South Bhak – Burning Man and South Park S18 Connection *Again*

Bhak Jolilcouer may have a point. He saw a lot of parallels between last week’s South Park Season 18 premiere, Go Fund Yourself, and his situation with a trademark that was in the public domain in Canada. It inspired him to create a Gofundme looking for help in his battle against the mighty BMOrg legal machine. Please give him some support, he’s about half way towards his modest goal. He can’t afford an attorney so he is looking for legal assistance also.

redskinsAnyway, I went back and watched the episode again after respected commenter Nomad Traveler separately told me that he too saw a lot of parallels between Go Fund Yourself and the Burning Man situation. The second time round, I was convinced that they were both right. The episode could absolutely be a metaphor for Burning Man, and their trademark wars.

Episode 2 of the latest Season just aired tonight, and I’m now more sure of this connection than ever. Watch Season 18 Episode 1 and you too will probably notice the many parallels between Burning Man’s trademark fight against the Canadian Burners who are battling to keep the term in the public domain (as it has been up there in the North for decades), and the South Park kids’ fight over the Washington Redskins. The cultural sensitivity issues of feathers and head-dresses obviously resonate with many Burners, and the idea of making money for doing nothing via crowd-sourcing is somewhat reminiscent of Burning Man.

Marketwatch had an article about the episode entitled “What South Park Can Teach Us About Silicon Valley’s Bro Culture” (Burning Man IS Silicon Valley, remember…):

The show pokes painfully overt fun at the American sociocultural niche that is Silicon Valley. “It captures a lot of the way the rest of America views what’s going on in this small corner of capitalism,” said Josh Brown, a New York–based financial adviser at Ritholtz Wealth Management and writer of the well-known blog The Reformed Broker. “Outside of that [tech startup] space, people don’t have the luxury to build companies that are made to just sell to someone else.”

cartman 4 point plan“South Park” character Cartman lays out a four-point plan for startup success: start up, cash in, sell out, bro down.

“By pledging just one or two dollars,” Cartman urges potential investors in a mock Kickstarter video, “you are helping us in our fervent quest of not having to do stuff.”

This, of course, is an exaggerated portrayal of reality…But, as with any satire, this parody is laced with truth.

Well-known venture capitalists…have criticized the culture of modern-day startups, particularly regarding so-called burn rates, or the speed at which new companies burn through the cash they have raised.

Broners, dude?

This week the idea that South Park may be giving us a timely message related to Burning Man continued. Either that, or both Bhak and I are going mad and thinking the TV is talking to us…you have been warned!

Without giving too many spoilers away (but I will further on), an awesome party that everyone was looking forward to was cancelled. And the people couldn’t believe that the decision makers just gave up. Cartman goes tripping in the desert and saves the day.

South Park is made in about a week – an astonishing accomplishment, and most definitely Bad Ass Burner-worthy. I recommend the documentary on the making of it, 6 Days To Air. I know that people involved in the show at a high level are veteran Burners, and love Burning Man.

The show is made in LA. This week, the LA Decompression party was cancelled. The LA Decom organizers decided a week out from the event that they wanted to take a year off.

Dear LA Burner Community,

 There will not be an LA Decom this year. We are officially taking the year off. 

We honestly and very sincerely tried. The park is closed for renovation (this we knew a year ago). We found a new location that we were very excited about but then management changed and so did the terms of the agreement making the location no longer perfect for our event.  So we went on the search for a new location. For months, we made numerous phone calls to venues, talked to city officials, and went location scouting. And we did find a wonderful location right in downtown LA. But the date when we want to use it, backs up to another production already there shooting. It is a less than ideal situation that could easily be disastrous for us if that production runs late by one day. And it probably will.

towlie-south-park-videoSo the bottom line…We’re tired. Exhausted really. And we honestly need to take a year off from producing this event. And we know many on the team feel the same way. At the Town Hall meeting in February several theme camp and art installation leads expressed similar feelings about taking a year off. So we are throwing in the towel and finally listening to you and probably also the universal playa dust. It is time to take a break.

We highly encourage your participation in San Francisco Decompression October 12th www.burningman.com/blackrockcity_yearround/special_events/decompression/decom2014.html and YOUtopia in San Diego October 16-19.  http://sdyoutopia.com

Locally, we have monthly Burner Meet ups the first week of every month. Wednesday at Barbara’s at the Brewery in Downtown LA, Thursday at Roosterfish in Venice, and Sunday at The Other Door in North Hollywood.

December will bring the White Blissmas Charity Ball and March is BEquinox.

Thank you for your participation and contributions to the 12 years of LA Decom. We will come back in 2015 for our 13th year rested up and stronger. Ready to burn brightly and shine on! 

