The Revelation Will Not Be Commodified

This is the third post in a series about Decommodification, one of Burning Man’s 10 Principles and a crucial issue in our culture.

There’s a growing sense of outrage in the Burning Man community that our culture is being commodified. I think it’s great for us to be having these conversations, and I’m a little alarmed at the tone of some participants, which shows a lack of civility that seems misaligned with the broader spirit of the Principles. Worse, I smell a whiff of religiosity in the air, a sense that commodification is bad simply because it’s bad, a sin against one of our precious Principles, rather than something with a practical impact on our lives.

So in the spirit of examining unexamined beliefs, I’m going to suggest that we put down our pitchforks, snuff out our torches, and take a look at what Decommodification really means, why we value it, and why and how we ought to seek to preserve it as a practice in our community.

The Pillars of Principles by Peter Blitz (Photo by Lung Liu)

The 10 Principles were never meant to be Commandments. They were not written to delineate rights and wrongs, and in fact do not even directly express values. Instead, they describe a set of behaviors that, when taken as a whole, create a certain social environment, and by inference, a set of values. Leaving No Trace, for instance, pretty clearly implies a value of respect for the environment. Radical Inclusion implies a value of tolerance, and so forth.

But what about Decommodification? I mean really – what about that one? Not only is it unclear what underlying values it might express, or why we should care, but let’s be honest: what does the word even mean? We have Larry Harvey to blame for this; he loved sending people to the dictionary. But he was also trying to say something that, in the vocabulary of a profoundly capitalist American society, simply could not be expressed without resorting to a made-up word.

If you type it in a word processing app, it will set off your spelling alarms. If you try texting it, you will be auto-corrected. I remember doing a web search on it years ago, and I got some indecipherable article about deregulation of the natural gas industry. Wikipedia currently defines it as “the strength of social entitlements and citizens’ degree of immunization from market dependency.” Which is the kind of definition only a political economist could love.

It’s easier to think of it as the opposite of commodification, which is rather more clearly defined as “the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities or objects of trade.” Emphasis added on “people” — because that’s the worst of it: the dehumanizing part. There’s no denying that we are all economic actors, that we all at various times play the roles of buyer and seller, maker and consumer. We swim in a sea of commerce and consumption. What sets us apart as Burners is our refusal to be defined by these economic roles.

43 Words

“In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.” 

The idea of Decommodification goes back to the early desert days and the Cacophony Society (Cover art by Kevin Evans)

Harvey wrote those words in 2004, but the idea goes back to the earliest days of Burning Man in the desert. The Cacophony Society and its members were no fans of capitalist consumerism, but their critique was more Dadaist than Marxist, and among the early organizers of Black Rock City there were in fact quite a few small business owners.

But you don’t have to be a Marxist to see the widespread alienation in capitalist society, just as you don’t need to be a socialist to recognize the steady erosion of community institutions and a growing sense of isolation in American life.

Have you ever had a “playa provides” moment? Experienced “playa serendipity?” Met an amazing person that you never would have met otherwise? Received a gift beyond value, or had the opportunity to give a gift that changed someone’s life for the better?

When a group of people act in accordance with the 10 Principles, it creates a unique social environment of openness, tolerance and trust, which facilitates what we like to think of as “playa magic”  an atmosphere of curiosity, generosity, kindness and humor that leads to amazing encounters and delightfully unexpected outcomes.

A Circle J proprietor in front of his store (Photo by Susan Becker)

It takes all 10 Principles to make the magic happen, but as I see it, Decommodification is something of a lynchpin.

It’s certainly the one that sets us apart most clearly from other events and festivals, and even if it’s not more inherently important than the others, it seems to play a key enabling role. That much is clear from the first eight words of the Principle: “In order to preserve the spirit of gifting…”

By short-circuiting our default market behaviors, the practice of Decommodification forces us to deal with each other as human beings, not simply as economic actors. In Black Rock City you can’t sidestep an interaction by turning it into a transaction, as we so often do in the default world, and so often to our disadvantage.

Watch Your Wallet

In everyday life, if you left your wallet at home it would be a catastrophe. How could you even function? But when you’re at Burning Man, your wallet loses all its power, and it has no power over you. Carrying it feels just as nonsensical as not carrying it would feel back in the default world. This can be an enormously liberating experience.

