BURNILEAKS: Bullying the Burners [Updates]

The post-Burning Man headaches for BMOrg continue to mount. If you believe in karma or physics, then you understand that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you threaten legal action towards the people who create your global following, you should consider the risk that something might come back to bite you in the ass. Such as, your own words, and proof of the motives behind your actions.

At least, that is what’s being threatened, by some Canadian Burners who appear to have little defense left to them but the “nuclear option” of revealing the truth.

chickenookpikThere are as many people at Burning Man from Canada as from Nevada. 20% of Burners are international, and more are from Canada than any other country. It’s 6-7% of the Burner population. Canadian Burners have spent decades building up our culture by throwing burns all across their vast country. Someone has legally owned the Canadian trademark “Burning Man” for many years, and BMOrg are suing them even though they appear to have registered no trademarks of their own in that country. Perhaps they think that Canada is just another part of America?

We covered the beginnings of this dispute earlier in the year: Canada Draws Battle Lines For Burner Culture. As per usual, naysayers came out to accuse us of click-bait and fear-mongering.

Well, fear not, nay-sayers. The Battlespace has now gone to Def Con 1, with this email last night to Burning Man’s Regional Contact mailserv:

stop your malicious lawsuit or WIKILEAKS!

Hi, I’m sure many of you will remember me, I was one of the founding members of the Regional Network, acting as Vancouver RN rep 2001-2006, while also being a member of the Media Team, & working as the first editor of the Regional Contacts section of BurningMan.com.

Burning Man is suing the non-profit Burn BC Arts Cooperative for $35,000 over trademark infringement. I am not involved in Burn BC or any of their events, but I feel strongly that Burning Man is acting as a corporate bully in this situation, attacking long-time community members & artists.

In response, if Burning Man does not drop this frivolous lawsuit immediately, ALL Regionals List & Media Team correspondence, as well as one-on-one communications I had with Burning Man senior staff, including Larry & Marion, will be made publicly available on WikiLeaks, all correspondence from 1999-present, This means that all of your names, the names of persons in your posts, legal issues that were discussed, etc. will be in the public domain. Hopefully this information will help Burners fight trademark infringement cases by showing the evolution of Burning Man’s deceptive practices using volunteers to build corporate brand value under the false guise of community.

What could be there in 15 years’ worth of correspondence, that could in any way harm this non-profit, which organizes an annual week of dancing and debauchery in the desert? What could be juicy enough that they would send it to Wikileaks? Why should this even be a threat, something to use as leverage against the giant BMOrg behemoth?

It is not for me to speculate – draw your own conclusions. But to all those who accuse Burners.Me of making stuff up and crazy conspiracy theories, consider that this is going on – and it’s nothing to do with us. We just have multiple sources who provided us with a copy of the email, which is the intellectual property of its author. If there was nothing of note in there, why would Burners even make such a threat? The Canadian Burners, who legitimately owned the trademark, and seem to have taken all the right steps legally to renounce their ownership so that there can’t be any dispute, are still getting pursued by Burning Man. For how much? Forty grand. What difference is that going to make to a company that spent $1.43 million on lawyers last year?

vancouver cacophony societyI asked Bhak Jolicouer, who first contacted me about this story, what’s up? 1076 pages of legalese to demand the cash, that’s what up. It seems Burning Man have been busy in their spiteful pursuit, since June when the arts collective formally relinquished all rights to the disputed marks in their territory. This is an example of the “it’s not enough that we win; everyone else must lose” mentality that runs this corporation. Most non-profits I know of, don’t sue other non-profits, then ask their donor community to buy $150 scarves so they can keep this kind of bullying up. In fact, it’s rare to see these sort of tactics from for-profit companies, unless they’re Apple or Samsung or Microsoft.

Bhak says:

Burn BC Founder and Champion of Burner Rights,  Bhak Jolicouer

Burn BC Founder and Champion of Burner Rights, Bhak Jolicouer

Burn BC released our marks “Burning Man” and “BC Decompression” back to the public domain with the attached letter filed on permanent record.

