many moons ago just to party as I didn’t know anything about BM other than it lasted a week in the desert. That first week I learned so much about myself and other people that I think I’m a better person because of it.
      I think the community needs to share knowledge with first timers so they have a good time and that they leave feeling part of the community. This might encourage people to became part of their local/regional communities and ultimately contributing to BM.
      Change is gonna happen anyways….might as well try to make it positive.

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    • Bob K. says:

      I look forward to my first trip this August. It will be way out of the box for me and my friends. Have ways for us to volunteer and perhaps introduce us to Burn Mentors

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  • Dustin says:

    Want less spectator partyers? Stop placing theme camps that are basically “bar and sound system” with a little decor on top, and accepting art cars that are just buses with giant speakers on them that drive in circles. I miss the truly absurd camps. The giant mazes. The interactive camps with games. Dangerous camps with fire and zip lines. Now everything’s a bar having happy hour.

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    • The Hustler says:

      As a lifetime teetotaler I can’t agree more with this. It seems like every fucking camp is a bar.

      I’m not against the bars, but it would be nice if there were fewer of them.

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      • Somebody says:

        Totally agree with both of you…and may I suggest visiting my theme camp, “Family Reunion Camp”? 2016 was our first time (my 4th burn and 4th year volunteering for ESD) and we didn’t have much going on due to being placed on Botticelli in the “back yard” of several large camps that faced Arno so there was not much traffic…but, we had a lot of art activities and other fun stuff available and plan to do the same again this year!

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  • Hot Rod says:

    I don’t get it, Caveat. You’ve written many articles ( defending plug&play camps and other things that make Burning Man excessively convenient and now you’re coming out against those?! What do you actually believe??

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    • Caveat Magister says:

      Hey Hot Rod:

      I’ve written a number of pieces saying that Burning Man should be inclusive of the people who increased convenience has allowed to get here. I am very aware that if the gates had been shut too tight, I never would have made it in, and I believe strongly that Radical Inclusion is a big part of what keeps us interesting.

      But I’m not in favor of the convenience, for its own sake, at all. And I definitely believe in inclusive fuckery over convenience.

      Here are two early posts of mine that get at this point:

      I don’t think we’ll get anywhere saying “this is how people should burn,” and then mandating tents instead of RVs or trying to impose cost limits on camps. I think that leads to bad places. But making Burning Man more inconvenient, if that inconvenience allows for self-expression and communal effort and is open to newcomers? Oh yes, let’s do that.

      Either way, thanks for reading.

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      • Hammerhead says:

        Good viewpoint. However, please be aware that in the ESD volunteer arena, a “bucket lister” who signs up just to get a ticket then never shows up to duty fails in so many of the Principles. I’ve heard they are then barred from ever coming back, but what would they care? ‘Course, I been sayin’ I won’t be back for over 20 years now…

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  • The Hustler says:

    I fully agree with the media aspect. It annoys the shit out of me to see the endless cliches of Burning Man imagery — the same shit over and over: girls posed in skimpy costumes, things on fire, art cars …

    OK, there is a fine line between censorship and “guidance,” and it’s not up to us in Media Mecca to tell people how to do their thing (with the exception being overt and/or obvious conflicts with Burning Man community best practices and intellectual property infringements) but it would be nice to see the other 90% of Black Rock City.

    I like to think I fall in with some noted photographers who do a good job of showing the forgotten majority of goings-on, construction, daily life and interestingness of our community.

    Maybe the best way is to lead or guide by example and gentle mockery.

    About the ease of getting to Black Rock City: I’m a little torn.

    Efforts to reduce the traffic (and the various woes it brings) have a side effect of making it easier to get in.

    Burner Express is good example of that.

    If I can get a 2017 ticket, I’ll take Burner Express again, which makes it very easy for me to get in to Black Rock City, and less expensive. It does, however limit how early I can arrive, but also forces me to pack lightly, which isn’t a bad thing.

    Maybe we need to reach out to virgin burners directly. I had the idea rolling around in my head for a couple of years to encourage (or offer or something) willing old, cranky, jaded … eh, I mean veteran burners to “mentor” (or whatever a better term would be. I’m not fond of “mentor”) virgin burners — even if it’s some help with the basics of staying not-dead and a bit of that comforting gentle mockery.

    By no measure does that mean any degree of hand-holding or tour-guiding.