The LA League of Arts and Your LA Regional Contacts

South Park are some of THE most talented and cherished artists in the world, and most especially Los Angeles. I could easily imagine the Burners on their team feeling bummed to lose their Decompression at the very last minute, because the regional contacts were “tired” and knew about a problem for a year but just decided to take this year off “in case” their venue cancelled on their (existing, paid-for?) booking? There are a lot of Burners from LA, 16618 at LA Burning Man, 4329 at Curious Josh’s LA Burners,  and 2879 at Burners.Me’s Facebook.  That’s 23,826 people, just on our three groups. There are a lot of LA Burners, including many who didn’t go to Burning Man this year but were looking forward to hearing all the stories about it when they met up with their friends at Decompression.

Many of my LA Burner friends could organize a party for several thousand people at the drop of a hat, so cancelling like this with a week to go is pretty lame. Couldn’t they at least hand it over to a club, so they didn’t have to do anything and Burners can still attend? If Burning Man was owned by the Community, that could happen; in Decommodification world, this is the result. One wonders if there is some other, unstated reason, behind this cancellation – a request for insurance or a royalty payment from BMOrg, perhaps?

Watch the episode for yourself and see what you think. Spoilers ahead…


ebola suitsI’ve watched it a few times now, the more I see it the more connections I see to the Burning Man story that we’re all part of right now. The transition to a non-profit, presented as a benefit to the community, has instead led us to Commodifcation Camps and the classy spectacle of charity-on-charity lawsuits. What that means for the future of the community is uncertain. A huge influx of virgins every year seems to be an indication that pleasing the Burners who built the city and brought the spectacle out there on their own dime for so many years, is less important to shark-jumpers BMOrg than preaching the Gospel of the Principles and social engineering to an increasingly mainstream audience of misty-eyed first and second timers.

Some of the links I see:

The kids want to throw a party, it gets cancelled by the suits. Turning the pyramid upside down, things aren’t going to get better they’re going to get worse (according to Cartman), the big fuss about nothing, the fear that something bad might happen which is kind of ridiculous. All the rule makers getting involved and trying to spoil the fun and ruin the party.

south-park-s18e01c02-furry-balls-plopped-menacingly-on-the-table-INC_16x9Epsiode 1 of Season 18 – Go Fund Yourself – saw the kids having a good time on top of the world, as they used crowd-sourcing to get rich off the efforts of others; and ended with them bummed. “I guess we gotta go back to school”, sighs Cartman. This aired on Comedy Central tonight immediately before Episode 2.

Episode 2 of Season 18 – Gluten Free Ebola, or GFE – begins with everyone remembering stuff from the week before, which in my memory hasn’t happened before in South Park (although they’ve had several multi-part episodes). The boys comment on it. It builds a link to Go Fund Yourself, which will also be repeated later in the episode.

Someone has set fire to the gym. Since it burned down, the kids are bored and have nothing to do. The other kids won’t talk to them after last week’s adventures. They need a big fucking party that the other kids can go to as well, so everyone thinks they’re cool. They need a cause to throw the party for, because they can’t throw it for themselves.

They go to the media to promote the most epic party ever.

“Get the party started”, sings Pink leading them in.

Stan: “It’s going to be this weekend”. LA Decom was going to be this weekend.

Cartman: “we want to give back to the community and show everyone a good time”

Later, the party gets shut down because of the rules changing.

The rule-making suits talk about Poppycock and dough.

gluten free ebolaThe parents – afraid that gluten is like the Ebola virus – take all the pizza and cake, preventing the kids from throwing the party. They throw the goodies in a big bonfire, and stand around it in a circle yelling boorishly. The grown-ups look very much like the Default world, not the happy joyful world of the party the kids wanted to be in.

Men in black sweep through the fields of gold (wheat), Burning everything in sight – destroying it. The scorched earth policy, show no mercy.

The suits from their strategic command center say they’ll do whatever it takes to stop this crisis, but it’s too little, too late for the kids. Their party is cancelled.

Cartman, falling asleep: “The world is upside down guys. Things aren’t going to get better, they’re going to get worse”

In a dream sequence, Cartman hears

Clyde: “you fouled at the party. Your party sucks”

Token: “c’mon guys let’s go”

Jimmy: “no food at a party? And I thought I was handicapped”

Voices: “what’s up with this party? where’s the food? What a loser!”

Cartman then meets Aunt Jemima on the porch in a magical forest.

Aunt Jemima: “There’s people in trouble Eric. They need to be shown the way. You need to get to the USDA child. They looking for a sign”

Cartman eats Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, and starts tripping in the desert. Aunt Jemima tells him to look for a sign from the USDA. By this time the Feds have got involved with the labcoat suits.

