Boycott Commodification – or Just Give Us Your Money [Update]

Thanks to our eagle-eyed readers who spotted this post at The Burning Blog Voices of Burning Man. It seems they posted it, and as soon as there was a critical comment, yanked it again. Not before one sharp Burner could capture it, though; thanks Grey Coyote.

The irony of their Minister of Propaganda being censored on the Voices of Burning Man is one of their best jokes yet.

It seems they are trying very hard to shut down any discussion of Commodification Camps, preferring Burners talk about Halcyon’s Mom instead. Or maybe they don’t want to piss off Billionaire Burner (and Amazon founder) Jeff Bezos.

If you don’t want to donate a share of your Amazon purchases to BMOrg, they accept stock transfers now too.


 

November 27, 2014      | Filed under Participate!.
Black Friday? Well, if you must …
Posted by Will Chase

We’re not huge fans of Black Friday, which puts the unseemly side of rampant consumerism on exhibition, shamelessly turning over-consumption into a spectator sport.

Yep, it’s like that.

Not to get all sanctimonious, but we prefer “Buy Nothing Day”, which was invented in 1992 by Vancouver artist Ted Dave, and subsequently given amplification by the folks at Adbusters (all hail Adbusters, who also initiated the Occupy movement).

It’s simple to participate: buy nothing on Black Friday. Well, it can be less than simple of course — sometimes you find yourself in a pinch, and you gotta buy diapers for the little one. But a massive flat screen TV? An X-station-Wii box? Pass. You get the idea.

Instead, we’ll get all hippy and stuff and — brace yourselves — make gifts for our family and friends. Or not. Sometimes we go for a hike in the fresh air or something. But we’re sure as hell not going to set foot in a box store.

Sure, it may be the equivalent of pissing in the ocean, but it’s something. And it feels as good as it is quixotic.

Now, if you’re committed to playing your part in America’s capitalist dream, great — have at it. But if you do, maybe consider making some good stuff happen with your purchasing power? If you’re shopping on Amazon, do it through AmazonSmile, and Amazon will donate .5% of your sale price to the Burning Man Project, supporting our year-round efforts to share Burning Man culture with the world. You get your stuff, and more people get to experience Burning Man. Win win.

Either way, however you roll, we wish you and yours a happy holiday season.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, then transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009 to become Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He’s the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Voices of Burning Man blog, and content manager for Burning Man’s websites. He also manages the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social networking efforts.

One thought on “Black Friday? Well, if you must …”

Grey Coyote says:
November 27, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I can’t believe it, Will. Are you freakin’ serious? Given everything the BMORG has been caught at recently (ie, selling out to Commodification Camps, scalping tickets from STEP to “special VIPs” at far beyond face value, having a board member RUNNING such a camp, etc, etc, etc) you have the nerve to pen this:

“…Now, if you’re committed to playing your part in America’s capitalist dream, great — have at it. But if you do, maybe consider making some good stuff happen with your purchasing power?If you’re shopping on Amazon, do it through AmazonSmile, and Amazon will donate .5% of your sale price to the Burning Man Project…”

No thanks. Not a PENNY for the BMORG until they ANSWER THE QUESTION.


 

[Update 11/27/14 10:10pm] Grey Coyote has done a nice job re-wording Will’s post, from a more Burner-y perspective:

———-

Burners are not huge fans of Commodification Camps, which puts the unseemly side of rampant consumerism on exhibition, shamelessly turning over-consumption into a spectator sport.

Yep, it’s like that.

Not to get all sanctimonious, but we prefer “Radical Self Reliance” which was invented in 1998 by a group of burners and subsequently given amplification by the folks on Eplaya and http://www.burners.me  (all hail Burners.me, who also initiated the BMORG Accountability movement).

It’s very simple to participate: Shun all commodification Camps. Well, it can be less than simple of course — sometimes you find yourself in a mood, and you gotta whip out a can of whup-ass for the little people. But a toilet that flushes? A sherpa to shine your shoes? Pass. You get the idea.

