Shark-Jumping: OK, VIPs and Music Guides: Not OK

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.

From TechCrunch:

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.

Larry Harvey panel at Burning Man

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.

MoneyIt’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.


26 comments on “Shark-Jumping: OK, VIPs and Music Guides: Not OK

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  4. “Great things are, by their very nature, unique and unconventional.” – Mark Manson

    A desert full of exclusive VIP areas, DJ’s flying in to play, people waiting on your every need, dressing to impress, drugging out and dancing till daybreak, a weekend of nonstop partying – these things are neither unique or unconventional – this is Vegas.

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  6. four cell towers? uh, no, it was *one* “Cell On Wheels” brought in by law enforcement, and it was plain as day over at the new (larger) BLM compound.
    Verizon has always sort of worked out there, but it’s hit & miss. If your phone said 311-07 and then flipped to AT&T, you were hitting that cell on wheels.

  7. I havebeen enjoying the experience of Burning Man since 1995 every year it changes every year it’s different there’s still no place like it. I will continue to attend and continue to build and contribute I hope it changes people’s lives like the experience has changed mine.

  8. is the Fox News of the Burning Man world. This isn’t journalism. This is op-ed writing that lacks a broader perspective. As Steven Colbert puts it, you’re into “truthiness”. It’s clear that King Zos likes generating conspiracy theories and conflating tenuously connected information.

    King Zos, how much time do you spend writing this stuff? Couldn’t you pour that time into something that actually adds value to the world rather than tearing down what others are creating?

    Of course I’m a proponent of critical thinking and of questioning leadership. OF COURSE. But often your writings are just trolling.

  9. I attended for the first time this year. I have plenty of friends that have been contributing on many levels for years. The way I see it is this: Harley’s right, in one very important sense: Things change. The NIMBYism on display here demonstrates a fundamental challenge to the event. I don’t know what Burning Man was like in 1996, or 2009, or last year. I only know about the experience I had this year. I slept in a communal area, enjoyed certain communal amenities, and found a tenable balance between being a totally unmanaged dust mite and being gently and kindly provided for by campmates and random burners. It was a transformative experience. Dynamic, beautiful, lonely, inclusive, painful, blissful. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. For those of you who’ve been going for years who feel that the spirit has been compromised, might I suggest that you’re possibly focusing on the wrong things? The best experiences I had on the playa came thanks to perfect strangers—some veterans, some virgins like me—exchanging ideas, swapping jokes, dancing like idiots, painting our real selves on a blank canvass. I don’t know about other people’s experiences, but it seems to me that if someone like me can have the kind of week that I just did, then not everybody’s “doing it wrong”. Burning man is an experience that you create for yourself. Best to not let politics and money, however they’re applied, color your burn. Next year, I’ll go with every intention of NOT repeating any part of this year’s experience, but building on it to be a better citizen. Am I missing something here?

  10. In the 12 years I’ve attended Burning Man, I’ve knowingly, from Day 1, operated under the wishful and somewhat faulty absolute that it’s an event built on contribution — what each soul brings to it, invests in it, sacrifices for it, loses to it — always with the carrot of collective and personal satisfaction on the dangle as the conclusive win. And that’s always panned out, because I and we choose to let that win exist, hell or highwater. My fellow co-founders of the Red Nose District and its predecessors and offshoots all feel that way, with gaping money sinkholes reflected in our personal bank accounts on any given year as evidence. We head out in the red, we leave in the red; black isn’t meant for that ledger. But we sure as two fucks wanna be, and are perfectly comfortable with, wearing that red.

    That in mind, the notion of all the real contributors pulling the plug on their contributing in unison on a given year has been endlessly entertaining to me from the get-go. Anyone who’s gone for a longer stretch than just Labor Day weekend is entirely familiar with the cultural shift that takes place later in the week, from giver to taker. And inevitably, that’s perennially one of the primary unfortunate truths of the event: The takers don’t ruin it (for most), but they’re sure and obviously not doing much to further enhance anything (for all). Without the Givers, you’d have tens of thousands of Taker lemmings tripping balls for 3-4 days straight, occupying themselves with figuring out how to operate their smartphones while the devices keep turning into various tropical fish, and occupying themselves with the fifth-dimensional fascination of the occasional praying mantis appearance. And watching that, for the rest us, could well prove to be worth the price of the ticket and then some.