Aunt Jemima: When you’re stuck, look to the pyramids. They got it wrong child, the world is upside down

Cartman: oooo …tripppy

Day goes into night, while Cartman is tripping balls in the desert.

Aunt Jemima: tell ’em they gots it backwards.

Cartman: “they got what backwards”?

A big white explosion of light happens at the climax of his trip.

A golden triangle that looks just like the face of the Man appears, shining. There is a white line running across the face of The Man/side of the triangle. The white line intensifies, and the face cracks then explodes.

Jason_friend_iconDistorted, disappointed, Disoriented faces of some of the kids appear, amplified in mirrors. One of them looks like a character from the awesome South Park PS 3 game The Stick of Truth who I’m sure is based on a certain real-life Burner I know and love.

I can’t make out everything the kids say, “adventure!” and “party!” and “fun!” sound like three of the words.

Then Aunt Jemima’s head explodes, and is replaced with the golden triangle with the white line across it – the face of The Man atop a humanoid body, holding a tray of the magickal pancakes.

When Cartman wakes up from his dream, ending the scene, his first words are “Fuck I want pancakes”.

Once the triangle appears as the face of Aunt Jemima, I think they are making it pretty clear that it is meant to be a face. So its similarity to the face of The Man is striking. The white line…well, make of that whatever your mind conjures up. Playa caterpillars.

They cancel the party because of stupid rule-making decisions by the bureaucrats.

randy papa chicken johnsRandy and Mr Garrision get seized and taken to Papa John’s (pizza…Chicken?)

“This whole thing was a setup”.

The older Burners characters end up isolated in quarantine at Papa [Chicken] John’s.

Randy: “they don’t care about us any more”

“Maybe Papa [Chicken] John can help us”

The boys go on a radio show, hearing angry calls from the people about the cancelled party.

“This is not a time to party. This is time to get serious”, says Stan, always a buzzkill.

Clyde: “I knew you guys were going to bail on the party”,

Jamie in Como: “you say you’re going to throw the most epic party of the decade and then you rip it away…it’s kind of like telling everyone to go fuck themselves” – which is another reference linking this episode to Season 18, Episode 1.

Wendy: “why are you doing this party Stan? Was it because you made people mad in school, or because you just wanted to be a big shot?”

Stan: “we wanted to bring people together and help [a cause]”

Wendy: “so then in the time when people really need to come together, you cancel on them. I’m pretty sure [the cause still exists]…When things change or things come up, you don’t forget about everything you promised people”

Cartman calls in, sounding like he’s still tripping, with the answer from the pyramids.

Suits: “the pyramid? That’s ancient stuff you’re talking about, are you sure?”

Suits: “the pyramid doesn’t work, we’ve already tried it”

Cartman: “the pyramid is upside down”

When they flip the pyramid upside down, putting all the naughty things first, the people rejoice! The triangle shape appears again, stabilized in green light.

The kids’ party is a huge success. The Fun booth is crowded.

Token: “Well I got to admit, you guys throw a pretty sweet party”

The boys accept the praise humbly: “We’d do anything for our bros man”

“I’m glad people aren’t mad at you any more“, Cartman tells the USDA suits.

Randy sings as tranny Lorde. The suits take photos on their smart phones.

“I loved him and he needed me”, Stan tells Wendy

“You’re so transparent Stan”, replies Wendy… “You wanna dance?” She takes his hand and leads him to the dance floor.


What does it all mean? Well, Music Times sounded baffled:

So what are Trey Parker and Matt Stone trying to get at here? We have two theories: 

1) News networks are flipping out regarding Ebola and the possibility it may come to the United States. The South Park honchos might be mocking the paranoia and general ignorance displayed by panicking Americans. Ignorance is playing a huge role in the spread of the disease in Africa and this might be a subtle shot at that. Of course, Texas just got a confirmed case so hopefully Stone and Parker don’t look stupid come next month (for the sake of the world). 

2) Last week’s episode unexpectedly ran into this week’s episode…could it happen again? Perhaps the inevitable side effects of eating straight butter will play into next week’s plot. Stay tuned. Either way, we refuse to believe that South Park would make as little sense as it seemed to have at first watch this week, especially after last week’s tight and seamless master satire. 

Read more: http://www.musictimes.com/articles/11154/20141001/south-park-recap-ebola-gluten-guest-appearance-lorde.htm#ixzz3ExfHrO8H

It also made little sense to IGN.

