All Your Cr0wdFundingz Belongz to Us

I enjoy Caveat Magister’s writing, he claims that he does not speak for Burning Man and yet they keep putting his words right up there on their official web site, blog.burningman.com . His latest rant? Crowd-sourcing is against the 10 Principles. At least, the way Burners are doing it – that’s wrong.

If we hear soon that Burning Man is launching a new crowd-funding service for art projects, I won’t be surprised. They have certainly had a lot to say recently, giving lectures on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, and claiming that their “Principle of Gifting” makes them a pioneer in “the sharing economy”.

dj lyftThe sharing economy means something like Lyft – get paid to give someone a ride on your car. Or AirBnB – get paid to let someone stay in your house. Applying that to Burning Man – let your biggest donors have a reserved seat on your art car at a particular time and date – and all of a sudden, it is no longer “sharing economy”. It’s “Principle Violation!”

web 2.0 and the “sharing economy” have revolutionized the process of funding theme camps and art for Burning Man.

Granted, we live in a time when “revolutionized” can apply to the way people shop for car insurance, so the word doesn’t mean what it used to.  But the number of successful camps and cars at this year’s Burning Man that used Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform couldn’t be ignored.

And why should they be ignored?  These are all volunteers trying to create amazing things for the community’s enjoyment:  anything that makes their lives easier is all for the good.

But let’s play Indiegogo show-and-tell and see if something comes up, like a body floating to the surface.

…and what do you know, lookie here…a body! People spending money on an art car, and taking up spots on that art car that could be given away for free to randoms. “Don’t you understand Gifting and Radical Inclusion? Get off that art car, I want a go!”, she said. “Gift me that!”

what they are doing with these premiums – what was happening all across Burning Man this year – is that people are selling experiences on playa.

Through this system, if you spend money off playa, you and you alone (or with a limited number of others) get special rides on art cars, access to special dinners, and use of space that you have done nothing on playa to attain.

lyft moustache in fire burning-man-lightmatterYou might say “So what?”  Spending money off playa in preparation for Burning Man always brings benefits.  You can have an RV instead of a tent, or a big RV instead of an RV, or a small townhouse with a generator instead of a big RV.  Isn’t that what Plug-and-Play is?

Sure … and that’s problematic enough.  But the selling of experiences creates a more insidious problem.

Plug-and-play camping, for all its issues, does not deprive others of opportunities to experience  anything at Burning Man.  It may create issues with commoditization (especially when it brings hired help, creating a potential class of non-participants), and it may be a problem for our community when plug-and-play campers wall themselves off from the rest of Burning Man, but it doesn’t actually impact my or your ability to do anything there is to do at Burning Man.

The selling of experiences on-playa, however, does:  the more dinners a camp prepares for funders … people who contributed in no way but throwing in dollars … the less a camp will have to offer all the other citizens of Black Rock City.  The more spaces on an art car are reserved for funders, the fewer people will be able to hop on the art car out in the desert.  The more space in a camp is reserved for funders on certain nights, the less space there is for the brilliant freaks who are drawn to the camp because they’re participating in the here-and-now.

Let me get this straight. If I spend money on an Art Car, and bring it to Burning Man, that doesn’t mean anything. My money didn’t contribute to the party, I’m just a spectator. In order to contribute, I must welcome in some underage kid who’s probably an undercover cop in some sort of sting operation, and make my friends walk back from Deep Playa.

Some degree of exclusiveness for camp and crew events is of course acceptable, and even desirable.  A volunteer appreciation dinner, for example, is beyond reproach.  But by no stretch of the imagination is contributing to a Kickstarter campaign “volunteering” – especially when it’s in exchange for a sweet premium.  A donor’s help may have been crucial for a project, but are they actually more deserving of a special dinner or a spot on an art car than people who directly engage with the community on site and gift their own creativity and sweat?

“Participation” is one of the 10 Principles.  “Patronage” is not.

Oh dear. Do they really think people are listening to this? Can’t they just shut up and leave us all alone? Leave us to raise money to bring our stuff to the Playa, however the fuck we see fit? A new tool comes out that helps art cars raise money, and they all start using it – can’t we just see this as a good thing? Why is BMOrg “that’s raising money in a way that doesn’t go through us, so it’s evil”. Like, re-selling tickets. Selling your tickets for more than face value is against the event? Selling them for less, and paying BMOrg a fee, that makes you a better Burner? I wouldn’t have thought even one person would believe that, and yet the n00bz just lap it up. And then bash us for pointing it out!

