Earlier this year, the San Francisco Bay Guardian brought us a 5-page story about Burning Man, written by Burner Scribe. We covered the story in The Spark of Controversy . We also highlighted the apparent hypocrisy of the BMOrg profiting from a photo shoot featuring an art car while using legal threats to stop that same art car from even saying that they’re going to be at Burning Man on their Web site, and demanding that they take down photographs of the art car at Coachella – covered in The Fishy Smell of Corporate Excess.
Well, last night a pretty high-level BMOrg insider told me that the Guardian got it wrong. Way wrong. Here’s what the original story said:
When I asked Brown about whether he paid the LLC for access and the right to use footage they filmed on the playa — something I know it has demanded of other film and photo projects — Brown paused for almost a full minute before admitting he did.
“We saw it as location fees. We’re making an investment, they’re making an investment,” he said, refusing to provide details of the agreement. “The arrangement we had with Burning Man is similar to the arrangements anyone else has had out there.”
Goodell said the LLC’s standard agreement calls for all filmmakers to either pay a set site fee or a percentage of the profits. “It’s standard in all of the agreements to pay a site fee,” Goodell said, noting that the LLC recently charged Vogue Magazine $150,000 to do a photo shoot during the event.
According to our source, that story is not accurate. In fact, Vogue offered them this much money, and BMOrg turned it down. Or perhaps, BMOrg named their price, and Vogue turned them down. Anyway, the exchange of $150,000 for a photo shoot for Vogue, apparently never happened.
The source did not want to go on record with this , but gave me permission to publish. Read into that what you will. If this is true, then it’s surprising that BMOrg didn’t try to set the record straight with an official statement.
Vogue certainly seems to love Burning Man. They had a piece written by the lovely Disorient Burner Yvonne Force Villareal in 2009. There was a Burning Man photo shoot by David Mushegain in French Vogue in 2010. Burning Man was featured again in French Vogue in August 2012. There was also a Burning Man piece in British Vogue in 2010, and in Australian Vogue in 2011. A recent issue of Vogue has top designer Marc Jacobs naming Burning Man as his primary inspiration for his 2014 collection (fashion designer Manish Arora was also inspired by Burning Man for a collection he debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 2013).
Vogue has also just named Burning Man on it’s “New Social Calendar” of the places to be for the jet-set in 2014:
Once a hippy gathering in the desert, the Burning Man festival is now the number-one event to see and be seen at. Private jets fly in and out (with Google kingpins Larry Page and Sergey Brin sitting on two of them); Eugenie Niarchos, Bettina Santo Domingo and P Diddy frolic and play cricket in the sand; and everyone forms lifetime bonds.
Wear: As few clothes as possible.
Tip: Book a decent RV six months ahead of the festival.
There are almost no jets landing at the Black Rock City airport, out of 1000+ aircraft this year. I know of one Citation CJ2 that was brought in once, and there’s usually one or two Pilatus PC-12 turboprops. Larry and Sergei’s main plane is a converted ex_Qantas Boeing 767, called “a party airplane” by their CEO Eric Schmidt. They get discounted fuel from the Pentagon and NASA, and they have their own private landing strip close to their office, at Moffett Field (at least, until their own private terminal at San Jose airport is completed!)
The 3 top Google executives own 8 private jets and two helicopters between them, they also have a 757, two Gulfstream V’s, and a fighter jet. I’m pretty sure they didn’t take any of this fleet to Burning Man this year. But hey, nobody reads Vogue for the articles, do they?
Personally I find Scribe to be a very credible journalist, and have difficulty believing that he could get something so important, so completely wrong. His book The Tribes of Burning Man is excellent. I know that he has recordings of the interviews he conducted for his story, and there is more that he did not yet publish.
Scribe this year wrote a piece from the Playa, saying that he was officially giving up his struggle to call for democratic leadership of Burning Man, or at least some form of representation of Burners in the decision making about our culture, as it relates to That Thing In The Desert.
It’s perfect, right? No reason to change a thing. What God (or, rather, Larry Harvey) has created, let no burner presume to alter.
That’s an idea that most burners seem to embrace, despite the beloved pastime of veteran burners to kvetch and celebrate some storied golden age, whether it be 1986, 1996, or 2006. We all just appreciate the chance to build a city for ourselves each year and the leaders of Burning Man for giving us that opportunity, again and again.
And I’m now joining those who accept Burning Man as it is, hereby officially dropping my struggles against Larry, Maid Marian, and the rest of Black Rock City LLC board to create some form of representative or democratic leadership for the Burning Man and its culture.
It’s been a lonely and frustrating crusade anyway, so I’m happy to be done with it (as I’m sure they are). I’ve been regularly covering Burning Man for my newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, since 2004. My reportage formed the basis of my book, The Tribes of Burning Man, which came out in 2011 just as the LLC board was being torn apart by internal divisions that they resolved by deciding to turn control of Burning Man over to a new nonprofit they were creating, The Burning Man Project.
“Why not act to change the world, a world that you won’t be in? And that’s what we want to do,” Larry told a roomful of grateful burners when he announced the plan in April 2011. “We want to get out of running Burning Man. We want to move on.”
The prospects of that change in leadership seemed exciting, and I imagined a council of veteran burners representing our community’s constituent communities – artists, DPW, sound camps, volunteers, art car makers, regional leaders, maybe the biggest villages – gathering around a table to plan the future of Burning Man. It might get messy, but things worth doing usually are.
First, I took issue with Larry’s announced plans to create secret payouts for the six board members, but nobody except Chicken John seemed to care about that. The predominant view seemed to be that they had done us all a great service and they deserved whatever it was they wanted to pay themselves.
Fine, so then I publicly questioned the hand-picked nonprofit board, which seemed chosen for their fundraising ability more than the communities they represented. Again, no resonance, so I accepted it and moved on. Maybe money was what was important in the early stages, and new leadership would come later.
And I was totally willing to just let it go and move on, until earlier this year when I watched the new documentary, “Spark: A Burning Man Story,” which concludes with the claim “the organization is transitioning into a nonprofit to ‘gift’ the event back to the community.”
So I decided to plug back into covering Burning Man to check on the status of this gift with just a year to go until Larry had said that control of the event would be transferred to the new nonprofit. But rather than relaxing their grip on the event and entrusting it to the community, I learned that they consider their leadership “more important than ever,” as Marian put it.
Not only are The Burning Man Project board members still not representative of the overall community, but they have no authority over the event, which Larry wants to continue as is “without being unduly interfered with by the nonprofit organization.”
Sure, the LLC and its various fiefdoms can unilaterally change its contracts with artists, its policy on what kinds and how many art cars to license, its ticket pricing structure, and size of the city (the max population this year jumped to 68,000 from 60,000 last year), all without any input from the community. It can cut lucrative side deals with corporations and propagandists. But we can’t have the new nonprofit board making these sorts of decisions, that would be unthinkable.
“The nonprofit is going well, and then we have to work out the terms of the relationship between the event and the nonprofit. We want the event to be protected from undue meddling and we want it to be a good fit,” Larry told me.
And when I wrote about these issues in the Guardian, where they were read by tens of thousands of people, few people seemed to care. Two articles I wrote on these issues this year got two online comments each, comparing to the 259 comments and vigorous public discussion that ensued after I wrote “Burning Man ticket fiasco creates uncertain future” in February of last year.
The lesson: as long as we can get to Black Rock City, we don’t really care who’s calling the shots. After all, it’s really all of us who create the city each year for our own enjoyment, and that’s what matters, not the six people who control the $23 million we all spent on tickets this year.
I think we’ll let Madonna have the last word on this one…