Instead, you guys could get all hippy and stuff and — brace yourselves — make a real camp and actually interact with your Burner family and friends. Or not. Sometimes ya just gotta get out the water balloons and go for a hike out by Avenue K. But we’re sure as hell are not going to set foot in a CommieCamp.

Sure, it may be the equivalent of pissing in the ocean, but it’s something. And it feels as good as it is quixotic. Rich fuckers paying 20 grand to hide from the dust. Epic FAIL.

Now, if you’re committed to playing your part in America’s capitalist dream, great — have at it. But don’t do that shit on the playa. If you do, you’re a Fair Target, and we are watching.  Your ass may be jumped by a bunch of Burners with weed-blowers, tar and feathers. If you’re camping with a Commodification Camp, you’re fair game and its open season.  It doesn’t matter if you’re “donating” part of your ticket price to the Larry Harvey Retirement Project, you’re still a total chump in our book.  You’re not supporting the year-round efforts to share Burning Man culture with the world. Instead you’re getting a turnkey camping experience complete with hookers and blowjobs and sherpas to wipe your ass.  This isn’t how you should experience Burning Man.

However you commodifiers ultimately choose to roll, rest assured your Burner Bretheren can’t wait to meet you on the playa.  We wish you a happy holiday season. Try the caviar.  Feel free to choke on it.  See you in the dust.

Video

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a Turkey Camp

Some members of the Lost Hotel sent us this video as an example of how interactive they were, handing out coffees and smoothies. Other Burners contacted us to point out that almost everyone in the video is wearing a wristband.

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Surely “free coffee” would lead to lines longer than those for the $4 lattés at Center Camp?

Center Camp price list, 2011. image: Neil Girling/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Center Camp price list, 2011. image: Neil Girling/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Burners lining up for commercial transactions. Image: Masha/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Burners lining up for commercial transactions, 2007. Image: Masha/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Lost Hotel and Caravancicle were built by the same people, using the same canvas cube technology; one group paid the sherpas of the other. Lost Hotel scored a Red on the MOOP map.

 

2013 Charity Results Released [Update]

Last weekend, Burning Man Arts – the new organization that is a merger between two of the non-profits in BMOrg’s empire, Black Rock Arts Foundation and the Burning Man Project –  threw its Eighth annual Artumnal Gathering event.

I would love to be able to tell you the story of what a great job Burning Man’s non-profit subsidiary is doing in supporting the Arts, how much money it gives to poor artists and how little it keeps for itself.

Sadly, that story would be a fairytale: the evidence paints a different picture.

Today, the IRS Form 990 filing for 2013 for BRAF was released. We’re still waiting on BMP’s information, when it’s available I will write another post.

Their overall efficiency score was 20% – meaning that if you give $1 to the Arts via BRAF, only 20 cents of it will go the Arts. The rest is absorbed into salaries and overheads.

Here is an updated table of their giving for the previous 7 years:

Black Rock Arts Foundation Assets Revenue Expenses Profit Grants Efficiency
2013 $626,574 $508,442 $428,860 $79,582 $101,556 20.0%
2012 $560,917 $621,359 $477,525 $143,834 $114,449 18.4%
2011 $588,129 $735,147 $577,706 $157,441 $219,080 29.8%
2010 $392,205 $478,567 $461,961 $16,606 $169,274 35.4%
2009 $364,588 $405,762 $278,003 $127,759 $80,349 19.8%
2008 $237,910 $439,353 $498,831 -$59,478 $105,906 24.1%
2007 $268,433 $532,346 $352,662 $179,684 $116,790 21.9%
Total $560,917 $3,212,534 $2,646,688 $565,846 $805,848 25.1%
Burning Man Project
2013
2012 $368,249 $591,672 $259,925 $331,747 $36,378 6.1%

The total amount of money the charity raised in 2013 dropped 20% from 2012. They kept their salaries about the same, and reduced the amount that actually gets paid out in grants.