The person who creates an amazing costume and wanders around giving people unusual experiences, or who helps wash dishes, or who helps fix a stranger’s car because he just happens to have tools and time, is more worthy of getting that golden seat at the banquet hall or ride on the mutant vehicle – at least within the Burning Man ethos – than someone who opened their wallet off-playa.  If that’s not true, then what could “decommdification” and “participation” possibly mean?

If the selling of experiences in exchange for patronage were an isolated phenomenon, happening only here and there, it wouldn’t be a big deal – but crowdfunding has “revolutionized” art.  It’s everywhere, and it increasingly means that not only can people throwing a lot of money at their Burning Man experience bring nicer accommodations during the burn (not such a big deal), but they can have a fundamentally different type of burn than people who can’t (or don’t) spend big sums off playa – welcomed as VIPs from camp to camp, car to car, getting experiences that are simply not offered or available to people who merely participate in-person.

That’s a big deal.  That’s a stratified society.

I will take my “stratified society” over your Communism any day. I will laugh at you from my air conditioned RV, and not give a FUCK if that makes me less of a Burner than the fool who volunteered to wash your dishes.

I mean, really? Kickstarter and Indiegogo are against Burning Man? Don’t use Kickstarter to raise funds because then people with money will be having experiences that should be gifted to the poor? There are 1000 art cars dude. I’ve been on maybe half a dozen, but I enjoyed experiencing all of them. For free, I got to marvel at their beauty, the feats of engineering, the huge amounts of money spent on lights, the time and effort put in by the people from all different disciplines who created them. The massive amount of logistics that went into getting them there and back from their homes in one piece, and the dope tunes the DJs played. I might not see the guys who paid for the propane for the Control Tower, but we all got to see the flames. Were those guys less of a Burner? By spending their money to gift us all the flames, did they somehow not participate? They should’ve washed dishes instead?

“Attack the rich” is not what “we’re a non-profit now” means. That’s my worst fear for Burning Man. This party exists because of wealthy patrons, it would not be even remotely the same without them.

How does David de Rothschild get to stay in First Camp? Is that just “radical inclusion” (because, hey, who are more radical than the world’s owners?) The Temple have been selling $1000 a head dinners since the beginning, people seem to like that art project being there. What about my donation to BRAF when I buy a ticket? If I’m not participating when I do that, if I’m just a spectator, then what’s the point of donating?

It’s time that Burning Man REALLY embraced the Sharing Economy. Let’s just drop this impractical Decommodification concept, it’s been an ill-fitting metaphor from the start. Let’s find something more appropriate to the times (like No Vending, or No Logo). Our culture has absolutely been commodified by this point, it’s in Taco Bell ads FFS. So what? Let’s all just move on, embrace the growth. Let the genie out of the bottle. If you really want to spread “Burning Man culture” all around the world, then spread the CULTURE, not the RULES. Not the legal letters and the desire to own everything, and shut down anyone else who wants to profitably produce culture on this wavelength. Let a thousand flowers bloom, love and nurture as many of them that want it.

16 comments on “All Your Cr0wdFundingz Belongz to Us

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  7. Wylie Fox, I totally get every word of what you’re saying. Just thought I’d raise as a hypothetical, devil’s advocate’s response, that the “timid rich” who funded the project might also be said to have funded YOUR ride on the art car.

    There is no question in my mind that the spirit of “this is for the people who paid, kindly fuck off” clangs harshly against the spirit of Burning Man.

    So, however, is the spirit of “anybody who doesn’t gratify my precise desire at this moment must kindly fuck off” does the same.

    I personally love that Burning Man provokes such complex and powerful reactions (and discussions in places like this here).

    It’s certainly possible that at some point I will cross a line where I say “this is irreparably fucked.” Others may never get there. And others, obviously, can convincingly argue that the line has already been crossed.