    But I also think that’s a terrible idea.

    Burning Man is an organized clusterfuck to which there is no easy point of entry. Even the parts that make it easy are still uncomfortable (Burner Express gets hot and dusty on the playa and there is always that one dude who has never bathed before, and the four or six tourists who seem to have no idea how to function in public) and/or have their own limitations (weight and volume of bags and supplies).

    I think it will take a lot before Burning Man is easy to get to, and is accessible to the masses (it’s a financial stretch for me to go). And, the poor souls who think it’s just a fair-weather party full of ridiculously attractive people dancing and drinking to DJ Famous Douche Bag are in for a very rude awakening. Or not …

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    • lesley says:

      Hi The Hustler (like your name too), I really like you idea about old burners helping virgin burners (like me I hope this year). Understanding the whole premise of Burning Man, I have tried to read and understand all levels of how to participate at burning man. The culture of gifting without expectation of a return gift or favour is a concept of how I like to live my life in Australia now. I hope to get to burning man this year with 2 friends of mine, yes we are hiring a RV as we are doing a road trip around the west coast but it’s not a display of our wealth it’s just 3 friends sharing the load and having a mobile home to live in during our 5 week stay in America. I would love an old burner to show me the ropes and I want to participate and volunteer, I want to be part of what I think burning man is about, self reliance, participation & acceptance, these are really important to me.
      I have watched many youtube videos and yes I see many very attractive people dancing to music half my age but I don’t care, because if I want to dance all night I will, I will be who I am.
      Burning Man has been on my bucket list for many years I have waited until the time has been right and I feel this year it is.
      so any old burners out there that want to spread the love and knowledge of burning man to me I would be more than happy to listen, meet with them, hug them & feel 100% lucky to be there.
      I have been totally blown away by the extremely talented people who have spent so much of their time creating art objects for everyone to appreciate, the opportunity to meet people and to share stories will make me smile for the rest of my life.
      thanks Hustler I hope to meet you at Burning Man and to finish I don’t care how long I have to queue, we will have a RV and if any one needs a ride to make their journey more comfortable they can get on board with us we will have room.
      I have climbed the mountains of Nepal and appreciated the fact that you have to do it tough to admire the beauty.

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  • John Olinger says:

    After 11 straight years, this will be my first year off. I’m having a baby with my girlfriend that I met at the Burn 6 years ago (and camped with every year since).
    I’ve seen the changes just like everybody else, but the event still provides the creative environment and chance for connection, same as always.
    Sure, I have some of the same thoughts/emotions about the plug and plays, rich, etc. But really, why do you care about it? You make your own experience, not them. So they have some fancier accommodations, known DJs, and better food. BFD.
    My best experiences have always been the random ones, my neighborhood, my camp, the art car we built, the daily gifts we offer at our fruit and veggie stand at 3&K, the homegrown daily DJ lineup we organized. And if you are worried about lines, go Thursday/Friday/Tuesday to Tuesday… seriously. Drive in and drive out. No lines.
    As far the Bucket Listers, I’m not in favor of excluding anybody that is genuinely interested in participating in the BM experiment, as long as those do not displace others that have contributed so much already.
    There will be room for two newbies this year. But we’ll be back with a Burner Baby at some point. (the thought did cross my mind to take our baby to its second Burn, first out of womb Burn) And just in case anybody is curious, a pregnant Burn was quite enjoyable. She had a few discomforts, but it worked out great. 12 days on playa. Granted we do camp with a VW van and an organic fruit and veggie camp.

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  • SD7 says:

    Don’t worry about them. Have your own burn.

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  • Speedy says:

    I went the first time because I had gone through cancer treatment and my brother posed it as a “Bucket List” item. He had gone a few times and insisted that I needed the experience at least once in my life. Been going every year since. FYI, I went from wide eyed tourist to bringing a small art car the “SS Tata” representing my lost boob and giving hope and hopefully a little humor to others. I have seen big changes and a lot of controversy in a few years, but Burning Man is still like nothing else on a spiritual level for me. It restores my faith that people can be caring, giving and amazingly creative for the short time we are here on this planet if we just come together.

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  • Fncking Hottie says:

    I see grumbling on bucket listers, tourists, plug-and-play in the comments…

    Lets break out symptom from problem, shall we? The symptom, I feel, is people not participating substantially enough, and that many of these people may be virgins.

