Did you know Burning Man has implemented a censorship policy? Me neither…until I fell victim to it this weekend.
Does BMOrg really want to get feedback from the community, and listen to our concerns? Or is this just a trick to make it appear like they’re listening to the community, as a way to support decisions they’ve already made and stubbornly refuse to go back on? If you censor customers who ask difficult questions, can you really claim to be open, transparent, and equitable – a “social experiment”?
[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]
In the two weeks since this year’s Burn I’ve noticed a fair amount of press claiming “the rich are ruining Burning Man” and I’ve seen a handful of stories on Facebook about confrontational run-ins with people at so-called “rich camps” in Black Rock City. I hear a growing conversation around radical self-reliance and the perceived threat to Burning Man culture posed by “turnkey” and “plug and play” camps on the playa. I’d like to offer the following perspectives to help inform your own conversations and dialogues on these topics.
First, let’s talk definitions:
Turnkey Camp: A Burning Man camp built by a production team where (generally) paid staff members create the infrastructure so that camp members don’t have to.
Plug and Play Camp: The older term for turnkey camp.
Radical Self-Reliance: One of Burning Man’s 10 Principles. Radical Self-Reliance states: “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”
The Ten Principles: The Burning Man 10 Principles were written by Larry Harvey, at the request of the other Burning Man founders, in 2004 to help support the demand of the growth of the Burning Man Regional Network. They were written to be *descriptive* not prescriptive. They are not intended to be dogmatic. They form a cultural guide map that is aspirational, not absolute.
…The solution to this problem is around us educating each other. It’s going to take those of us who are experienced, whether jaded or not, deploying our best human connection skills to talk about this culture that we love so much.
Have you considered that maybe the producers and owners of the turnkey camps are interested in sharing ideas on how to make better camps at Burning Man? Have you considered that maybe there might be something that you can learn from each other? Have you considered that no one has all the answers?
If you’re someone who loves Burning Man passionately, if you’re someone who likes to get involved in making solutions, recognize that solving this problem is going to take us reaching out to others
…the more courageous choice, the more powerful choice, requires you speaking up in kind and patient ways. Be hospitable. Be generous. Be creative in your interactions. Isn’t this why you love Burning Man?
The post asked for comments, welcomed our voices in the conversation…and seemed to be genuine about that. Their words create the impression that BMOrg wants to listen to community concerns about Commodification Camps, that our voices will be heard, that our opinions might matter…that maybe Burners have something of value to contribute to the social engineering of Black Rock City.
Unfortunately, like so much that comes out of this organization, it is bullshit. Propaganda, spin, damage control. We can talk all we want, but that ain’t gonna make them listen. Read the post and the comments for yourself, it’s been 4 days so far and there are no replies from BMOrg to anyone.
They are making the definition of turnkey camps as broad as possible: any camp where the infrastructure is not created by every camp member, whether staff get paid or not. Unless every member of your camp gets an early access pass and arrives at the same time, every camp will encounter a situation where members arrive and the infrastructure has already been built. Defining the issue this way then makes it easy for them to say “oh well, we can’t do anything about it, because most camps are turnkey camps”. Yet again, it is deceptive use of language for societal control.
From the Burner community’s perspective, the issue is not “camps where some camp members get paid to build the infrastructure”, or where some camp members arrive after the building is done. The issue is Commodification: tourists coming on safari, paying massive amounts of money to watch us perform a spectacle that they don’t participate in. And, mistreatment of workers, either DPW who don’t even get minimum wage, or sherpas who don’t get safe working conditions. I haven’t seen anyone saying “no-one who works at Burning Man should ever get paid”, but I’ve seen plenty saying “no-one should be trying to profit from Burning Man”.
The definition BMOrg wants us all to use eliminates these extremely key issues from any discussion. So I dared to question their definition.
Here’s what they say:
You’ll never find one of your posts removed if you remain true to the policies and guidelines posted here. You won’t ever be censored just because we disagree with your opinion.
Here’s my comment:
The name “Turnkey” is confusing. “Commodification Camp” is better, because isn’t that the issue? These camps are selling Burning Man as a packaged tour experience, rather than opening their doors to participation, and Gifting to the rest of us.