  8. Hi Burnersxxx:

    Caveat here (feel free to email me for verification). A quick couple of clarifications:

    * I really don’t speak for or represent Burning Man. This post, like all my posts, was not written in consultation with them. They didn’t see a draft, or review copy, or even know it was coming. Burning Man and its leadership found out about my opinion exactly the way you did – by reading it on the blog. So it really does represent no one’s opinion but mine. There’s no “they” here.

    * I’m not, absolutely not, suggesting that people shouldn’t use crowdsourcing like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. On the contrary: they’re wonderful tools.
    My only objection is to the institutionalized selling of experiences on playa as premiums. That’s it. That’s the total degree of my concern and objection.
    And of course, my opinion isn’t policy. I’m not setting policy for the Org, I’m offering an opinion about what makes for a better Burn. I think a mass movement to offer donor-only experiences on-playa will significantly change the nature of TTID, and for the worse.

    * That’s not “communism.” It’s not “attacking the rich.” I’m not saying “don’t fundraise,” or “don’t spend money,” or “don’t bring your sweet-ass RV and get cool when the playa gets hot.” I’m just saying that some things shouldn’t be for sale. It’s not anti-capitalism to say some things shouldn’t be for sale. It’s why insider trading, and bribing judges, and hiring a hit man, are all illegal. A society works best when some things aren’t for sale. In a Burning Man context, I think purchasing on-playa experiences falls under that umbrella.

    That’s it. No legal letters, not trying to own everything. No big policy push. Just a suggestion that donors getting access to exclusive experiences on-playa is someplace we don’t want to go. I could be wrong. Bu I wrote the post because I don’t think I am.

    • Thanks for the clarification Caveat. While I acknowledge the validity and wisdom of your points, I think it’s too late – the culture has been commercialized and commodified , let’s all deal with it and move on. We will have to agree to disagree on this one .

      • I think more people agree with Caveat, that is why we continue to support the culture and work to expand it. We can all disagree, but from where I sit, I see a lot more people trying to expand it than the 10 or less people I see here trying to ‘deal with it and move on’.

        • If you think nothing on this site has anything to do with expanding Burner culture, then you’ve missed the point entirely. Please read the 700+ posts we’ve written if you’d like to understand more.

  9. I’ve got to say.. I love all the art and art cars lovely people share at the burn, and don’t expect a ‘free ride’, but the worst experience I’ve had at the burn was on the Abraxis art car last year during a situation like this.

    My good friends and camp mates where set to play sets aboard the mighty golden dragon and invited us to come ride with them and watch. When we got to the art car, they told us we probably wouldn’t be allowed on, because they were going to pick up people for a private party who had donated to their kickstarter. My producer friends bargained for rides for us and a couple of us got to ride with them. There was just this awkward unwelcome vibe all the way until they picked up their party ‘guests’ and then told the rest of our crew to scoot off.

    They just kicked us off someplace random on the playa, far from our bikes, tripping and a little bewildered at the radical exclusion. No place on the playa is too bad to be dumped off with a head full of acid, but the new trend of prepaid party spots definitely caused us to really dislike the guys of Abraxis. Still thousands of other way cooler, inclusive parties to go to, so whatever. Those bros can go serve the timid rich, squares that paid for their ride on the art car. I’d much rather be partying with everyone else.

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  11. … people who contributed in no way but throwing in dollars …
    I really should spend more money on airfare to travel the world helping build projects instead of financial support?

    the less a camp will have to offer all the other citizens of Black Rock City.
    WTF? The first rule of my burns is not to expect anything. If someone gives me something, anything, I am grateful. When I see someone offering neat things to others but none are offered to me I NEVER ask for one. I would never dare to ask for an extra one for a friend, spouse, pet, etc. Doing so is a form of the entitlement syndrome that sickens me.
    In 2011 while gifting someone a Keep Burning Man Potentially Fatal / Burn Shit t-shirt, the giftee had the nerve to ask for two more for their campmates. I felt like pissing on their leg and repossessing the shirt but instead just looked at the person with a very disappointed face, shook my head, and pedaled away.

    I like Caveat’s writing but I’m not crazy about his piece referenced here.

  12. The principles are not rules or laws.

    People can and will embody them in different ways. That somebody might be disappointed in the way I embody them is their problem, not mine.

    Put another way, just because you want to fuck me doesn’t mean you necessarily get to.

    The founders, I believe, would agree.

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