Burn BC has decided to have no further association with the marks, and leaves it up to the Canadian Burning Man Culture to decide who (if anyone) should own them, and how they want to relate as a Culture that developed independently before the 2004 American Marks and the New Brand of Burning Man developed in the United States in 2004. The vast majority of feedback is that no one should own exclusive rights to these terms in Canada. While many people respect what our communities have contributed to the Nevada event, we see that our Burning Man Culture in Canada was founded on an open community model of mutual respectful peers. We had always seen ourselves as independent peers forming independent and self managed Burning Man Communities and independently developed and self managed Burning Man events in Canada.We did this work as peers (not subsidiaries) with no compensation, as a “Gift to the Community”, not as franchises of a corporation.So in response to this kind of input from Burners across Canada, Burn BC released the marks back to the public domain so as not to impede the Arts under Section 13(1B) of the Canadian Trade Mark act.
We deleted our BurningManArts.ca website and removed all references to “Burning Man” from our website.
We released a statement that Burn BC and I (Napalm Dragon), have no more desire to be associated with that name or the American Corporation and it’s 2004 Brand, and will continue fostering our Open Source Culture and Communities in other ways through whatever paradigm emerges next from our culture.Decommodification LLC may have abandoned our culture in favour of Brand Dominance. They are entitled to what they please in the United States with their Nevada event and their American brand. I will seek new ground to express myself unhindered by these politics that are trying to convert a once Open Community and Open Culture into a franchise controlled by Decommodificaiton LLC.After releasing the marks, deleting all references and releasing my statement; I attempted to continue negotiating an out of court settlement. They wanted Burn BC to sign something stating that Decommodification LLC owns these marks.
I told them that if they register with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, then they owns these marks. Burn BC can’t agree to a demand that is not even part of this frivolous litigation. I had asked for a list of marks they own and Burn BC would have agreed not to register those marks, no list was provided.
I thought that was the end of the story as there had been no communication from anyone since late July… until three days ago when 1076 pages of text came in the mail telling Burn BC to respond to a Motion of Default Judgement by 2:00PM Friday regarding a hearing this Tuesday September 23, 2014.I made the same offer yesterday to their lawyer, who was interested in approaching a settlement.
He said he would get back to me by the end of the day.
There has been no response, and again, no list provided.This is AFTER: We released our marks, deleted all references, and removed myself and Burn BC from any online groups or lists that are “Burning Man”.The case has no merit.
But if Burn BC does not participate in the hearing and offers no defence; then any claim Decommodification LLC makes regardless of accuracy or merit will be awarded.It seems they are now asking for damages, claiming Burn BC hurt their ability to control the good will of Canadians, and are seeking legal expenses, and a court order for Burn BC to turn over BurnBC.Org and BurningManArts.ca over to Decommodification LLC.They are looking for damages of $40,000 against the non profit Burn BC Arts Cooperative (Created by a founding member of the Vancouver Burning Man Community, and other long time Burners), and are not content to just let it go. They know full well this will mean the end of Burn BC, and seem content to push frivolous litigation wasting the resources of the Canadian Federal Courts.They had NO need to take it to the courts, as all they had to do was file an opposition with CIPO.
Burn BC had no intention of using any mark that had not been approved by CIPO.
Now we have no desire to use it at all, even as Public Domain under section 13(1B) of the Canadian Trademark Act.If the judge awards damages, Burn BC receives the bullet to the head.I was surprised as anyone with this post by …one of our founding members, he has a great heart and contributed countless hours of service to the free and open community spirit that was our Burning Man Community and our Burning Man Culture.~ Bhak Jolicoeur (AKA Napalm Dragon)
Lover of Chaos and Cacophony, Art and Beauty.Trademark Withdrawl (June 25 2014)

The non-profit Burn BC group suggested that if BMOrg wanted to own the marks in Canada, then they should register them in Canada. Which to me seems like a very good point. Instead of doing that, BMOrg is trying to shake down a non-profit collective for $40,000. That’s 2 tickets in a Safari Camp to them. OK, we get it: BMOrg forgot to register trademarks in their biggest export market for 30 years. Why not simply register them now? Why pursue and punish Burners, when the matter is clearly settled? The answer is “mentality”. The way THEY think about US.

Welcome to the new, non-profit culture we are teaching to newbies and spreading around the globe. Gift us your art, so we can monetize it and sue non-profits.

This case may take a number of twists and turns, if they find enough financial backing from the community to take BMOrg on, there could be all kinds of documents produced in a courtroom under discovery laws. Not to mention the public release of 15 years of correspondence between the two charities and their volunteers.

As always with this blog, comments are encouraged. Anyone from BMOrg is welcome to come here and inform the community about what’s going on, as is anybody else with knowledge of these events. Thanks to our multiple anonymous tipsters for sharing this leak.