Decommodification at its finest (Photo by Jamen Percy)

Taking commerce out of the picture, even for a few days, and even in an incomplete way, is one of the keys to creating an atmosphere of openness and trust, where we are less inclined to doubt each other’s motives and more likely to open up to strangers.

And by removing brand iconography, we foster a sense of joint ownership and control of the environment, as well as downplaying the social markers that too often serve as class barriers in our off-playa lives.

In the built world of our event spaces, we can create a more level playing field with fewer interpersonal barriers. It’s a place where anyone can talk to anyone, without fear of consequences  and where you can meet people from far beyond your usual orbit, leading to serendipitous encounters and unlikely collaborations.

Outside the Bubble

How does the Principle of Decommodification work outside the event environment, beyond the city limits of Black Rock City or Pyropolis or Nowhere? While I can’t agree with those who argue that it only applies on playa, or that we have somehow “outgrown” it, it’s hard not to acknowledge that the Principle has increasingly different implications on and off-playa, and that Larry in 2004 could not have anticipated how broadly the culture would spread in the world, and in what ways the community would evolve.

Sign of the times near the Capital Theater, San Francisco (Photo by Manuel Pinto)

A close reading of the text suggests there’s a bit of a bubble around Decommodification: that it only applies in the “social environments” that our community collectively creates, and not necessarily outside those closely shared spaces.

But Black Rock City is no longer the only social environment we create, and our community is increasingly connected in adjacent social environments that still operate under conventional market rules. This can create a sort of cultural dissonance that’s uncomfortable to experience and not easy to resolve.

I’m not talking about the concierge-camp hustler who peddles the fantasy that you can have a catered luxury trip to Burning Man and still actually be at Burning Man. Or the rip-off fashion designer who mistakes the gifts of his fellow artists for a creative commons that can be harvested at will for his personal gain. Both of these clearly fall into the realm of commercial exploitation.

But what about the Burners whose day jobs  as celebrities or internet influencers  have transformed them into living brand avatars, as intimately linked to their sponsors’ brands as STD patients are to all of their partners’ partners. Can people who have so thoroughly commodified themselves ever practice Decommodification in a meaningful way? 

And what about the makers who have turned their playa-genius inventions into commercial ventures in the default world? Or the art crews and theme camps who have formed their own legal entities, and now need to fundraise under what are essentially brand names?

While decidedly different, these two examples are alike in that neither was something any of us could have anticipated when the Principles first came to light. 

Uncharted Territory

In these emergent cases, I’d like to suggest that we tread lightly, and look more to intentions than to perceived effect. For those who mistake Burning Man for a religion, and the Principles for its gospel, it’s too easy to point an angry finger and shout “Commodifier!” when it might be more effective, and certainly more complicated, to unpack the issue without resorting to the language of sin and redemption.

In the examples above, for instance, an exploration of motives might reveal fairly quickly that the social media influencer is using Burning Man to sell stuff, and the artist or maker is selling stuff so they can contribute to Burning Man. I believe this is a critical distinction that we should always keep in mind: does the transaction or advertisement lead to a situation that somehow enriches our larger community? Or does it take from it, and leave us all with less?

Some observers, often newcomers to our community, accuse the Burning Man organization of being hypocritical, on the one hand espousing Decommodification and on the other hand selling tickets to the BRC event, as well as coffee and ice during its duration. But these transactions allow the event to take place, to foster community, and to support public health for our citizens. Taken together they have a humanizing, rather than a dehumanizing effect.

I started by questioning the underlying values of the practice of Decommodification, and why it matters. Values are a deeply personal matter, and I can only answer for myself. But since the stated purpose of the Principle is to “preserve the spirit of gifting,” for me that speaks to values of generosity and gratitude.

And since, as we’ve seen, it works to break down barriers between us and make us more open to seeing each other without the filters of money, I’d add the values of openness and mutual respect. As we proceed into the unexplored frontiers of Decommodification, I like to hope that we can do it in a way that embodies these values. With kindness, with a generous spirit, and with a radically open mind.