The problem is what Commodification Camps are selling is NOT the trash fence, the signs, the cops, and the porta-potties – the infrastructure paid for by the ticket sellers. It’s the art, the costumes, the music, the beautiful people – ie, OUR participation and contributions, which have been given freely and paid for personally, because everyone thought that this party/festival/city/experience WASN’T for sale to strangers who didn’t share our values. Burners don’t want our self-expression to be commodified so that a select few can package it up and profit from it.
I think that BMOrg should disclose to Burners what the commercial deal is for these camps. Does Burning Man get a cut? How do they get so many tickets, when the event is sold out and people wait in STEP but get forced into OMG? How do they get priority placement? How come they don’t have to clean up their camp by Tuesday?
It appears that there are different rules for these camps than for the rest of us. If that is untrue, then let’s see a formal statement of denial. If it’s true, then it is segregating the Playa, and that’s not the fault of the rich customers who can afford a luxury experience, it’s the fault of the Commodification promoters and the rule makers.
I gave them 24 hours, just in case no moderators were working because it’s Sunday. Then I tried re-posting my comment again on Monday, just in case it mysteriously disappeared. No luck – the comment was gone. So I tried a trick – posting it in a different name not associated with Burners.Me. And then, it went straight up. To me, this shows that they’re not even reading the content – they’re just banning comments from people they don’t like.
So why ban it? Here’s their policy [with my comments]:
Comment Policy for Burning Man’s Blog, Facebook Page & Galleries
Burning Man values the spirit of a civil community discourse. We think that a lively, on-topic public conversation is one of the best reasons to write and host a Facebook page, a blog, and image gallery, and that without comments, they’re more or less just another webpage. [Yes, my comment was very much on-topic]
That said, we also have a responsibility to maintain this space for the benefit of all our visitors. The comments made on these services will have the power add to or detract from the their general vibe, and it is our responsibility to see to it that they serve to enhance the experience of our visitors, rather than chasing them away. [that’s what I’m talking about: enhancing the experience of Burning Man]
That means that we expect commenters to identify themselves in their posts, and conduct themselves as they would as guests at a party, where spirited conversation is welcome, but unruly and rude behavior is not. It also means that our moderators can and will remove posts that they believe run counter to the spirit of civil discourse. [not rude, not unruly, not even spirited; definitely civil discourse]
This page is our attempt to give you some idea of what we mean by “civil discourse” on the Burning Blog, our Facebook page, and image gallery.
Anonymous comments are not permitted here. Our contributors will identify themselves when we write Burning Blog; in turn, we want to know who you are and that there’s a real person behind the words you post. We’ve seen what can happen in spaces that make it easy for “hit and run” comments: things can go completely septic, fast. [while my comment was not in my real name, it is what I write on the Internet as. The other commenters on the post are: DustyRusty, Wrath, Rich, Corvus, Janus, Rio …these appear to be pseudonyms or nicknames too]
Comment Censorship (There, We Said The C Word)
Trust us: we will not censor comments because your point of view is different from ours. [No, I definitely don’t trust you, BMOrg] We will, however, censor comments that we believe run counter to the spirit of civil discourse. [since when did questioning authority become outside of the spirit of civil discourse? Isn’t it the ENTIRE FUCKING POINT? Otherwise it’s just a lecture from the Rulers] We also may choose at times to turn off the comments feature on a specific post (before it’s posted), due to a variety of factors including subject matter, web traffic patterns and timing, or the author just plain not having the ability to engage in the dialogue at the time of the posting. Feel free to trackback and post your thoughts wherever you like. (We may turn comments on that entry later. We also think it’s bad practice to turn comments off mid-conversation, and will avoid doing so if we can.) We also turn off comments on posts after 2 weeks so that we can focus our moderator efforts on contemporary conversations, not on nuking the piles of spam (and little else) that get posted to old conversations.