[Update 9/18/14 5:46pm]


the Burner who wrote the email to the Regionals list has responded to our request for comment, elaborating further on their motives:

[releasing]  this info into the public domain will illustrate a long history of highly inconsistent & arbitrary brand enforcement that relies heavily on the discretion of unpaid volunteers [regional reps aka corporate brand ambassadors] who are empowered by BM to make judgements  as to who is & isn’t a “Burner.”  This is often a highly politicized & authoritarian process that creates divisiveness within communities.  Regional reps may abuse their power by targeting community members for punitive actions by BM simply on the basis of their personal discretion, ie, whether or not they like someone.  Plenty of people throwing parties or selling goods & services using the Burning Man name have been given a pass by the brand cops simply because they know someone & can be vouched for as a “good Burner.”  As a regional rep & one of the early architects of the Regional Network, I never would have agreed to donate over 20,000 hours of my time & energy freely over 7 years to the community had I been explicitly told that my role was to be the protector of a corporate brand.  I believed passionately that we were creating an open source arts movement, & by the time I resigned from Burning Man I felt that those feelings had been manipulated by the Org in order to extract free labor in order to build corporate brand value, rather than community.  The idealistic “we’re a community” rhetoric is the key to extracting free labor for the corporation.  In the thousands of emails on the Regionals list, there is little evidence that regional reps have ever seen themselves as corporate brand ambassadors, they generally appear to be more community-minded idealists who believed, like me, they were helping to shape a fluid & organic movement.  It’s a deceptive & duplicitous practice on the part of Burning Man who is using these same well-intentioned volunteers to be brand enforcement police under the false guise of “protecting the community.”
The choice to go after Burn BC was Marian’s, & she had several options & avenues she could have pursued in this case, & she chose the most vindictive course of action.  Bhak & Burn BC have done nothing to damage the brand; for 15 years, Bhak has been adding value to the Burning Man brand in BC & beyond.  She should be compensating him for contributing to the growth of a global corporate brand now valued at several hundreds of millions of dollars
[Update 9/18/14 7:17pm]
Bhak has a few details he wants to be clear about:

A couple of Corrections.

First paragraph.
NO ONE has ever registered TM rights in Canada. It’s been in the public domain.

We pulled it out and put it back.

There’s no need to continue a law suit, and it’s questionable they have any right to.


We didn’t renounce ownership, we released back to the public domain so no one has exclusive rights to it here.

We didn’t relinquish “all rights” we relinquished exclusive rights.


And the emails Jody wants to release are not between Burn BC and BRC.

They are 15 years of internal BORG correspondence.


[Update 9/18/14 9:06pm]

Although Canada did not sign the Madrid Agreement, they did sign the NAFTA agreement which has a clause about trademarks:

Article 1708: Trademarks

1. For purposes of this Agreement, a trademark consists of any sign, or any combination of signs, capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those of another, including personal names, designs, letters, numerals, colors, figurative elements, or the shape of goods or of their packaging. Trademarks shall include service marks and collective marks, and may include certification marks. A Party may require, as a condition for registration, that a sign be visually perceptible.

2. Each Party shall provide to the owner of a registered trademark the right to prevent all persons not having the owner’s consent from using in commerce identical or similar signs for goods or services that are identical or similar to those goods or services in respect of which the owner’s trademark is registered, where such use would result in a likelihood of confusion. In the case of the use of an identical sign for identical goods or services, a likelihood of confusion shall be presumed. The rights described above shall not prejudice any prior rights, nor shall they affect the possibility of a Party making rights available on the basis of use.

3. A Party may make registrability depend on use. However, actual use of a trademark shall not be a condition for filing an application for registration. No Party may refuse an application solely on the ground that intended use has not taken place before the expiry of a period of three years from the date of application for registration.

4. Each Party shall provide a system for the registration of trademarks, which shall include:

(a) examination of applications;

(b) notice to be given to an applicant of the reasons for the refusal to register a trademark;

(c) a reasonable opportunity for the applicant to respond to the notice;

(d) publication of each trademark either before or promptly after it is registered; and

(e) a reasonable opportunity for interested persons to petition to cancel the registration of a trademark. 

It seems from this that all BMOrg had to do was petition to cancel the registration of the trademark. They gave the trademark owner a reasonable opportunity to respond. The response? Putting the trademark into the public domain. BMOrg have now registered the trademark and are listed as the trademark owner, so it seems like they got the outcome they wanted months ago. Why continue this pursuit, which some have estimated will cost $100,000 or more just to defend?
J: article 13(1B) of the Canadian Trademark Act would apply… we, in Canada, used Burning Man images and symbols long before they were registered in the USA, therefore those marks can not belong to Decommodification LLC, in Canada
A good point. Decommodification LLC did not even exist when the Canadian trademarks were registered.
Pantsless Santa says:

A very short summary of what happened, with a little info on trademark law and surely many mistakes. This is based on information shared publicly by Bhak and some of the legal filings he shared directly with me a while back. I am an attorney.