Top Photo: T-shirt Vendor at Baker Beach, 1990 (Photo by Richard Neill)

About the author: Stuart Mangrum

Stuart Mangrum

A member of the community since 1993, Stuart was a pioneer settler of Black Rock City and Burning Man’s first communications manager. He currently serves as education director for Burning Man Project.

27 Comments on “The Revelation Will Not Be Commodified

  • Please share your thoughts on the following,

    1. “The 10 Principles are an excellent guide for personal and group behavior and interactions. A practical community guide of norms and expectations that is practiced by most as is evidenced by the continued success of the project.”

    2. “The PRINCIPLES were given to us through the inspired vision of Larry and The Founders! Work yare and you might get a “gifted” ticket to the blessed Playa!”

    3. The “Principles” are an ingenious marketing strategy that effectively differs the “bottom line” expenditures for the production costs of the event, through the “inspiration” of tens of thousands of volunteers, The “principles”, a vague, non-specific “platform of expectations”, noteworthy, in that they avoid any legal liability, while eschewing all tangible organizational obligations for participant adherance, and required enforcement of said “principles”. A secular “guide”, prefacing as “social code”, while avoiding legally binding issues of an actual doctrine.

    4. Meh.

    *BMorg peeps, affiliates, beneficiaries must identify themselves prior to their reply*

    Chose 1.

    For fun, pick a close 2nd. What motivates your choices, honestly. Go

    Report comment

  • Robyn says:

    McKinley’s Park is melting in the dark
    All the sweet, green money flowing down…

    Report comment

  • Sylvo says:

    Seems to me all this speaks to the primacy of relationships at burning man. Not all relationships are good, and we can usually choose whether or not to engage. In priming the grounds for relating to one another, possibilities are created. This, to me, is the point of decommodification. Once the commercial transaction is removed, there is more room for relational ones.

    Report comment

  • Geomom says:

    Not hooking to a brand forces you back to the essence of what you are doing.

    Report comment

  • Wizard says:

    A rather pathetic article. If the only take-away you can come up with is “be nice to one another”, then I suggest you expend a little more effort to be relevant to the topic.

    Of course this is a complicated topic. Of course it’s about finding a balance between competing forces. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a problem needing discussion.

    I don’t see how this article furthers the discussion in a meaningful way, and I was hoping it would.

    Report comment

    • Stuart M says:

      Don’t underestimate the power of being nice to one another – or at least civil. If you use the Principles as a hammer to beat on people, you’re doing it wrong. And if you must go to war, pick your battles; for instance, keeping our event spaces decommodified is more critical, and far more winnable, than trying to decommodify the default world. Likewise, artists and makers who contribute to the culture deserve more slack than those who are just here to make a buck. And in all cases, discourse is better than angry threats and ad hominem attacks.

      Report comment

      • Wizard says:

        I agree with you regarding civility and the need for discussion. Unfortunately you only provided platitudes for the first, and nothing for the second. By all means, let’s have a reasoned discussion, on-playa, with many views being represented.

        You have a large soapbox, and you haven’t yet used it in a substantive manner. That is why I think this article falls flat: there’s no follow-up, no plan, no direction, no leadership. What good is it?

        Report comment

      • The revelation will not be commodified huh? I call BS. In CVS, several times a day, they play the following, “sometimes, the most radical change we can make, is no change at all!”

        Really, your are ACTUALLY TRYING TO JEDI MIND TRICK us? With the “these arent the droids we are looking for” thing? Omg. Funny

        Keeping it decommodified”, as you put it, can also be stated as “protecting your brand”, correct?

        Now Stuart, when I leave a comment, I have to leave a

        name,
        email

        As an author, allowed by “Branding Man” to release written material under the endorsement of their legal copyright and trademark, and leave your “history” that “qualifies” why you have the social authority and gravitas to speak authoritatively. (Essentially I am pointing out that everything you write goes thru approval of a branded trademark, that may take legal action to protect its financial interests and investment, and as a ‘brand avatar”, what substantiates your credibility, or any objective analysis? Your “Education Dept” may also be called “Indoctrination Dept”, correct? Ok, enough snark, let’s be really real.

