It seems that, behind every weary merchant visiting the oasis with a caravan of treasures to gift, is a team of Sherpas to wipe their ass. According to the New York Times, the rich people of Burning Man try to “one up” each other with the lavishness of their camps. Whether it’s prototype inflatable dhomes or stackable cubes or 5-star teepees, just having an RV is no longer enough.
Many Burners have expressed outrage at this behavior, believing that “Radical Self-Reliance” is at odds with “getting others to do your shit for you”. Personally, I think a designated driver is a major safety issue. It sucks to be that person at Burning Man, so if a few people can chip in and pay a driver, Burning Man will survive. I can’t cook, so I don’t mind if someone else cooks for me. If I have to buy that person a ticket, and give them a place in my RV, that’s fine. “Oh you can’t come to Burning Man, you can’t cook”.
I think the deeper shame in this is that the Super-Sherpa-Burners have lost the point. If you want to one-up other rich people at Burning Man, don’t do it on the level of creature comforts and luxury goods that you airlift in with private planes.
OUT-DO EACH OTHER WITH THE ART
Perhaps one way to facilitate this would be promoting a closer link between Big Art and Art Cars, and the Theme Camps behind them. As in, “we’re Thunderdome Camp, and our Art Contribution is Thunderdome”. Or, “we’re Star Star and our Art Contribution is Daily Circus performances”. Right now, shit is going on everywhere, there’s cool shit everywhere to look at, but it’s all pretty anonymous.
Burning Man has been called the Special Olympics of Art – just getting there is good enough. The all-inclusive nature of the art means that there is no requirement for talent, nor indeed any form of reward. There is no real after-market for art of this type, and whatever there is has been cobbled together by Burners. Logistics are left up to the creative types, who each have to figure it out for themselves. BMOrg seem more interested in the artists working at their event(s), than getting their art into the broader community independently of their tentacles. And their answer to “people tagging the art” is not “promote the art as sacred”, it’s “more rules”.
Burners pay inflated ticket prices, and only a tiny amount of that goes to the artists – and gets split over just 63 projects. It’s about $12 per ticket – less than the ticket processing fee, or the government cut for all the LEOs.
Many of the artists who are awarded Art Honorarium grants are wealthy in their own right. Why award the project to them, and not to the starving artists who can’t produce a piece without money to buy the materials? The answer lies in politics as much as merit or reason or justice. There are no guidelines for art grants, it’s at the whim of BMOrg, and if they prefer to favor their friends when they come to dispensing our money, who’s stopping them?
If the rich people were to direct the focus of Burner attention away from their own personal comforts and vanities, and towards the contributions they make to this awesome party, I’m sure that would ease the ire of many in the community who feel passionately upset by gentrification.
I’m on your side, rich people! I need A/C too. It’s the desert, FFS. I was using an RV at Burning Man before there even was “radical self-reliance”. I didn’t stop being a Burner just because Larry wrote a page of words one day, 20 years into the event. “Oh, Larry wrote words! Better disable the generator!” Lecture me with the Tin Principles all you want, it doesn’t make you a Burner or take my 11 burns away from me.
To me, going to Burning Man automatically makes you rich – but I accept that many Burners are seriously rich. I know that rich people give SO much to Burning Man, that there wouldn’t be a Burning Man without them. The whole event is based on the premise of ridiculous destruction of wealth for the purposes of temporary entertainment. It’s like people lighting cigars with flaming hundred dollar bills – times a billion.
The Burnier-Than-Thous have it wrong, saying that rich people don’t get it. It seems to me that they are being radically self-reliant if they are smart enough to want privacy in their camps, and playful social interactions with randoms on the Playa. Part of self-reliance is being able to defend yourself and your tribe from dicks. The number of dicks is skyrocketing, and now they are publicly advocating their dickish actions. It’s not the fault of people who can afford to rent RVs that privacy is required; and just because they sleep comfortably doesn’t mean it’s impossible for them to “get Burning Man”.
More than anything else, I think it is the government infiltration of Burning Man – both overt and covert – that is driving the walled off RV compounds. You used to welcome any random into your camp, and the first thing you’d offer them would be a beer. If you were passing a joint round – which people did, since it was hundreds of miles away from anywhere, in the middle of the remote desert, at a festival – then you would take a hit and pass it on to someone next to you, even if they were a stranger. Puff puff pass, just likes kids have been doing at festivals since the Sixties.