1. The BMOrg forgot to register the trademarks in Canada, which is not a signatory to the treaty that makes registration reciprocal in most countries.

2. Burn BC, an unnoficial regional organization and perhaps mostly Bhak’s alter-ego, had been using the trademarks without the BMOrg’s permission but with its awareness for a while.

3. Trademark law: registration is only one piece of the puzzle. If an entity uses a trademark, generally words or a symbol, it can pretty quickly get the right to prevent other people from using it for the same purposes. Example: If I open up Pantsless Santa’s Light Sick and Feather Hut and run the business for a year or two, I will gain trademark rights to that business name and nobody else will be able to capitalize on my success.

4. More trademark law: Trademark registration basically gives you those rights, and even more, in advance. But if someone else is already using a trademark, nobody else can register it. Example: A local entrepreneur named Hairy Larvae decides that he wants to open up his own Pantsless Santa’s Light Stick and Feather Hut, and attempts to register that name as a trademark. He won’t be able to. It’s already my trademark, even though I haven’t registered it.

5. Burn BC applied to register the Burning Man trademarks on the grounds that it represents the Canadian burner community. Part of the argument is based on the idea that the Canadian community as it has developed over the years has a culture distinct from the corporate American TITD. This is an interesting argument and probably has some merit, but it is not pertinent to this procedural and legal account.

6. The BMOrg opposed Burn BC’s registration attempt, as far as I can remember on the grounds that the above argument is bunk (it might or might not be), that the BMOrg, through its official affiliates, already had the unregistered trademark rights (it does, unless – at minimum – the above argument is valid), and that Burn BC does not represent any separate Canadian burner community that might have trademark rights (this is a coffin nail for Burn BC). I apologize if I have this all wrong – I may well.

7. Burn BC “released the marks into the public domain” and withdrew its registration application, I believe with the intent that they only be used for noncommercial/burny purposes. This was a nice gesture, but a. It might not have any rights to release (see above), and b. Trademarks don’t quite work that way – you either maintain control of them or lose all rights to them.

8. The BMOrg is seeking revenge against Bhak for challenging their authority and forcing them to incur a ton of legal fees, maybe as much as $100k worth based on the amount of paper that’s been generated.

9. The BMOrg is acting like a bag of dicks. Bhak’s theories might or might not hold water in court, but he has acted in good faith with the purpose of promoting what he believes are the best interests of Canadian burners. This is not some kind of frivolous power grab. He doesn’t deserve this.

Decommodification, LLC now owns a newly registered trademark in Canada. What will they do with this in 3 years when they “fully complete” their transition?
In other news, Billionaire Burner Elon Musk is showing humanity the right way to move forwards, by Gifting his for-profit company’s valuable intellectual property for “good faith” use. This is the future, “the Sharing Economy” that BMOrg loves to tell us they’re an example of.

[Update 9/20/14 11:53am]
Bhak has provided us with more details.
Decommodification, LLC is the party launching the lawsuit, so the legal fees don’t appear to be paid by the charity. The Vancouver Court Docket is here, this matter has been going on for some time with a number of different statements made to the court since April this year.
Bhak explains:
Decommodification LLC does NOT own a registered mark in Canada.
http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/app/opic-cipo/trdmrks/srch/vwTrdmrk.do?lang=eng&status=OK&fileNumber=1683813&extension=0&startingDocumentIndexOnPage=1Their application is “FORMALISED” which just means it’s been received and is waiting to be EXAMINED. It takes 12-18 months to reach examination. “Formalised” is just a fancy way of saying “entered in the system” and while it’s being applied for, no one else can file an application for the same.

After 12-18 months, if the examiner deems the mark unregisterable they reject the application. If they don’t notice anything, it’s APROOVED which means Decommodification LLC has rights to use it as an official Trademark while it gets ADVERTISED for opposition. But until it’s REGISTERED after the ADVERTISED and OPPOSITION phases, they cannot assign licence to it, and they cannot enforce it, and they cannot transfer, or sell it.

During opposition it gets advertised in a public journal for 60 days at which time anyone can oppose it for any valid reason listed under section 30. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/T-13/section-38.html

Burn BC released it’s marks based on Section 13(1B) of the Canadian Trademark Act.

Which would fall under section 38 (1B) as an unregisterable mark. It’s kind of like what happens when a mark falls out of trademark into public domain when its “Naked Licensed”, which is generally how it was used in Canada up until around 2009 or so.