Gifting

2012: $114,449

2013: $101,566

Gifting dropped by 11.3%.

The grant money was split between Individuals (US and non-US), and Organizations.

Individuals (US): $36,370

Organizations (US): $46,696

Individuals (non-US): $18,500

16 un-named individuals split $36,370; 11 got an average of $1,306 each, and 5 received larger awards, $4,400 average.

The overseas figure is made up of $12,500 to the Czech Republic, split between 2 recipients; and $6,000 to someone in London.

Of the Grants to US Organizations, the breakdown is:

The Exploratorium $10,000

The Box Shop $6,000

Urban Matter, Inc $6,000

Engineered Artworks Ltd $11,100

The $10,000 is a mere drop in the bucket to the Exploratorium, which raised $40 million in 2012 and has $138 million of assets. But it is the second largest grant handed out by BRAF, representing almost 10% of their total grant allocation.

12 works of art were donated to the group, recorded as a non-cash contribution of $50,000 – $4,166 each.

The charity still sits on most of the money given to it. Net Assets increased 15.7%:

Net Assets

2012: $507,753

2013: $587,335

They ended the year with $478,088 in cash – 4.7 times what they gave out to artists.

Almost half of the organization’s revenues went to salaries, which increased slightly:

Salaries (% of revenues)

2012: $209,461 – 33.7%

2013: $211,491 – 41.6%

This was more than double the amount of funds they paid out to the cause they represent.

They were charged $40,000 for accounting costs – a number that seems extraordinarily high, for filling out a 34 page form. More than $1000 per page – and many of the pages are blank. I wonder if the charity was forced to shoulder some of the burden of the complexities related to their “transition to a non-profit” – which included carving out the only real assets of the business, its trademarks and related royalty streams, to Decommodification LLC, a new for-profit company owned by the 6 remaining founders of Burning Man.

Note that the overall “non-profit” group paid a staggering $1.43 million to its accountants and lawyers in 2013, according to their Afterburn report.

BRAF paid $25,154 for rent and office expenses, $1,707 for travel, and $4,303 for insurance.

Like BMP, there are 18 directors of BRAF. Each put in 2 hours per week – except for Freddy Hahne (President) and Tracy Burton (Treasurer), who commit 4 hours each. Of Burning Man’s 6 remaining founders, only Larry, Harley, and Will & Crimson are listed as contributing their time to BRAF.

BRAF’s Artumnal was their only fundraising event during the year.

According to the IRS form, BMP Director Chris Bently’s building charged a whopping $8,345 for the use of the Bently Reserve venue: 8.1% of the money that was raised at the event. Mr Bently inherited the $47 million building and many other assets including a $45 million coin collection and a 50,000 acre cattle ranch.

The 2013 Artumnal Gathering grossed $185,780.

$38,684 was spent on food.

$33,315 was spent on entertainment. Some of the entertainers (listed below) are salaried employees of BMOrg.

$102,936 went to BRAF as contributions. For any sponsors wondering how much of their Artumnal ticket or table donation is tax-deductible, it appears to be 55% – but don’t take my word for it, I’m not an accountant. You should seek independent, professional advice, rather than telling the IRS “Burners.Me is my financial advisor”.

Since $101,566 was the amount actually gifted by the Black Rock Arts Foundation over the course of the entire year, basically the Artumnal raises all the money that goes to the artists.

You can see the IRS Form 990 for the Black Rock Arts Foundation here. Hopefully when they release the 2013 Form 990 for the Burning Man Project, it will tell a much better story, one of generously passing donations given to them on to the artists.


[Update 11/25/14 10:12am] Burn After Reading magazine brings us a report from the event, which (ironically) was shut down by a fire alarm.