        When are people compassionate? When they can AFFORD to be. Can you afford objectively when employed by the Brand?

        Invoking Machiavelli, Occam’s Razor, John Law, and LARRY (HIMSELF WHO SAID in 2013 to all of us in a conference room ,,”we live in a commodified world,” and to operate with in it, we must embrace commodification, where upon hich Point Fa Can Lee from CO challenged Larry by asking when we would see soda logos on our tickets), I propose anything 0ther than pure, unvarnished honesty and truth, and complete transparency, means that engagement with this platform is accepting brand propaganda. If everyone at the org would just embrace honesty at least and admit, like Larry did on stage, that Burning Man is a brand and the org is a business attempting to stay relevant within a system that demands assimilation as the price of success and the “opportunity to influence the “world”. Meaning these logical acrobatics to continually uphold the illusions that the Man is not really becoming the Man strain credulity.

        Does anyone engage with people who REALLY like Nike and get into an “in depth” discussion with the Nike “community” about whether the check mark is really a symbol rather than a brand?
        NO.

        All engagement with the “community” is creating brand loyalty and engagement. Its propaganda. Its hypnotism using the vagaries of made up words to protect revenue streams. Listen, I GET IT. We all have to eat. I would rather see burning man quit pretending it is something it’s not and honestly embrace the truth, because this propaganda will kill the festival and brand loyalty before honesty and truth will.

        Check this article out from burners.me. I used to have an issue with them and especially the night sweats, paranoid hypocrisy of Otis, or whatever name he has assumed now, however, I have to give them kudos for sticking with this story over the years since 2012 when both they , ,regionauts.com, and voxignis started asking questions and following the money.

        “Decommodification LLC is the organization that was created at the same time as the non-profit Burning Man Project, to hold all the intellectual property. As far as we can tell, it gets paid $75,000 per year in royalties from the Burning Man Project for use of their trademarks. We have no information on what other royalties it earns, for example from sales of the documentary “Spark” or the “lines around the block” Smithsonian exhibit. Google recently commissioned Burning Man to design a $2 million art installation for their campus: where does this money go? Five lucky artists will get a share, most likely the “big names” who appear in the grants list on a regular basis. Is there a royalty component to deals like this?

        Decommodification LLC made two filings to the California Secretary of State on January 16, 2019. One was that “nothing has changed”, and another one requested that the company registration be canceled. It seems strange to me to file “no change” and “cancellation” notices on the same date, if anyone has knowledge of how this process works please leave a comment.

        The current state of the company shows “cancelled” at the S.O.S. web site.

        According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the trademarks were transferred from Decommodification LLC back to the Burning Man Project on 28 April 2018 – the day Larry Harvey passed away.

        The “nunc pro tunc” is a retroactive assignment to correct an earlier ruling. Was this something to do with Larry’s estate?

        What happened to the rest of the intellectual property, including the rights to future royalty streams?

        Were the trademarks assigned back to the Burning Man Project for free, Decommodification LLC dissolved, and the accumulated cash of 6-7 years of royalties distributed to the members? Or was some of that $12 million cash hoard used to purchase them?

        These transactions occurred in 2018, so perhaps will get covered in next year’s IRS Form 990. There is no mention of them on the Burning Man web site, despite this being perhaps the most significant thing BMorg have done since spinning off their non-profit in 2012. BMorg like to claim they’re a “leader in radical transparency”, but Decommodification Inc has always been a mysterious black box.

        The 2017 Form 990 values the Burning Man Project’s intangible assets at $4.23 million, but this was before the trademark transfer. This amount first appeared on the books in 2014. We believe it represents goodwill on the acquisition of Black Rock City, LLC from the Founders.

        For a good read related to Intellectual Property and Burning Man, see Culture, Capital and Copycats in a Globalizing Burnerverse by Ian Rowen, which was the keynote address at the 2018 Australia and New Zealand Burner Leadership Summit.”
        I know these comments and questions of mine are a gadfly thing to do, but SOMEONE has to honor Paul Addis sacrifice and tribute to Cacophany, after the org put him in jail, ruined him financially, and drive him to jump in front of BART for doing the most burner thing ever, and burned the kangaroo early. That was the end of the burning man so many want to pretend still exists. That was when someone was sacrificed to someone’s ego and the burning man became a different thing.