…It wasn’t me “Bhak” who registered the marks, it was Burn BC. Burn BC was waiting to see if the marks passed the opposition phase with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. If anyone opposed it, it was clear that no one should have exclusive rights.

If no one opposed, we were going to hand it off to an independent Federal Non-Profit run by Canadian Burners, and I would resign from it and Burn BC, for the sake of integrity, and to get back to just making my Art and raising my two year old son, unimpeded by this ever imposing conversion of a culture into a global brand owned by a corporation.This was offered as a mutually respectful and mutually respectful proposal before any lawsuit was launched. The original idea was that “we don’t care what you do in the United States, you’ve never really cared to be involved with Canada or do anything for Canada” So we will represent ourselves here, and you can do whatever you want there, and we will be nice about it.

Coinciding with this was overwhelming sentiment from Canadian Burners that “NO ONE” should own it here. At this point the only reason to continue this law suit is to frighten me (and others) into silence and isolation about our rights to “Burning Man” in Canada over the last 20 years, and the fact that at this point it’s in the public domain here, through a combination of, 

1: never having been registered in Canada,
2: having been used widely under “Naked Licencing”
3: and generally arbitrarily enforced as a Cultural or Community MarkIn consultations with lawyers they all said it’s already Public Domain, and about the only way anyone can register it is if no one opposes any applications with CIPO. In other words someone is trying to issue and enforce in Canada something they have never had Registered Rights to enforce in Canada.

So no one was stealing anything. Burn BC was just recognizing our rights as Canadians and the work we’ve done as a Distinctly Canadian Burning Man Culture, and offering an opportunity for Canadian Burners to step up to the plate and defend those rights. But it became clear, that people wanted NO ONE to have exclusive rights to our Culture and Community here. So we released the marks under a section of the trademark act that says “no mark that interferes with the development of the arts shall be registered.

Economic Costs of Burning Man in SF

Fortune magazine has shared some data from local San Francisco merchants who use Square. It looks like Burning Man had a substantial negative impact on businesses in SOMA, the Mission, the Marina, Noe Valley, Haight Ashbury, and even The Tenderloin. The absence of Burners was good for business in Pac Heights, Richmond and the Outer Sunset.

From Fortune:

The annual desert celebration is an economic force, but that means something’s got to give elsewhere—namely, San Francisco…

Big events such as concerts, football games, and festivals typically bring a surge of economic activity around their venues. Burning Man, the annual art-nature-tech celebration that drew some 70,000 people to northern Nevada last month, is no different. How big is that impact? According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the festival last year brought $55 million to the local economy.

That surge in spending came at the expense of some other place, of course. “Burners” hail from all over the country and world, but San Francisco, where the festival was born, is home to the largest concentration. The city is famously empty during that week, and the pilgrimage to the “playa” affects some neighborhoods disproportionately.

Data from Square, the mobile credit card processing company, suggests merchants in the South of Market neighborhood saw as much as a 20% drop in business the week of Burning Man compared to a typical week. The Mission, Noe Valley, Castro, Haight Ashbury, and Cole Valley all saw drops of between 9% and 11%. Potrero Hill was not far behind, with a 7.8% drop. Bucking the trend, commerce was up sharply in the Richmond, a neighborhood popular with families, perhaps due to increased shopping during a the Labor Day weekend.

What do all the neighborhoods that saw drops have in common? They’re on the south side of the city and are home to the majority of tech workers in the Bay Area. No surprise there. Now if someone could only measure the drop in tech productivity that week. Lines of code not written? Deadlines blown?

From Communal Effort to Communism

re-blogging this piece that freestyle wrote in 2012 over at Mutant Ship. Seems just as relevant today.

Entitlement: I knew after 2012 that Burning Man had Jumped The Shark

by freestyle

(Originally written 9/24/12)

My perspective: worst burn ever

Be forewarned, what I’m about to say is pretty damning, negative, and long winded. Read at your own risk.

shark1Okay, so I have publicly told everyone that I had my “worst burn ever” and I felt a little sad after sharing my disappointment with everyone and not keeping it bottled up.  I didn’t mean to be that whiny complaining guy.  But since it’s now out in the open I might as well further explain what I experienced this year and why I feel about BM2012 the way I do.

I’ll start by asserting that the problem is participant-demonstrated a sense of entitlement.  Ayn Rand defined this: “A code of values accepted by choice is a morality”.  We enter the gates of Black Rock City and are expected to abide by 10 principles, or values.  This is the code of Morality at Burning Man, and most everything else can be left behind.

