More Ticket Bollocks

Caveat Magister has shared some of his ticketing pontifications with us over at the official Burning Man blog. Seems to me like yet another attempt from people connected to the BMOrg, to convince us that selling tickets to Burning Man really needs to be arcane, mysterious, and complex, instead of straightforward like every other party in the world.

Burning Man is at risk of going through an Inverse Protestant Reformation.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Pretentious.  But, bear with me.  We like to think of Burning Man as a new and unique thing in the history of the world, and I’m mostly there with you, but those who don’t learn from history are destined to listen to people repeat it.

The position of the European Church in the 16th century was that there are two requirements to get to paradise:  one is by faith (wanting to be saved) and the other is by doing good works.  The Church, of course, was the final arbiter on earth of which works are good enough to get someone into heaven.  Human institutions being corruptible, this eventually led to the selling of indulgences:  basically a chance to buy, buy, buy your sins away by investing in an art project.  A rich man might have to go through the eye of a needle to get to heaven, but by 1516 they could commission a really enormous needle.

The Protestant position so forcefully advocated by Martin Luther was that good works are bullshit.  Not only are they subject to ego and corruption and benefit the wealthy, but their whole premise is flawed:  no achievement makes any man more worthy than another.  God alone decides who gets to go to heaven, and so all we can do is have faith.  “Faith alone” is the criteria for salvation under Protestant theology.

Theologically Burning Man, from its very beginning, has been a strictly Protestant affair.  The only real requirement was to want it enough.  At first that was easy, because the San Francisco beach is very accessible by bus.  Then it went out to the desert, and you had to want it more – but even so, all you had to do was get there.  Then it started selling tickets, which added some additional cash to the equation, but it was still just a variation on the same theme:  if you want it enough, you can come.  No one who wanted it enough to buy a ticket and undergo the pilgrimage would be turned away.

Everyone was supposed to be actively participating, that’s a huge part our “theology,” but there were no mechanisms to judge that.  No arbiter you could turn to, to say “I like your theme camp, but you can’t dance to it,” and expect them to offer the final word.  Now sure, as time went on you could be turned down for an art grant or given a terrible spot for a theme camp … but if someone wanted it enough they would not be turned away, and they could still do what they wanted.

Burning Man’s credo was “Faith alone.”  No one’s good works made them special.  We all stink after a week in the desert.

Many of the ticket schemes proposed by Burners risk changing that.

Now that tickets are a scarce commodity, many established Burners are demanding that newer Burners go to the back of the line.  Many theme camps are insisting that they deserve preferential treatment and be made whole, at the ultimate expense of solo burners, art car makers, and other theme camps.  Burners of all stripes are insisting that good works be counted in their favor.  They’re saying faith alone … the desire to go to Burning Man and be a part of this community … now counts for much less.

They demand salvation through works – and they are demanding that there be a hierarchy in order to make it happen.  They don’t call it a “Catholic” hierarchy, but ultimately that’s what they want.  When they are abstract guidelines, the 10 Principles are simply principles;  when they are applied by an organization invested with moral authority, the 10 principles become ecclesiastical objects that determine the fate of members of the community.

Thus we have an Inverse Protestant Reformation:  a popular movement of free spirits insisting that a previously non-judgmental body turn itself into an ecclesiastical hierarchy.

These new “Catholic” burners may get what they want, but the Org has resisted it.  Indeed, the whole purpose of the lottery system was to prevent it from having to take on that kind of responsibility and make those judgment calls.  That’s another way this is an Inverse Protestant Reformation:  the Church in Rome was desperate to cling to its power;  the Burning Man office in San Francisco has tried like hell not to pick it up.

I don’t blame them.  They see the danger in becoming arbiters of who’s “burnier-than-thou” quite clearly, because they’ve spent the last decade trying to avoid it.  But now, at this moment, they don’t know what else to do.  Much of the community is demanding it, and the Org has to put this largely volunteer run event together.  It’s not just art cars and theme camps:  the volunteer infrastructure at Burning Man is enormous.  Want ice?  Most of that work is done by volunteers.  Want Center Camp?  Thousands of volunteers.  Want medical tents, vehicle registration, Playa Info, and so much more?  Mostly volunteers.

My aesthetic tastes may be Catholic, but as a burner I’m a radical fideist (faith only):  I would like to be storming the barricades on Market Street shouting “Don’t do it!  There’s a better way!”

But I’ve got nothing – nothing except faith that we, the people of Burning Man, can be better than this.  That we can actually raise our consciousness just enough to accept that you can participate in Burning Man without necessarily going in any given year.

Hopefully it won’t come to that, because if you have to ask “can we raise our consciousness?” the answer is almost always “No.”  History is immutable on this point.

Really? Selling $400 tickets to a party in the desert, is the equivalent of a world-changing religious movement? To figure out how to sell tickets, the whole world has to raise its consciousness? Burners are begging for more hierarchy, as a solution to this so-called “problem”?  Methinks the Magister may have delved a little too deeply into his tawny port.

How does Coachella deal with the fact that it sells out – meaning Jay-Z’s entourage might not be able to get tickets? Simple, they have different passes for Jay-Z’s entourage. This year, Burning Man kept aside 10,000 tickets in the World’s Biggest Guest list, to ensure that major theme camps could get the tickets they needed.

How should Burning Man sell tickets? Do you have an opinion? If so, vote in our poll. So far the majority think that if scalpers are such a huge problem, then link IDs to the tickets. And nobody thinks we should keep the 2012 lottery system.