        Ok, so what? Burning man is a brand and they make money and want to peddle their social influence into something resembling a legacy and each founder has their click, that maneuvers to “guide the ship” so to speak, and pretend they are not exactly what they are, capitalists who use this whole belief in its brand/burn to keep its paying customers it depends in for life.

        Us.

        It is a job now and we are the commodity. When did christianity sell out to power? Council of Nicea and Constantine lured the early church fathers with promises of influence and legacy and an end to persecution, all they had to do was unify and codify their beliefs under the jurisdiction of the bishops and Pope, in other words centralize and “brand/trademark” define canon. Anyone practicing differently would be a heretic and cast from mother church.
        Burning man is in this phase now. In denial that they have been seduced while being manipulated and maneuvered by our machiavellian ultra wealthy by promises of influence, legacy, and impact, and continued relevance in the future.

        Seriously? THIS IS THE BEACH PARTY THAT NEVER ENDED Dont be like he bombed out surfer chasing the perfect wave that never comes, by acting like the event didn’t fundamentally change in its heart years ago.

        The 1st step to recovery is being honest with yourselves and accepting reality. Power, prestige, and influence is a drug and yall are all addicts. Who doesnt love attention? Question is, who is using it for their own ends? Follow the $$$

        Hey, I know I am a heretic, or when I “stepped back” for a break, there would still be a community engaging with me. There isn’t. And if you step back, same thing will happen to you. So that means, if the community doesnt engage unless you have “leveled up” and been acknowledged by the “priests” appointed by the org, if it consistantly disappears when you arent “burning”, doesnt that fall into the definition of a cult? Larry said “wash your own damn brains”. Makes sense. When push comes to shove, he took care of himself and his own and admitted what he was doing when will you Stuart. Megs, Funderbunk, steve , etc,? Be loyal to who butters your bread, but stop pretending there is a curtain you can metaphorically hide behind and pretend yall arent all peddling the brand for pay and prestige, and acknowledgement. This is a safe placement ok
        *my partner asked why I would consider submitting a design to the fly ranch challenge when it makes me a hypocrite to do so. I say nonsense. We all know the truth. they will acknowledge eventually or have to claim s religious exemption in the future to maintain the illusion. No I can submit a design because it is awesome and timely, and because our missions align to mutual shared benefit. Im not being hypocritical. Only practical and leveraging what we both need to accomplish said missions* thanks for the free comments platform! It’s very theraputic to work through my burning man things in a burner way, as a “gadfly” some might say*

        Report comment

      • shazbat says:

        Thank you, Adrian, for thoughtfully calling out the bullshit. You’re no gadfly.

        Burning Man is a brand. A handful of folks are getting enriched from that, and a few more earn a nice living from it by promotion of their own brands. Halcyon as the Joel Osteen of BM is a prime example. (Sorry, Stuart. Your “brand” development hasn’t quite matured yet.)

        The hypocrisy is galling.

        Each year, tens of thousands have willingly donated their time and money to create BRC each and to sustain and spread The Principles, but with each passing year, eyes are opened to the real deal: We are participating in our own exploitation. As we reach our personal Bullshit thresholds, we are acting accordingly, and stepping away.

        As predictable adverse consequences of their deliberate profit-enhancing decisions come to bear, suddenly BMorg is concerned and “really” listening??

        There is such a thing as too little, too late. Just rebrand the event Coachella East or Desert Disneyland, and be done with it.

        The spectators will still pay to come.

        Report comment

  • Sparkalina says:

    I love the Principles and Decommodification is my favorite one ~ for me its the last line: “We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.” THAT is the nugget: to wake up to how we have fallen for the bait and switch and think we are participating in something when really we are just consuming. Worth contemplation in each and every day, regardless of being on or off playa.

    Report comment

  • Sue says:

    Branding suggests ownership as well as commodification. By lumping in theme camp names you muddy the concept.

    Report comment

  • Zippo says:

    Addressing my comments to Adrian’s list of topics I choose #3, “The Principles are an ingenious marketing strategy”.