    If we assume that many of these people would like to participate (and indeed I would say that they are in context of their trajectory from their default world), then I would posit that the problem is one of outreach and coordination – getting virgins into activities and communities prior to the burn so that they can be more engaged and participatory.

    Finding a community where you can and want to participate to your fullest happens at best by happenstance: It takes time, a network and experience.

    Can you short-circuit this? Possibly. I’d like to be able to more easily find communities that mirror my wants, needs and abilities – this is what the internet is all about – how about a central resource, like the ride-share site, to cross reference camps and their needs and burners and virgins and their abilities? Mentoring is another area that I think would be fantastic… passing on the ethos one to one.

    This is an opportunity for more interactivity and great art and experiences.

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    • Lesley Groot says:

      thanks Fncking Hottie, I totally agree let the virgins be mentored by the older burners if possible why not, to truly understand the reason for burning man I’m all for it and thanks

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  • Diana says:

    About eight years ago my camp had a “bucket lister’ join our group. He was a retired gentleman from Ohio, he’d always wanted to go to Burning Man but was always too busy, and didn’t really know how to start about it. The summer before he came, he worked on an archeological expedition with a friend-of-a-friend of the leader of my camp, who hooked him up with us back in California. He bought the very first ticket for the ’09 Burn, and by that I mean the serial number was the first of the series of tickets for that year. He was very proud, and showed it to anyone who’d listen. This guy was so marvelous! He was on our early entry crew, and there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t help with or wouldn’t try. He kind of became the camp’s mascot. When he came back again in ’10, he told us he had terminal cancer. That burn was hard on him, but he said there was no place he’d rather be. He passed away in early 2011, and his daughter wrote us to tell us how much we and Burning Man had meant to him, and she sent us his ashes to take to the temple in 2011. I can’t think of a truer burner than that.

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    • Rik Martin says:

      Fantastic story Diana, I am hoping to get to BM this year flying over from NZ and meeting up with some friends from the UK, it will be my first time but I don’t see it as a bucket list experience just another give it a go, get involved and see what happens really.

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  • Wild Bill says:

    Remember….Inclusion does not stop after YOU are in. I am amazed at the exclusionary ideas that people come up with to support their narrow view of what this event is. Hello Ten Principles!! Hug the tourists, hug the bucket listers and they just might become hard core burners. Or at least have a great experience. And you will too.

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    • Lily fairy says:

      That’s it. So simple so beautiful :) share and welcome instead of pointing fingers for who didn’t do what. Still important to discover the ways to invite people to “do”. Very good points are raised here. I think the inconvenience is the star, keeping money out, so it can be done only through your efforts which means bucket listers will likely have at least strong motivation and understanding. And they’re so welcome to come and grow

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  • peterp says:

    I am one of those Bucket Listers and here is my story. I first heard about BM when i was working in San Francisco in 2001. One of my staff was a burner and told me about the event. I thought it sounded cool and liked what he had to say about the culture. The job ended I went back east and got back into raising my family and sending kids to college. In 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer and realized I had really let life’s priorities get in the way of truly living life. So I created my “bucket list” and the first item on it was Attend BM. Last year at the age 62 I attended my first Burn.
    I’m not rich, I did rent an RV with another person, but before I went to the event I read all I could about the principles of BM and vowed to embrace them for my time at the event. I volunteered at the Center Cafe for 3 shifts including the one during the night of the Burn. I left the event changed in several ways, with new friends and a greater appreciation of life.
    Would I do it again? Most definitely, but only after I have lived life by crossing off the other items on my bucket list. I hope to make it back to BM but only after I make it to the end of my list.

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  • Aidan says:

    I got a bit worried when I saw the title of this post since (if I could get the blessing of finding a ticket) this would be my first Burning Man, the thing is that I don’t live in the States, and I don’t live anywhere (for now) I’m an illustrator on a nomadic spree, learning languages, visiting communities and places that perhaps I can call home, or keep going back to. And such I don’t have the means for carrying a lot of stuff into the Burning Man, but once and if I get the ticket I would LOVE and will try to find someone working on a project (or several) that could need an extra pair of hands, and I hope to offer at the very least my stories from around the world, and mind the potential reader: I’m not even a ‘party’ person, I’m mostly into arts, environment and travel. So with that in mind: will I be mistreated by people for not living in the States and not been able to bring too many things for gifting with me? will I be looked down to because is my first time and I don’t know when the second one might be? because I don’t know anybody who has been in the Burning Man before? I hope not :( if because all of this I’m not welcome, I rather know sooner than later.