Solving this problem does not require an “Inverse Protestant Reformation”. It doesn’t require game theorists and artists and philosophers and historians. It requires only a rudimentary understanding of economics. If supply is restricted, and demand is greater than supply, then raise prices. Quod erat demonstrandum. Caveat emptor.

 

16 comments on “More Ticket Bollocks

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  6. All step tickets were and a good portion of the other ticket distribution were will call this year and the entry gate on the first night had the same 3-4 hour wait as in years past. Except for a small proportion of international attenedees, all states have barcoded licenses which could be scanned via handheld device for validity. But that is neither here nor there. Do you really think people would go to the trouble and cost of faking an id just to get into burning man?! C’mon.. They would have better odds and less hassle in stowing away or sneaking in off the trash fence.
    Get rid of the tiers and make it all one price which gets rid of the initial crush on first day sales to get the cheapest price. Make them non-transferrable which will also prevent people who aren’t sure about going but are buying a ticket for the sake of making sure they have one which also alleviate first day sales crush, and expand size capacity which they did this year. And voila problem is solved.

    • Thanks Dispatch, I agree – except for the “problem solved”. Burning man attendance this year was down on previous years, and 20% less than the population cap…so, what is the actual problem? I think there is only an artificial one. a figment of some twisted hippy zombied out imagination.
      As for making tickets accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford to go? Burning Man should throw a free party for the homeless and unemployed. Enjoy all that gifting!

  7. If you have all that vacation time, travel time and $400 for a ticket (x as many tickets as you need for friends and family so you don’t go solo), then Burning Man has become a luxury art resort for the wealthy. I avoid places like that in my personal daily life.

    • I said I hadn’t been. Did you even read my comment? I travel because there are insufficient educational opportunities in Reno. I think most intelligent people would understand my prioritizing paying for school and learning a language over an extremely expensive Burning Man trip. I can pay for several months rent in China for $400, not to mention what I could get abroad for what I would spend on the additional costs of spending a week at Burning Man.

  8. The tickets are already outrageously expensive making Burningman unreachable for many.Not only does one have to buy a ticket, but one also has to be in Reno (not away at school), and pay for all food, gas, costumes, etc. that one needs. Personally, I’ve wanted to go for years. I’ve lived in Reno my entire life (with the exception of present studying abroad) and never been able to go. I’m really disappointed that Burningman has become something so exclusive. It’s almost bureacratic, perhaps proving that all cities require government and that all communities require people to enter into a freedom-reducing social contract. I am determined to go this year if I can manage to be in Reno in time for the event, but I’m not pleased that I have so much to worry about when it comes to getting a ticket in advance. I hope everyone can figure something agreeable out.

  9. Good comment Waffles, but the scalper would make such a large profit off of your sale that he’ll certainly return next year in anticipation of similar profit. Thus, he’ll be competing with regular burners for limited ticket supply, and in effect creating virtual ticket scarcity, while bidding up the price.

  10. Oh Yeah, if you make a mess of things – spiritualize it. That’s how cults get started isn’t it? And here I thought it was just a problem of dealing with ticket sales.

    • Honestly, I sort of disagree. Dutch auctions are great for some things (IPO, raising money for charity) but Burning Man is a different beast.

      Personally, I plan to go in 2013, no matter what, like many of my friends. I also work in Silicon Valley, like many other Burners, and have a rather large amount of disposable income. As a result, in the case of a Dutch auction, I would simply bid $5,000 or some absurd number- an amount that I know for sure would not be paid by 60,000 other people. In this case, I personally have just bumped up the cost of entry by one bid-peg for everyone.
      On the other hand, if I were purchasing from a scalper- even though they are terrible human beings, me paying $700 for a $450 ticket only penalizes ME- it does not increase the cost for others.
      Do you see where I’m going with this? I think having a Burning Man where only those with enough flexible/disposable income to bid loosely and have the price bumped way up in such an auction would be a terrible idea.

      Having a scholarship program to alleviate that issue is something, but I think it still creates an artificial dichotomy that would definitely hurt BM as a culture and event.

      • The fundamental problem is that there are more people who want to attend than there are tickets available. Therefore, no matter what ticket allocation scheme is used, some people will not be able to get tickets. And your greater resources and willingness to spend them will drive up prices regardless.

        Suppose they went back to “first come, first serve”. You could pay someone to stand in line for you, thereby outcompeting those who couldn’t afford a line stander. Or, if you weren’t that forward thinking, you could pay a scalper who anticipated your demand.

        Suppose they were distributed “randomly via a lottery”. Some people are going to value those tickets a lot, some only a little. If you didn’t get a ticket, you could offer more money to those who didn’t value their ticket very much, outcompeting those who didn’t have as much to offer.

        Suppose they were distributed based on the “old boy network”, i.e. previous burners, or those connected to theme camps. Doesn’t seem very fair to newbies, and again, to the extent that you’re willing to pay more, you’ll be more likely to be able to buy a ticket from a “old boy” than someone with less resources.

        Suppose they tried to make them non-transferrable to prevent scalping (also known as reselling). Can you imagine the nightmare at the gate, as gatekeepers try to match id’s with tickets? And I’m skeptical it would do much good to prevent scalping–if profit is high enough, markets tend to find a way. For example, it’s not like it’s that hard to make a fake id good enough to satisfy the gatekeepers.

        At least with a Dutch Auction everyone pays the same price. No one has much incentive to scalp, since anyone willing to pay more than the would-be scalper paid would already have a ticket. So almost all of the value of the tickets would be captured by BMORG, rather than a large fraction given to scalpers. BMORG can then decide how much they want to allocate tickets on the basis of something other than ability and willingness to pay.

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