    Thank you, Stuart, for popping the top on a big can o’ worms. While you spend a lot of time exploring individual participant’s experiences and motivations, you hardly mention the BMORG’s behavior, which in 2011, disastrously decided to transform itself into a 501 (c) 3 “non-profit”. Of course, every non-profit has to have a “mission statement”, and what a handy fit the 10 Principles were. Of course, I don’t think Larry was aware when he wrote them that they would become a fundraising tool.

    Since then, I’ve had many a discussion around a burn barrel about how “volunteering”, i.e. working for Burning Man, has become more and more like working for any other big corporation. Let’s face it, the main reason Burning Man became a “non-profit” was to enable rich people to donate money and write it off on their taxes. It’s even got to the point that Burning Man hired a “Salesforce Administrator”——you know, Salesforce, the billion $$$ company that makes ‘customer service’ software, to keep track of and manage the ‘donor’s “gifts”. At every year’s end, the BMORG infuriates DPW by sending us a FUNDRAISING LETTER, encouraging us to DONATE money to The Burning Man Project (the ‘official name’ of the non-profit), as if the thousands of hours of our volunteer labor aren’t enough. I could give you dozens more examples, but I won’t burden you or the readers.

    The “meat o’ the coconut” here is that Burning Man has turned the event into a commercial enterprise for itself. Somewhere in it’s hierarchy, there are people who pay themselves very well and think the 10 Principles apply to someone else.

    So in this atmosphere of commercialization and permissiveness, it’s not hard to imagine that the entrepreneurial spirit would extend to the private sector and the concierge camps. Now, realizing that the situations run amuck, the Org realizes something’s wrong. Good luck with trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Seriously, I do appreciate that the situation’s being addressed, but in a capitalist society, it’s always going to be about the money.
    C’mon, Burning Man’s a 45 million $ event now. There’s this dichotomy between this mega-million $ event and this proffered sense of “community” that just doesn’t work any more.

    Burning Man started with the Cacophony Society and a few tents in the desert. My friends and I build a little Burning Man and we go to the Black Rock Desert and burn it every year somewhere near “ground zero”. Simple—no permit, no fees, no BLM rangers, no car searches, no boomboxes, nothing, ‘cept us—like it started. What fun!

    Report comment

  • Joshua C says:

    Thanks for sharing Stuart! Appreciate the context here and I fully agree decommodification is one of our most vital Principles to create the sort of spaces we seek to create.

    I’d like to push back a bit on the examples you list here as being straw men to some degree. Burning Man has a history of valuing makers of physical art over performance art and other, less tangible forms.

    For folks who pay rent as performance artists (or aspire to do the same), there’s much less separation between the person and the art, and similar to a fundraising theme camp there’s a need to advertise themselves in order to get gigs. Many of these folks are HUGE givers to BRC, generating much of the flow and fire culture that we enjoy and creating and working hard on the conclave performances on burn night that we all enjoy (and I have done this, it’s a ton of work!!).

    Given our community’s history of undervaluing these artists (exhibit a: amount of grants given to physical artists vs performance artists as part of honoraria every year) I’d hate for us to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the efforts to reduce commodification. In the examples you give here, it would be easy to lump these artists in with the influencers and take issue with them, for example, posting a photo from BM on their instagram account that they also book gigs through.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this and whether it resonates! Thanks!

    Report comment

    • K says:

      I agree with Joshua. As a photographer of burning man I have taken pictures of both sculpture as well as performance art. I then allow the artist to use the images. I often see the sculpture images on the artists web site but the performance artists are ask not to use images to promote their performance gigs. I always struggle with that.

      Report comment

  • Erik says:

    Thanks for this balanced and considered article Stuart. I totally agree with you that some commentary on decommodification has a whiff of religiosity about it. But I don’t think this is necessarily driven by misplaced or
    preachy zealotry. For me, commodification is so rampant, insidious and objectionable, and Burning Man so special, that any sense of commodification gettings its greasy tenticles into our community makes me react pretty aggressively. That said, I take your point that a more considered response, albeit no less vigilent, might ultimately be more beneficial. Love to all.