From blackrockarts.org:

Performers

Art and Installations

Flowers and Decor

  • Christina Pettigrew
  • Julz (Hookahdome)
  • Marcia Crosby
  • $teven Ra$pa

Photography

image: Eleanor Preger, Facebook

image: Eleanor Preger, Facebook

Donation Tickets: Here To Stay

caravansary ticket 2

A number of readers have brought to our attention BMOrg’s latest job posting. They are looking for someone to “manage” their tickets, despite paying about half a million dollars a year to an external firm for ticketing.

Significantly, in the wording of the ad is this:

Manages Locals, Lifetime, Alumni, & Charitable donation ticket programs. 

Lifetime tickets?

Alumni tickets?

We have heard that discounted tickets are available for Gerlach locals.

“Charitable donation tickets” would be the “VIP Tickets” that were sold to select camps for $650 all year-long, without regard to the event being sold out. The $250 above face value is a donation to the Burning Man Project. If Burners sell tickets above face value, it’s “against Burning Man’s Principles”, if BMOrg does it, it’s “saving the world”.  Now that the chumps and suckers and hucksters are magically the same, and Decommodification has become an ironic prank on the community, maybe it’s OK for Burners to re-sell their tickets at market price.

Perhaps if you donate enough money to their charity, you become one of BMOrg’s Alumni.

Missing from the list of duties? Putting stamps on envelopes and mailing tickets to the 20% of Burners who come from other countries. There is no incentive to shorten the Will Crawl line, which is reminiscent of the way nightclubs like to have long lines at their entrances.

image: Donovan Beeson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Donovan Beeson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Proficiency in maths is required, which will be helpful given their predecessor accidentally forgot to count $1.3 million of ticket sales a couple of years back.


 

From theresumator.com:

Ticketing Associate

Location: San Francisco, CA

Department: Ticketing

Type: Full Time

Min. Experience: Mid Level

JOB SUMMARY

Burning Man’s Ticketing Associate manages specific ticketing programs throughout the year and is the point person for all outward-facing ticketing communications, including architechting participant support. This role also participates in year-round planning for Box Office operations, and on playa acts as one of two Box Office Co-Operations Managers.

This is a full-time, regular position eligible for benefits in our San Francisco office.
DUTIES & ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS

Year-round Ticketing Operations:
* Oversees day-to-day participant support including creation of support macros, coordinating with the ticket vendor’s support team, ensuring consistency of messages across all support platforms.

* Maintains accuracy of content in all public-facing channels.

* Monitors and pursues ticket resale activity on the secondary market, including managing a volunteer resale tracking team.

Special Programs:
* Manages Locals, Lifetime, Alumni, & Charitable donation ticket programs.

* Reviews and processes Low Income applications.

* Reviews and processes post-event refund requests.

* Manages interdepartmental BMID process and production and oversees on-playa BMID office operations.

* Assists in creation of all training materials & conducting trainings.

* Acts as Box Office lead for Community Events as needed.

* Manages internal ticket QA process and is responsible for all inventory tracking.

* Responsible for coordinating all internal TRS training and supporting materials.

* Manages internal ticket fulfillment.

* Produces post-event departmental ticket use summaries.

* Manages early on-site staff credentialing & coordinates with the Gerlach Office

* On playa acts as one of two Box Office Co-Operations Managers.

Other:
* Attend meetings as needed.

* Support current ticket policies.

* Assist with research as requested by the Legal team.
REQUIRED QUALIFICATIONS

* Bachelor’s degree or higher

* Must be extremely detail-oriented

* Excellent project management skills

* Exceptional customer service skills

* Strong analytical skills

* Ability to work with sensitive information discreetly

* Ability to follow directions accurately and efficiently

* Working knowledge of Salesforce, FileMaker Pro, MS office suite, internet browers, and email clients.

* Comfortable learning new technologies and their applications.

* Experience managing databases

* Confortable with and proficient in math

* Must be adept at prioritizing competing tasks

* Must possess outstanding verbal and written communication skills

* Participant of Burning Man

* Confident & effective working independently

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS

* Box Office experience

* experience managing volunteers

* experience creating data-driven infographics

* working knowledge of graphics programs

Burning Man is an equal-opportunity employer.