However, an insidious development is changing the vibe at Burning Man, and it goes against it’s stated morality.  It’s called commercialism, and it fosters a sense of entitlement.  In the past, I’d meet all sorts of interesting participants doing their own thing.  This year, bringing and operating a large art car, I would say (other than friends), I interacted mostly with paid workers at the event.  And there were a ton of them.

These are the people working the event for money.  Commercialism, if you will.  Let me describe some interactions with the Commercial side of the event.  I interacted with the Sheriff and BLM rangers when I needed to move the truck and not run over countless bikes and drunk people.  In past years, these were the buzzkill bastards watching over the Opulent Temple and we’d create a 20 foot buffer circle avoiding them at all costs. This year, I noticed that they were helpful, calm, professional, sober, and doing their job. In other words, I related a hell of a lot more to them than to all the “participants”.

I started to notice all the other workers who were paid to be there.  The porta-john caretakers/ cleaners.  I talked with the guy who pumped out our RV — he had driven in from Sacramento at 2 am and had been working till 6 pm.  Ours was the last pump-out he could manage.  Why did I bring an RV?  I was told it’s a lot easier to build and handle an art car when you don’t have to hassle with camp set up.  But you know what was sacrificed?  Burning Man principles of Participation and Communal Effort.  When we took care of ourselves, we made lifelong friends.  Former campmates agreed that the best memory was when we all banded together to salvage a dome building effort (2009) and then the next year perfect it (2010).  We paid some guy to pump our waste and a little piece of the spirit of Burning Man went down the drain too.

fuck plugnplayYou don’t need to be radically self reliant when you can rent a luxurious RV and pay someone to pump your waste and refill your fresh water tank.  It is only in the last two years that fresh water has been available for purchase.  We ought to stop allowing these services to require people to be radically self reliant again.

There used to be a complaint that “Burning Man is becoming too commercial” and pumping gray water and selling fresh water aside, I think there’s more to it than that.  To me, this year it really hit home that the event has shifted to a consumer mindset.  This never bothered me before, but when I brought something big which took a lot of my personal time, energy, and money, it struck a real nerve.

Now I’ll be the first to admit this year I did the first 6 days I was at Burning Man 2012 all wrong.  I worked like a slave and it made me miserable.  This is the meaning of sacrifice – to give up as worthless things of highest value.  I had a little fun, but past years were a lot of fun.  Life at Burning Man must not demand sacrifice.   The reason I say I did the event wrong is because there is no requirement for anyone to give beyond their generosity.  Burning Man is not communism.  If you feel compelled to sacrifice, to give away more than you can afford mentally, materially, or emotionally, you are doing Burning Man wrong.  By days 7 and 8, I changed my reaction to it all (by saying “Fuck it”) and was having fun.

While the problem of entitlement and commercialism has been brewing for a long time, it was magnified tenfold this year with high ticket prices and a shortage of tickets.  The newbie people and long-time Burners who bought tickets at $1000 because they so badly wanted to go to the best party in the universe felt less desire to contribute.  They looked around at all the art, pretty lights, mutant vehicles, large scale sound camps, and porta potties and thought it was still a good value at $1000.  They probably had the time of their lives seeing sights and sounds and possibly helping out in small ways, but why contribute or participate more when they already spent $1000?  Further, every single veteran who went felt they should be entitled to go.  I am no exception.  I was used to getting $210 tickets thanks to hacker friends, but that always felt like luck, not entitlement.  It used to be open to everyone, after all, with no apparent ticket cap. Burning Man tickets are now seen like driver’s licenses… everyone feels entitled, but really it’s a privilege.  Or the “right” to vote.  It’s a privilege.

The high ticket prices were like a “tax” to many people.  It discouraged less well-off people from contributing in their own way, and forced them to contribute to a pool of money which was then redistributed by the Burning Man Organization according to crony-ism and an arbitrary definition of worthiness, or the excess went to a scalper and the community didn’t even benefit from the high ticket prices.

Notably excluded from the grant process is art cars and sound camps.  This has been an issue for years, but it never bothered me before until the prices got so high and I saw first hand what it’s doing to less well-off Burners.   I really think about half the participants paid so much for their tickets, that they didn’t have extra cash to contribute in a way that really tapped into their passion, skill, or desires, if they even knew they were supposed to contribute.  There is a census / survey at Burning Man and no results are ever analyzed and published to show where the trends are going for spending and cost to attend.  Or is that why ticket prices go up?  Burning Man Organization analyzes the data and decides what the market can bear for tickets?  If so, what happened to the core value of “Decommodification”?  I certainly benefited from this redistribution of wealth.  The established camp I stayed with had good connections and history with the bureaucracy and they got on the 3:00 plaza power grid which kept the art car lit all night.  We got hooked up with scarce tickets and early entry.  Our camp dues were ridiculously low, $40, as a result of this in addition to the generosity and affluence of the camp members.  I’ve never been at such an elaborate camp before that cost less than $100 per person.  So why am I complaining?  Because the event has changed dramatically as a result.