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    • Sally says:

      The best advice I got (and I’ve only been once so I’m still a newbie) is that gifting does not just mean physical items. Step into help someone who is struggling to put up their camp, run after the random piece of trash (along with a bunch of other burners, perhaps my favorite thing bout BM), hug anyone, smile and make conversation (particularly to someone who is alone, it’s hard going to BM by yourself, at least it was for this introvert), or do whatever you see with your unique eyes needs to be done. That’s really what gifting is about. I was told that and from my experience it really is true.

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      • Sally says:

        (“about” not “bout”)

        And, volunteer at a camp or BM organization. Check the forums and you’ll make connections before you even arrive.

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      • Aidan H says:

        Thank you Sally, advice received warmly, thank you ^^ With the possible exception of the hugs (I might but don’t want to promise, I’m kind of introverted too lol) those you mention are all a given! hoping to do much more tho, checking the forums and trying to find people that needs pairs of hands during the event and/or shortly before and after is on my package, do need to have my go-confirmation first tho D:

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  • Corvus says:

    Even the dustiest burners had their first time and, let’s face it, not everyone drinks the Kool-aid. What’s important is that they come to participate, not spectate; like Caveat said, it’s up to us to encourage that as much as possible but some people “get it” even without that push.

    A couple years ago I was in Gerlach on Saturday-before-opening. There was a retired couple sitting in lawn chairs by their RV in somebody’s front yard, by Bruno’s. They were waving at the traffic going by so I wandered over and had a conversation with them. Turned out they were from Indiana and had never >heard< of BM. When they were gassing up in Cedarville, a guy from Gerlach told them about this "wonderful thing" that was going on in his town so they followed him down — it was his front yard they were parked in.

    The wife was not only waving, every time a folded-up art car or heavily-laden truck went by, she'd jump up and snap a picture of it. "Everyone seems so happy," she commented. I told her that they'd been on a long journey, thousands of miles in some cases, and were now eight miles from home. "I wish I could go."

    I started to say that come Tuesday or Wednesday, they could probably snag a couple tickets, maybe even for free when the husband spoke up. "It's not that, it's just I'd feel awkward wandering around gawking at all that cool stuff and be unable to show something of my own." "What do you make?" He pulls a picture out of his wallet of a red Jeep Wrangler. It was not decorated, but it had a poofer on the front bumper blasting up at a 45-degree angle.

    The Cacophony Society's motto, You May Already Be a Member, ran through my mind as I handed the pic back to him. "Plan for next year. You're gonna fit right in."

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  • Ben says:

    I have never been to Burning Man and I’d really love to go.
    I have friends who have been and their accounts of the experience are incredible.
    I’d love to be a part of a team that helps to build and set-up an art installation. I’d love to be partake in the “gifting” community. I’d love to be a part of the community and not just a tourist.
    The challenge I find is that unless someone takes you under their wing, there is nothing akin to a “mentorship” program that would say partner newbies with experienced Burners. If you really want to maintain the “authentic” Burner experience and community then it really is on the shoulders of existing Burners to educate and teach and take the newbies under their wings. Otherwise how will they learn? In order for the guiding principles of a community to be adhered to, appreciated and promoted in the future, the community elders needs to incorporate new members and to teach them the ways.
    That clearly is not being done.
    On another matter it seems that Burning Man is undergoing an identity crisis/growing pains. Retain its authenticity or cater to the elite? You cannot have both in my opinion.
    Those are my two cents for what it is worth.
    As it stands

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    • Robb says:

      Yes, there is no “mentor” program where newbies sit on a bench waiting for experienced burners to come by and pick them for training. And honestly I don’t thing there should be because I think there is a difference between people that want to go to BM and those that really want to be a part of BM. If you really want to be a part of BM, you’ll chase it.