Then, the cops started doing “stings”. Dressing officers up as Burners – “off duty clothing” – and trying to entrap them into breaking the law in front of them. They’re looking for drugs, for people serving alcohol to anyone underage, for people sharing food, public displays of lewdness, and anything else that could be banned and ticketed. Give them an excuse, and they’ll come to your camp with sniffer dogs. Meaning that one random wandering into your camp and lighting a joint, could spoil it for everyone.
This year, it sounds like the cops were much better – chilled, enjoying the party, taking pictures with Burners. But it’s too late – the trust has been destroyed. This is no longer a city of friends. The trust hasn’t been destroyed by rich people; it’s by all these spies trying to bust innocent Burners, while letting the thieves and vandals run rampant. What Burners want to do is illegal, despite being harmless – from smoking a joint to driving at 6mph in a 5mph zone to shirt-cocking. Rich people didn’t make those rules – alright, technically, at the top pulling the puppet strings of government are the Uber-rich who do make the rules, and yes many Bohemian Grovers go to Burning Man – but most of the rules that have led to these RV compounds and private entrances were made by BMOrg in co-operation with Federal and State authorities.
No-one is affecting your enjoyment Burning Man if they got a free ticket, or didn’t have to pay for their flight. How is getting $400 cash different from getting a free ticket? For many who aren’t rich, getting casual employment for a few shifts at Burning Man is the only way they can attend. Crack down on Sherpas, the rich will still be rich and do whatever they want, but now these poor Sherpas – willing to work for their ticket, instead of being Sparkle Ponies – won’t be able to go.
The answer to this is not “ban Sherpas”. How could you possibly police that, if you can’t stop bike or sign theft? It has been going on for years, and fighting against it now is pointless, in my opinion. The horse bolted a long time ago. You might as well ban planes, RVs, delivery trucks, dance music, cars newer than 2010, and so on. Stealing signs will change nothing, and may lead to violence as people try to defend their property against drug-fuelled vandals with political grudges.
The answer is to change the focus.
Let people do whatever they want in their camps. That’s their private area, where they and their tribe of friends and family and fellow travellers make their “home within a home” for a week. If they want randoms in their camp, let them make clearly marked “random zones”, where you can come and hang out and get to meet them. Don’t just assume “I’m at Burning Man, and Radical Inclusion says I’m entitled to fall asleep in the middle of your camp”. Usually these “party roadkill” people pass out on the most comfortable spaces, preventing other, awake people from using those.
Burning Man is not about invading your neighbor’s space, in the name of some misguided class war protest.
It’s about the art.
BMOrg make the rules, but Burners make the city. There is something we can do, if enough readers want to help.
Together, we can try to re-direct the focus to the art. Camps should be proud of which art pieces they are bringing to share with the rest of us. If rich people want to sponsor art anonymously, Burning Man lets them hide anonymously within a Theme Camp, and even more anonymously behind a Playa name. Larry Harvey likes to say “no artist at Burning Man ever signed their art”, but let’s change that. Let’s promote the amazing artists behind the event a bit more.
How Will We Do This?
Starting today, we are going to have a competition. “Best of Burning Man”. And it’s going to be as crowd-sourced as we can practically make it, at short notice and with the limited resources of a Gifted blog.
You guys submit here, in the comments on the Web or Facebook, your nominations for best art piece. We will collect the nominations, then present the most popular finalists for a vote. Everyone votes, and we declare a winner.
What does this mean for the artists? Even if they don’t win, they can get a sense of how their piece was perceived by the community. If they would like to participate with the rest of the community, they might want to share something about themselves and their art, and the meaning of the piece.
This is the direct opposite of the way Burning Man does it – receive thousands of applications, and pick a few winners arbitrarily. Every artist can be included in this, and to win, you have to be the best in the eyes of the people. Even to be in the final 20, you will have to have pleased a lot of people.
Best Art Car
Best Music (camp or Art Car)
Best Music (artist)
Worst of Burning Man – could be Will Crawl, Exodus, rain, bike theft, David Kiss’s performance art piece, anything.
Over to you, Burners. Nominate away! I’m interested to see how this turns out.