The JACK RABBIT SPEAKS has an interesting bit of wording in the latest issue. It’s in a section called “Black Rock City Civics” and it has to do with decommodification:
See, one of our core principles is Decommodification … which means amongst other things, that Burners don’t want to be treated like a consumer to be sold to, especially on playa. Here’s the full description: “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.” Besides, fliers create more MOOP, and we really don’t need any more of that, either!
Nothing wrong with any of that, is there? Except for that one little phrase: “especially on playa.”
Obviously none of us wish to be marketed to on the playa, but by slipping that little qualifier in at the end, Will is telling us that the Org disapproves of us buying things from each other no matter where we are. Of course, that doesn’t count if the Org gets to be in complete control of your interactions with other burners. JACK RABBIT SPEAKS, the official newsletter in which we are being encouraged to regard conducting trade with each other as taboo on or off-playa, often contains advertisements for burner-to-burner businesses.
You foolish children, they seem to be saying to us. Why would you want to network with each other and do any kind of trade or business together? We and we alone will moderate your interactions with each other.
In light of the Org’s trademark lockdown that attempts to prevent the very people who build and maintain the Burning Man brand from using it for non-commercial purposes to gather together and spread the culture beyond the playa, it seems absurd that they want to preach to us about decommodification. . . or about fostering the culture.
By the time Will gets to the part where he quotes from the ten principles, the ‘we’ in phrases like “we stand ready to protect our culture” has been twisted to mean “the Org.” Why is the Org interested in protecting the culture from burners themselves? Because by “our culture” what they really mean is the Org’s exclusive right to exploit burners, on or off the playa.
As we’ve already reported, just days ago the Org in their quest to “protect our culture” sent vaguely threatening messages to several Facebook group administrators, asserting that the use of the words “Burning Man” as part of a group’s name is some kind of trademark violation (it isn’t). The group in question is called “Burning Man Classifieds,” and it was made by burners for burners. Burners actively protect it from cynical outside commodification, and they don’t need the Org to help them do that.
It’s all well and good to blithely assert that “Burners don’t want to be treated like a consumer to be sold to,” but when you’re dealing with a group of burners who have voluntarily gathered in a particular place to do exactly that – have a burner swap meet – then maybe you’re going a little beyond the bounds of “protecting our culture” and sidling into territory that is more aptly described as “a corporation bothering people for no good reason.” Or maybe an even better description would be “a small handful of people, using a corporate trademark to co-opt YOUR culture and profit from it.”
Call me paranoid if you must. I realize that the wording in the JRS is subtle, but coming on the heels of the rising unpleasantness between the Org and burners on Facebook, this smells like a subtle attempt to sway burner attitudes toward an unthinking response that supports the Org’s commercial ambitions for the future. It cleverly ties the idea of any kind of commerce whatsoever between burners to concepts that are already familiar and repellent to us all: commerce on the playa, and MOOP.
The Org is not the culture; burners are the culture. It’s high time for the Org to admit that they have a massive conflict of interest between their stated purpose of spreading and nurturing the culture, and the personal interests of the Board of Directors.