Let me propose to you an alternative interpretation, Burners. When seen through the lens of Burning Man, and the cancellation of the LA Decompression, this episode can be easily understood, and is hilarious. Cartman tripping in the desert – could it be any more obvious? The new South Park season started a few weeks after Burning Man ended. Did anyone on the production team go? I bet they did. And I bet they’re talking to us through their show.  It’s not just a mindless cartoon, there have always been very strong, deliberate (and awesome) messages in South Park. As an interesting side note, the Daily Show is also at Season 18 on Comedy Central.

aegean turkeyIs this episode about a party that gets cancelled actually a reference to the cancelled Decompression party, and the lack of effort by the owners of the Decompression trademark to support the very strong and vibrant Burner community in LA? All they had to do was let some other Burners throw the party instead, and use the Decompression name. Burners NEED to decompress, we can’t all take luxury yacht cruises along the Aegean coast as our recovery from Burning Man. Many Burners need to get back to work, and find adjusting to the Default world again hard – they long for Decompression. “Go to San Francisco or San Diego instead” is pretty lame when you consider that LA is the 2nd largest metropolitan area in the United States, and 13th largest in the world. It’s about the same distance driving to Burning Man headquarters as Burning Man itself is, it’s an hour flight. 18.2 million people, and they couldn’t find one person who could be bothered to throw a party for Burners? Methinks they doth not try very hard. Maybe it’s not too late, if anyone down there wants to step up please comment.

Decompression is no longer owned by BMOrg, it’s now owned by the 6 founders of Burning Man. They would rather have official (Law) suits against people who’ve been promoting the Burner scene for 20 years in foreign countries, than a simple fun party for everyone in LA. Like the folks in this South Park episode, they don’t care if the everyone is mad at them about Commodification and all the stupid rules; they don’t seem to care that their rules lead to a cool party like LA Decompression being cancelled.

Are South Park telling us that Decommodification LLC have it backwards, suing Burners for trying to keep Burning Man in the public domain? If they don’t turn the pyramid upside down, the white lines are going to make the whole thing explode?

Non-profits suing non-profits does sound to me like they have it all backwards.

Decommodification LLC own the trademarked term “Decompression”, so that they can control Burning Man Decompressions. So any Decompression has gotta be either theirs, or nothing. As we can see from the current lawsuit against Napalm Dragon, they believe that ownership extends everywhere in the world – and owning a trademark for the term in your own country means nothing to them. Wanting to keep a public expression based on a non-unique phrase in the public domain, within the laws of that country, should be over-ridden, the name seized, and the charity should be punished to the tune of $40 grand. That’s about 100 tickets to them, meaning they give away more than that to their friends. It’s not clear whether Decommodification LLC is paying for their own lawyers, or using the Burning Man Project’s attorneys – a $1.4 million annual budget item for the group.

Burning Man’s LA contacts were too tired this year to throw a party. This was officially announced on Monday, but the word about the decision may have got out earlier. The party was supposed to be this weekend, October 5, so this is pretty abrupt notice.

I see both episodes so far of South Park’s Season 18 as very much talking to all of us about Burning Man – or at the very least, teaching a lesson which is particularly relevant to our community at this point in time. Perhaps this is a sign of support for the cause of open-ness and public domain. If you truly believe in Communal Effort and Civic Responsibility, then Free, Open Source software and hardware systems and transparent, efficient, and pleasant government should be the goal for how your city is run. The public domain, the Creative Commons, benefits all of us – and especially at Burning Man. This is the very essence of the thing, it’s raison d’etre, the pure spirit of Burning Man. That’s what it’s all about, sharing our gifts with each other. We all gift our art and performances to each other, for the benefit of all. It is difficult to see how Decommodification, LLC benefits more than a small cabal of 6 owners and their retinues of retainers.

That’s why I’m supporting Bhak, and – even if the TV’s not really talking to us – I hope the Burners at South Park studios and all their fans will help out too. If anyone from the South Park team is reading, please comment – we love you guys.

Free Burning Man! Radical Inclusion, Participation, Gifting, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Immediacy, Leave No Trace, Radical Self Expression, Radical Self Reliance, Anti-Commodification – they all support a free thing that we make together, not an EDM festival that a handful of people monetize and sell as a commodified package to high rollers.

Thanks to Burner Paul for sending in Why You Should Care That Lady Gaga’s Suing Me For $1.4 Million , an interesting apertif for readers who’ve enjoyed this story.


14 comments on “South Bhak – Burning Man and South Park S18 Connection *Again*

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  7. I must view the episodes for all the references towards Burning Man and Silicon Valley broner culture. By appearances, someone has been on the playa. The pingback states the main storyline in a tad of a different manner.

    Much obliged again, burnersxxx.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: South Park: Go Fund Yourself/Gluten Free Ebola | Film Encounters

  9. The LA team tired really really hard to find a new venue and it came down to the wire and just didn’t come together.

    And in response there is an ‘Uncompression’ event happening on 11/8 in North Hollywood.

    Liked by 1 person

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