art bikeibis.600x400I’ve been 7 times now and for several years I helped others by fixing bikes at “my” camp, Bike-n-Booze, or helping assemble an art car for a stranger, and didn’t spend a lot of money on stuff.  It was expensive getting to Burning Man from the Midwest.  I was taught to contribute in my own way and volunteered a lot, knowing it was impractical to build or bring an art car or make some huge art project.  When I finally moved to the West Coast, I kept the same budget but could bring a $250 keg of beer and spent the better part of three days hauling ice to keep it cold and happily giving it out to strangers.  If the $390 ticket I paid for this year busted my budget so badly that I wouldn’t even be able to do that, or priced me out of the market so I wouldn’t be able to go, then my contribution might be limited a bit.  I’m more fortunate than most in that I could afford to build a fairly large art car on my own.

The next problem is acculturation.  There ratio of newbies to veterans is too high. I did my part to tell the newbie I brought (bless his heart) about what was expected by the community.  He rose to the occasion and made me proud for all the work and contributions he did.  Truly he had the Burning Man experience and “gets it”.  The work was hard, and he earned his fun.  Hopefully my art car didn’t burn him out like it did me, and was a positive experience.  He told me later in the week that the best part and most fun thing for him was manning the “FuBar”, a kind of confessional bar at our camp where you have to tell your most fucked-up beyond belief story and receive a shot if it’s a worthy story.  But others just came and consumed.  Helped out nada.  I saw that.  I remember that more than anything.

Another problem is the bureaucracy.  I understand why bureaucracy happens.  It’s inevitable with a large group of people.  But I hit it hard and with my art car creation.  I was fortunate to sail right through approvals for my art car, but it was entirely due to my inside scoop on what meets the needs of the bureaucracy.  I talked with anyone and everyone with art car experience, and learned a ton about what they wanted.  To give you an idea of some compromises, lets start with the windscreen on my truck.  I wanted to cover it all up with plywood and look out small round portholes.  This was judged by anyone and everyone in the know as dangerous and not going to be allowed by the BM DMV.  I’m grateful they pointed this out, but in the olden days I’d have been driving around like that.  There was a time in the past when drivers of large buses (in the shape of a whale or Spanish galleon) would drive blind with only commands from lookouts above to tell them where to go.  Those cars were amazing to look at, and the artistic vision wasn’t compromised by bureaucracy.  Granted, I’d be a fool to drive with only portholes to peer out of, but I’d have gotten the look I wanted and would have learned from my own mistakes.

The other thing that pissed me off was how stuck I was with my rudimentary art car plan and how their application process really expects you to deliver exactly that sketch in life-size form when the car appears for licensing.  If I wanted to radically change my concept… tough luck.  It’s too late once the application is in.  When I ran into snags and wanted to scale things back, I’m just damn glad I wrote exactly the plan “B”s that I intended into my original application.  But if I’d changed the ship from say, a freighter into a Battleship, that would probably have been rejected if I showed up with essentially the wrong art car.   Also it was a good thing that I had such a simple concept in the initial renderings.  I could have dreamed up something far more elaborate (and I did, and have all the sketches), but I only told them what I considered the bare minimum. Still, it felt like a gun to my head come August when I couldn’t scale anything back more, yet in no way did I want to wait another year and bring it to Burning Man in 2013 for the first time.

I guess I’m an anarchist at heart, or a libertarian.  Limited government.  I used to say Burning Man is 50% hippy and 50% anarchist.  Now it seems it’s 50% hippy, 47% contributing nothing / Communist, and 3% anarchist.

/ offrant

Burning Man principle #6 is “Communal Effort”.  But it seems to be morphing into “Communism”, taking from everyone and redistributing the wealth.  The future of the event might as well shift.  Let them charge everyone $1000 per ticket and give out grants to anyone with a good idea that meets their idea of what Burning Man should look like and feel like.  Unbridled creativity will be replaced by bridled creativity.  If my art car was accepted as a worthy project, by all means I’ll take $14,000 and happily build my creation and drive everyone around all week.  The “commodification” will have completed it’s course.

Gone are the early days when you’d show up and contribute in the most outrageous way you could, principle #5 “Radical Self-Expression”.  The location is the same, but the Burning Man corporate sponsorship and infamy / popularity of the event has changed it irrevocably.