      The Burning Man community doesn’t just exist for two weeks at the end of summer at Black Rock. It is 24/7/365 and exists all over the world. The best way to learn from experienced burners is to find a way to get involved and help out. Hit the forums, ask questions, find and attend regionals. It takes some effort and time. If you live in more rural areas, you may find yourself driving for a while to spend weekends sleeping in your car to be involved. Sometimes it isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

      On the BM home page, click the Menu icon on the upper right, select The Network>Get Involved. You want to be part of BM? Here’s your yellow brick road. Now chase it.

      Hope to see you next year with a dusty f’ing grin on your face.

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      • Howard S. says:

        I guess I’m lucky living in Seattle. We have many Burner things going on all year. There are many chances for first timers to meet veteran Burners.

        Before my first time to the desert, in 1999, I went to a few Saturday meet ups and a July newbie pic nick. All of them were a chance to meet people, ask questions, find out what I should and shouldn’t take with me. One thing I was told was to not take water with me. Buy it in Reno. Driving from Seattle, with the weight of the water, not a good idea for gas consumption. Cheaper to buy the water in Reno and drive out to the desert with it from there.

        I would tell anyone to go to the Burning Man website and check the Network link to see if there is a local Burning Man connection.

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  • Akmojo says:

    are you a partier or a participant is a simple question I ask..
    every large Camp or Village has the same problems.. a core group that truly does the majority of the prep and oversees events and then a lot of newbs. a “bucket list” for someone that is 60 is far different than for a 21 yr old and most older folks seem to have researched and prepared more as well as generally have more of a “participant” attitude vs “party” one..
    everyone has the right to attend and do whatever they want.. it’s MY choice to share and include anyone in my Burn experience and to do so is MY biggest gift to Burningman….
    I did hear a fair amount of grumbling from old Burners, DPW, Rangers, etc about pay to play and being turned away from those types of Camps… BMORG, are YOU starting to cater to the big $$$ at the expense of the real Burners that are the “middle class” of Burningman and make the event what it is ?? is BMORG going to have a bigger party and raise the road permit prices to cover it ??? more more more bigger bigger bigger

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  • Ziganne says:

    I was prepared to dislike this article based on the title alone, but found myself mostly agreeing with the author. As a 2016 first-timer, I needed plenty of encouragement, support and–yes, instruction–on how to become more engaged. There was that feeling of being the new kid on the first day of school. As far as interaction, I feel I could have done far better–and hope to at future burns. However, unlike Caveat Magister, for me having the privilege and opportunity to attend wasn’t easy. I only WISH I had friends who begged me to go–offering a free ticket and place to camp. As it was, it was like funding and organizing a mission to Mars! (And, yes, there may be a parallel in that statement.)

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  • Sally says:

    Thank you for a refreshingly unpretentious viewpoint. I’m not sure who gets to me the most, the partiers who don’t participate or the Burners who act privileged about having been before and whine about the old days instead of offering suggestions like yours. I found that some of the longtime art car people where far less inclusive than the partiers. If you can’t try to set aside your judgements about others at Burning Man, where can you?

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  • Rikki says:

    The real problem seems to be people flying into BRC to have a plug and play Burning Man vacation for a few days. They’ll pay big dollars to party anywhere trendy but aren’t a part of, nor do they contribute to the 10 principals or BMan ethos. Getting to and from BRC via land is part of the experience. So why is there even an airport? (Other than medical). Discourage flying into BRC and make more vehicle passes available. Ticket availability is a challenge. Tickets should be available to those who PARTICIPATE throughout the year at Regional events, theme camps, art projects, volunteering, etc. It’s heartbreaking to see someone who has worked on a project or been actively involved in a theme camp not be able to go because they couldn’t get a ticket. Burning Man then becomes a Mecca for people who understand, honor and have made the 10 Principles part of daily life. It’s a reward for dedication and hard work and will be appreciated as such. Just my 2 cents, hope it makes sense.

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  • lo909 says:

    No one is an expert on Burning Man.

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  • FruitoftheEarth says:

    Perhaps a “Burgin Enlightenment Guide”,or B.E.G. for short, should be an mandatory educational course requirement for all 1st year attendees. It can be educational videos which include some type of interactive test or written essay about “what do the 10 principals mean to you” and would need to be completed when creating your user profile for the first time. Perhaps something as simple as a tutorial video on “how to make the best of your burn”or “100 ways you can participate on and off the playa”. Like the survival guide but mandatory like a drivers ed test to make sure they’re paying attention. Published in a variety of languages naturally.

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