Burning Man’s Founders held a press conference yesterday, for the 360 or so journalists who are attending – some of whom got press tickets.
The topic of discussion was not the tragic death of a Burner. Instead, it was the Anti-Rich sentiment, and the widespread allegations that Burning Man has now jumped the shark. Rather than disputing the latter, it seems the founders are totally cool with it. It’s all part of the plan. How will they cope with gentrification? By re-educating the rich, so that they better conform to BMOrg’s thinking and comply with all their “unwritten” rules.
The stories of billionaires flying into Burning Man on private jets with hired sherpas, body guards turning people away from VIP art cars and private glamp camps going for $25K in dues seems to be on everyone’s lips at the annual festival in the desert. While this is not the norm, it’s a reality and it has many asking if Burning Man has jumped the shark.
A room full of bloggers, reporters and photographers from all over the world gathered together at the center of camp yesterday to ask Burning Man main co-founder Larry Harvey and Black Rock City manager Harley Dubois that very question.
Burning Man has jumped the shark, at least in the sense that it is now much different than the way it started and how it’s perceived, according to Dubois. But she says that’s not necessarily a bad thing, ”Change is inevitable. Our world keeps changing and our event is going to keep changing because our world is changing.” She then joked that Burning Man is actually different every year.
Burning Man now has cell service. Four towers were set up around Black Rock City this year so that those with Verizon or AT&T can sends texts and call friends from one end of camp to the other…at least most of the time. Some camps also carry in their own Wi-Fi, but that’s mostly available for those just within that camp.
…”the culture does change with the people, but that’s okay”, Harvey noted. “There’s this idea about the celebrities and billionaires but then there’s the other 99 percent. It’s not a quantitative problem it’s a qualitative problem.” He also notes that just a few years ago this event was mostly men. “Now our census says the percentage of men and women, Republicans to Democrats, is at a national norm now.”
Well, that’s the main thing to be a counter-culture festival, isn’t it – to have both Default World political parties as evenly distributed as they are in the mainstream. Perhaps that’s why they have both Republican and Democrat big names flying in to give speeches this year.
I’m not sure which year Larry is talking about, when the event was mostly men. Maybe it’s the year he wandered into Comfort and Joy for their Circle Jerk?
The Burning Man founders have pledged to get ahead of the news and be more proactive now that there’s been so much coverage, particularly in tech.
“If we just sat back and did nothing it could be a bad thing, but when you get people with greater diversity. If we can change corporate America then we really can have an impact. It’s a dialogue that is happening between the new people that are coming and the old people who’ve been coming awhile,” said Dubois.
Dubois tells me that tech people are welcome and bring in innovation. But she also admitted there was a certain VIP element happening.
“That’s not okay,” she says. “It’s not in the spirit of Burning Man but we try to do what we can. Some people are just misinformed about what this is about. It’s hard for us to reach everyone.”
So a bunch of dusty hippies who throw a party that brings kids and fetish models and hallucinogenic drugs all together at once, are now going to be proactive and change corporate America for good. How? By putting in more cellphone towers, and invitation-only Wi-Fi. By teaching those who can afford to stay in nice RVs, and create employment opportunities for lower-income Burners, that it’s not OK for them to be VIPs, no matter how much Gifting they provide for the rest of us. Err, good luck with that…and be careful what you wish for. Those wealthy Burners might just get in their private planes and fly to Burning Mogul instead.
It’s their party, and if BMOrg think that Burning Man will become better by naming and shaming major sound camps who donate international artists to their ever-pricier event, well, so be it. Burners aren’t the owners, and have no say in the direction of the event. If BMOrg think that the way to discourage Plug-And-Play camping is to say it’s OK and make movies about it, what can the rest of us do? It’s not like Burners make the party or anything, it’s solely BMOrg. What they say is law, and if the law applies one way to their friends and another way to people they don’t know, that’s their prerogative. Stupid Burners just get in the way of the money scooping machine anyway, with all their pesky ideas like gifting the world’s best DJs or spending 6-figure sums on art installations to share with everyone. “Why won’t they accept that it’s BMOrg’s $10k art grants that make the party, not Burner funding?” When the shark gets jumped, Burner funding is no longer relevant, and whatever money Burners want to contribute should be donated directly to their tax-free non-profit, or failing that should only be applied in the way BMOrg dictates.
The Burnier-Than-Thou mantra used to be “if you’re in an RV, you’re doing it wrong”. Now it’s “if you’re rich, you’re doing it wrong”. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! In my opinion, if someone is successful, it’s a clear sign that they’re doing it right. If one of the world’s coolest parties has jumped the shark, that’s not an affirmation of how great it’s becoming now. If your counter-culture event jumped the shark, you’re doing it wrong.