Halcyon: What I Learned Defending Plug-n-Play

Kudos to Halcyon for coming to our site to defend any criticisms of his article Don’t Hate Plug-n-Play. He’s penned a follow up, sharing what he learned from being “destroyed” on Burners.Me. He makes some good points here, and I think articulates his viewpoint more clearly than in the previous article.


from lustmonkey: (emphasis ours)


by Halcyon

24 hours ago  Fest300.com posted my article defending Plug-And-Playcamps.   I ended up getting DESTROYED on Burners.me and the Facebook Burning Man group.  I decided to write down what I learned.

Whew! I did not expect so much response…or so much anger. But I have been reading and listening and LEARNING. Here is are the main points I’ve gathered in the 24 hours of exuberant dialogue:

  1. 17 burns ago, in 1998, I showed up at Burning Man on Thursday and stayed through the Man burn. (There was no Temple.) I tried to learn what I could about the event but I was under-prepared and took WAY more than I gave. I owe much to my campmates (who I just met) and the whole city. I am so grateful for their patience and willingness to let me have a “blow my mind” year before expecting me to “get it.”   When I see people now who clearly don’t get it, I try to remember who I was back then.
  2. We all are passionate about Burning Man and consider it sacred. It is understandable that we are moved to fight to defend it (and feel anger towards those that we feel put it at risk.)
  3. Plug-And-Play is not an agreed-upon definition. Selling a high priced “resort experience” or Safari Tour of Burning Man is a different thing than a plug-and-play camp option – where you show up to a pre set-up camp and meal plan.
  4. Many people project the actions of the much-publicized “Carivanicle” camp to the term Plug And Play. They therefore consider a defense of Plug-and-Play to be a defense of what that camp did. No wonder there is so much anger!   Being aggressively flirtatious is not the same thing as rape.   The first may make some people uncomfortable – but it is possible to do with integrity.   The latter – always wrong.   Defending a flirtatious friend is not the same as defending rape.
  5. Carivanicle clearly violated the 10 Principles, common decency, and labor laws.   The anger (and attention) being given to this situation is justified and a positive thing for the future of Burning Man. Having specific acts (and people) to focus frustration on helps us to shape a more concrete “Best Practices” for all theme camps.
  6. I am not well versed on Carivanicle’s connection to a Burning Man board member. But if this is accurate, then it is understandably unsettling and should be addressed publically by the BMORG.
  7. I still believe that exposing people with power & influence to a Burning Man experience is good for the world. It can change people. That being said (and what I tried to say in the article), is that an exclusive, VIP segregated camp experience (aka “Safari”) is NOT a Burning Man experience.
  8. I think that the person who joins a Safari camp suffers a worse consequence (by missing out a possibility fantastic life experience) than anyone who is turned away from their velvet rope.
  9. If large chunks of tickets are being made available to these high dollar camps, that is NOT okay. Tickets are scarce and we have a very specific community rules for buying & selling tickets. The directed sales for camps and groups that have a reputation of participation is good for the event. But A turnkey camp that includes a ticket is just advanced level scalping. (aka “Pay-to-play”) Furthermore, ANY favorable treatment regarding placement, etc. is clearly not okay.
  10. For every professional chef , laborer, or servant that gets a ticket, is that one artist or dreamer or previous Burner who is unable to attend? That seems like an unacceptable price for creating luxury for a small number of elite.
  11. There are a small number of professional roles required for the event to take place. Porto Potty Emptier, Delivery Truck Driver, Police Officer, and a handful of other jobs.   These people do not require tickets and are not participants.  Then there is a HUGE group of people who gift their time and talent towards projects and camps. This is the heart and soul of Burning Man. But “Safari” camps introduce a middle ground of person who wants to be a participant, but also commodifies their labor.   Meanwhile countless other Participants gift those same skills & time to the community. I’m still getting my head around this category, but I think if you are acting on-Playa from financial motivation, you are outside the Principles and are in the category of Porto Potty guy or Cop.
  12. Plug-and-play is not necessarily against the Principles. But setting up a high priced safari experience as a sort of Event Planner money making scheme is blatant commodification. I heard reports of huge profits by Carivanicle. True or not, the concept is unsettling and downright maddening if camps like this are getting preferential treatment with regards to tickets, placement, etc.

In conclusion –

I have read through and tried to respond to well over 500 comments across Burners.me, Fest300 and Facebook. Some of those words were pretty hurtful and unnecessarily personal.   I get it. I put myself out there and I guess I ask for it. But it would be good to remember that we all love this thing in the desert.

And whether you like it or not, I love you.

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