    Report comment

  • SoPa says:

    Enjoyed the article and hope it sparks greater discussion. Decommodification is a difficult subject to broach. I’d imagine that starting a discussion in the middle of the subject is going to result in conversations shooting in all different directions at once. I think this article begins to scale a dialogue that asks us to back up and progress from the beginning of the idea.

    Report comment

  • E says:

    The end of the article is unbelievably flaccid; what “enriches the community” is totally subjective – which, of course, IS the the point of the article: to establish an interpretable definition so that Borg can justify or condemn arbitrarily.

    For those who are seeking an ACTUAL answer to the question, look to what is perhaps the most essential of all the “principles” (as though anybody needed that shit in the first place, but that’s another story): immediacy. Is the “branding” present and in-the-moment, or is it meant for sometime else?

    People shooting fashion photos on playa is against the spirit because it contributes nothing to the TAZ that is black rock city. Those photos are meant for the outside. The branding of theme camps does fit in, because during that week the camp is actually happening, live, nowhere else on the planet. And if marketing during the rest of the year is what it takes to support it that year, so be it – who doesn’t contribute time, energy, and money to their creations ahead of time? W/o such things, there’d BE no burning man.

    Report comment

    • Very good and insightful commentary. I just ran for town council here in Ottawa. It is fascinating to see this discussion take place. The discussion is of relevance to any community.

      The world is in need of leadership and believe it or not it has always been that the artists and philosophers have led the way.

      People are looking to the bohemians of burning man to point them in a possibly correct direction. Certainly the status quo has proven inadequate.

      Report comment

  • Butterfly says:

    It seems to me that the 10 principles were initially intended to apply to behavior while at the Burning Man event, at Black Rock City. So decommodification meant it’s a gifting place where people didn’t peddle wares or food, a place where brand names didn’t appear on clothing, trailers, banners, camps, etc. However as time went by 2 things happened. First, people started applying the 10 principles to life away from the event, almost, like someone else mentioned, with a religious fervor. This meant they identified with being a Burner and it permeated everything they did in life, including earning a living. Secondly, as the event grew, it got more elaborate and showy and that means most people have to have resources to participate and contribute to the hoopla that is Burning Man. So, it only makes sense that the imagery, the energy, the efforts that are on the Playa flow between BRC and the Default World. As much as we would like to apply all the principles to both worlds, decommodification in its purest form is just not possible in the Default World. Hence, we have the subjective area of grey that began this entire discussion and that will continue to be debated.

    Report comment

  • Victoria Rose Evanoff says:

    I have no religious bent. Some of our civic artists have shown and sold their original pieces or furthered the community with gifting their time for the better good and received compensation and fame whether it was expected or not from humanity. I draw the line on copying other artists iconic art and selling them at Paris Fashion Week and Vogue as a “tribute”. That ain’t right. Soft selling the be nice and open minded because that’s how we do…nice try ain’t buying it.

    Report comment

  • Circle J is committed to re-commodification of Black Rock City!

    Report comment

  • Also please note that Circle J’s® legal team will be pursuing a defamation suit WITH THE FULL FORCE OF A THOUSAND DYING STARS for being portrayed in this article as a not-for-profit that exemplifies decommodification by means of poking fun at commodification. WE DO NOT JOKE

    Report comment

  • Stuart M says:

    I would laugh, but I think I’m under some kind of humor indenture dating back to FoxCarn in 2015. Let me check with my lawyers, who’ll check with their lawyers, then get back to your lawyers. All billable to you, of course.

    Report comment

  • newanda says:

    In one context, Burning Man is a giant, unintended, anthropological experiment. Organization is a natural step in response to a growing population. This article seems like it is trying to peel back all the layers of material realities to get back to the essence of the thing. For all the those who take Larry’s word as a kind of gospel, I am pretty sure he said something along the lines, that, as Burning Man grows, it changes and those changes are a part of what Burning Man is. In that context, as it grows and innevitably requires money to run, and power corrupts the systems, one can only try their best to make sure the burn stays close to its free spirit. The more people who try their best, the more impact that will have on the culture of the burn. Impossible to do this event, this size now, without organization involving money and law. This article is a great conversation starter.

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.