    As to this discussion, it’d be o so grand to have the Sherpaphiles actually make some even vague attempt at contributing to a level of gratifying personal discomfort — if for no other reason than they can, and, if need be secondarily, that they could have a more sufficient impact on supporting what Burning Man’s all about by potentially influencing the rest of the Taker hoi polloi through example. I mean REAL contribution — token doesn’t count, and is actually offensive. Can’t we add an amendment to the almighty 10 Principles to that end? 10’s so cliche; and the best amps go to 11.

    Barring that indirect act of peaceful resistance, and lest the real gist of the event finally migrates exclusively to a safari for the privileged and the inconsequential, there’s always revolution. Here’s where you can buy the mask cheap: Strap it on, gather together, drink some 99% tea, surround the Turnkey Estates, and occupy that shit. See you there.

    • Boneobo you are onto something here, after 13 years of burning man I have gained a true appreciation for long time burners. For over a decade of years I spent 7-15 days on the playa, each Burn building camps, performing, making art cars and helping with installations. The key to my own personal polar shift of perspective of not minding the “Tourists” that attend the event is one I would like to share. For years my friends and I would mock playa tourists thinking in part that by doing so it would ‘wake them to there reality’ Well it was actually the year I (and my Dreamtime comrades) camped at Red Nose district this shift happened. I was on Disorient wall heckling with friends watching the Playa citizens role by when I realized that to make a long story short, our judgments of others was really the issue. People learn most of the time through osmosis. So to help show people the additional realities that are possible we simple must shine as ourselves. All of the tourists who go for the eye candy and think it is just a titty show and a place for adults to act like children. They miss the point, spirit, and the girth of the lesson that Black Rock City has to offer. If anything, I think a sense of compassion for these people is appropriate. For those who have no real idea of whats going on well ignorance is bliss until you come into reality. One year a friend said to my that she felt like since we had created our camp and our reality that right there and then it was “the real world” and back in the Bay Area was the “unreal world” since it had been created for us. In essence its all a state of mind.

      As for people pulling the plug on contributions. Well as a business owner, dynamic facilitator and mediator I can say for a fact that it is important to stick to your word. If something has been set up and the plans are in motion, it is a huge expenditure of time, money and energy to change things last minute. Of course sometimes it is necessary however within any collective decision making process there should be a strong communicative relationship between the members.

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  12. The idea that Burningman was anything other than a party for privledged, rich, white people is a delusion. The difference now is that it sells out every year, making it much more an exclusive affair.

    • agreed: whatever they say about “Radical Inclusion”, the event is exclusive. And they can’t say “anyone can come”, because of all the complexity they put in front of people wanting to buy tickets. It is all for the purposes of inflating exclusivity; the media campaigns, the photo shoots, the viral videos, everything.

  13. When i saw face Book Thumb last year on the Playa ….i said my goodbyes to burning man ….RIP….).(

  14. Honestly….its over 100 degrees in the day..people that can afford rvs with ac to sleep in the day so you can go out refreshed and party all nite…good for them!!!..why do you have to drop dead of heat or have to go begging for ac elsewhere, which is not self sufficient…I have problems with the heat at times in Boston…I am almost afraid of how hot it would be on the playa and I could end up with heat exhaustion or stroke….why is so much focus being made on accomdations? Why do you have to drop dead in a nylon tent in order to be considered doing it right?

  15. I hope that if Burning Man has taught you anything is that they (the Org) can spin anything and everything to their favor. These are very smart people. You cannot win the spin game against them. Even if you win a battle, you will not win the war. There is simply too much money involved now.

    Even a death or deaths can be spun in their favor. Resistance is futile.

    • When you add the rich and THEY don’t want to conform, it will change burning man forever, not in a good way, but that’s life and that’s why this country is so twisted , the rich get their way, as they are at burning man
      I’m never going again

  16. Gosh I didn’t know there was an ironclad definition of success per ‘if someone is successful, it’s a clear sign that they’re doing it right.’

    Repeatedly it sounds like your definition is strictly the US cultural norm of money, money, and more money is equivalent to being a success. Never mind if you’re raping the planets resources (and meanwhile destroying the environment), setting up sweat shops in China (meanwhile eliminating jobs in the US), and crusading for shrinking the US government to the size that it can be drowned in a bathtub (ala Grover Norquist); despite that you’re a success and should be proud of yourself. Fuck the planet, fuck the majority of the people, all fall before the almighty dollar.

    Some counter cultural festival…..

    • No, that’s not my definition of success. But also, I don’t think someone is a failure, just because they have money. That’s nonsensical. Not all rich people got there by employing slaves in sweat shops and raping the planet.

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