Commodifying Decommodification

A guest post from our reader Pantsless Santa. It’s an eye-opener! The desire of these people to laugh at the very principles they created, and told us we had to live by, seems to know no bounds.

image: RK Richardson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: RK Richardson/Flickr (Creative Commons)


 

By Pantsless Santa:
This belongs in the totally effin’ hilarious category more than anything else:
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Decommodification LLC is actually trying to register the word “decommodification” as a trademark itself, and they’re doing it in the most hypocritical and illogical way possible.
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Trademark registrations and applications are all public record. If you search for “Decommodification LLC” on the Patent and Trademark Office’s search system, “TESS,” you can see all of the trademarks that that the LLC owns and has applied for.
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 decommodification1
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There are the usual suspects “Burning Man,” “Decompression,” and “Black Rock City.”
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Flambe Lounge,” which dates back to 2003, is probably some old business idea that never panned out.
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Burning Man Brew” was originally registered by a brewer and later purchased (I suspect) by the LLC, likely because it would have been more expensive to fight over it in court – nothing indicates that the BMOrg intends to get into the speciality beer business.
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Black Rock Gazette” is registered by the BMOrg (Black Rock City LLC). Nothing is currently registered by Larry, Michael, or Marian.
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Finally, the LLC has applied to register “Decommodification.”
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I’ll stop for a minute here to explain a couple of important things about trademarks. Trademarks are very different than copyrights. You can’t simply pick out a word or phrase or logo (a “mark”) and get the rights to it.
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To oversimplify greatly, you can’t register or protect a mark unless it’s associated with a particular good or service (defined broadly), and has actually been used publicly to promote or sell the thing it’s associated with. That last part is called “use in commerce.” People often get tripped up over “use in commerce,” because in normal human language it looks like it means the same thing as “used commercially.” It doesn’t. It’s a legal term of art meaning something like “used to promote or sell any type of good or service for any reason whether or not for profit.” This keeps companies from simply registering all of the words they think that they or their competitors might use and squatting on them. They can only register marks they’re actually using.
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To oversimplify again, you can only protect or register a mark in order to keep people from using your name (or brand or logo) on their products in a way that might fool consumers.
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So, Decommodification LLC applied to register the mark “Decommodification.”
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Thinking back to the above, you might ask yourself: “What the hell good or service could Larry & Co. POSSIBLY plan to use this for?” Well, they put it right in the application: “Commercial administration of the licensing and sublicensing of intellectual property by others.”
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 decommodification2
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Now, before anybody (*cough*) gets started with grand theories about what the LLC might be planning with this, I want to share my opinion that absolutely nothing sinister or underhanded is going on here. “Commercial” is still being used as a term of art as above, and the rest of the sentence simply describes exactly what the LLC does. In other words, the actual purpose of this trademark application is to prevent somebody else from opening up their own Decommodification LLC or Decommodification Inc. or Decommodification Gmbh that does the same thing as this one.
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This trademark has a very narrow reach. Remember, a trademark must be associated with a particular good or service. This wouldn’t stop any of us from calling our toilet-removal businesses “Pantsless Santa’s De-Commodeification” or whatever. So why bother bringing it up in the first place? Like I said above, it’s effin’ hilarious! To spell it out:
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Larry Harvey & Co. are attempting to define the word “Decommodification” as “Commodifying intellectual property.”
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Decommodification LLC filed their application for “Decommodification” on March 26, 2012. The application is still being processed because the LLC has not, even after multiple extensions, been able to provide evidence that they have actually used the word “Decommodification” in “commerce.”
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Honestly, there is no reason for them to actually register “Decommodification.” Who else in the world would ever create an intellectual property licensing company by that name? The only reason anybody might do that is to poke fun at the BMOrg/Decommodification LLC: and a trademark does not protect you against parody.
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You can check the history and status of the trademark application here: http://tinyurl.com/mojkq47
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Pantsless Santa, Esq.
General Counsel
Portland Cacophony Society