When We’ll Moderate
If you’re aware of expected behaviors in this forum and make an effort to be polite, you’ll never find one of your comments removed. [Polite, meaning, toe the party line, don’t question BMOrg] The spirit of civil discourse, however, might be different to everyone, so here, as we see it, is a partial list of violations of that spirit (and possible causes for a post’s removal). The list includes, but is not limited to:
Overtly off-topic posts. [no, was 100% on topic]
Intentionally disrespectful or disruptive behavior. [no, was polite, respectful, and not disruptive in any way]
Spamming: our linking policy can be found below. Posts containing more than one URL, or any URL not relevant to the conversation, will be considered spam. [no URLs, although I did fill in the “website” field they provide]
Snide, rude, threatening personal comments about or directed at any person, be they other users, the moderators, Larry Harvey, other Burning Man staff, Burning Man volunteers, your own mother…we don’t care if you have a low opinion of someone — that’s your business. But this isn’t the place to get personal about it. [no, nothing personal anywhere]
The above applies to the Burning Blog authors too. If you’re going to talk smack about an entry, talk about the entry. Don’t attack the author. [no, said nothing about the author]
Impersonation of a member of the Burning Man staff. It’s one thing to produce satire – we get that – but another to falsely impersonate another person with the intent to mislead people who trust our website for information from us. Impersonation posts will be removed at the discretion of the moderators. [no, no possibility of mistaking me for a member of BMOrg]
Unnecessarily attitudinal or inflammatory language, or posts that attack a point of view without explaining why. Again, disagreement is okay, but there’s a difference between saying, “That idea will never work because I don’t think people will clean up after themselves the way you think they will,” and saying, “That idea will never work. It’s stupid, and anyone who believes that is an idiot.” [no, no inflammatory language, no attitude, no attacking any viewpoint…just politely asking questions]
Posts that contain vulgar or abusive language targeted at any group, be it ethnic, racial, religious, class-related, etc. We hope this goes without saying. [no, no such language]
Conversation killers. A comment that doesn’t add to the conversation because it changes the subject, wanders off onto a tangent, or attempts to bait readers into an off topic discussion may be removed. [no, post was on topic and didn’t change the subject]
Content that knowingly violates the copyright, trademark, or trade secret of any individual or entity. [no, possible violation by using Nomad Traveler’s term Commodification Camps, but I’m sure he would approve]
Spam-whinging. We made that word up. By it we mean, “The same exact whiney complaint, repeated ad nauseum as often as possible, with ‘fingers in ears,’ no matter what anyone says to you, at the expense of evolving dialogue.” Dissenting opinions and debate are absolutely welcome here, but dead horses should be tied up outside. If your fellow commenters express that you sound like a broken record, they may be right. Hey, we know it sounds like something nobody would ever do on purpose, but you’d be surprised… [no, only posted once; hardly a dead horse, since it’s about the post itself]
Note: repeat offenders and known trolls may find their IP addresses banned. [I don’t think BMOrg really understand how the Internet works]
All edits, post removals, and user actions are at the sole discretion of Burning Man and its moderators, and are subject to appeal only if you can somehow establish that you’ve seen the error of your ways AND if we are feeling particularly magnanimous and/or perky that day. Otherwise, post-removal decisions are final. [I don’t see any error in my ways]
Usually if you find yourself moderated, you’ll find that if you go back and attempt to say the same thing while trying to be a bit nicer (gasp! yes, nicer!) that very same opinion will be entirely welcomed. (Go ahead, make fun of us for saying this. We don’t mind.)
“Hey, I was just ‘expressing myself’! What about Free Speech??”
Burning Man supports the right to free speech. [yeah right!] We firmly believe you have the right to host what you want on your own website (so long, of course, as it doesn’t violate anyone else’s legal rights) – and we have that right too. Thus, if one of the things we don’t want on our site is your comment, we reserve the right to simply remove it. [now the truth comes out!] Our aim is to be as hands-off as possible and let you enjoy a spirited dialogue, but we retain the right and the responsibility to maintain this space in the manner consistent with the atmosphere we hope to create for our visitors.
You’ll never find one of your posts removed if you remain true to the policies and guidelines posted here. You won’t ever be censored just because we disagree with your opinion. If you find you ever do feel you were unduly censored from posting your opinions to the Burning Blog comments forum, please do feel free to start your own blog to talk about those feelings.
See, the thing is, I did exactly that. I started my own blog, and 1300 articles later, I can now talk about my feelings to hundreds of thousands of people. But what about everyone else? Is it only Burners.Me that gets censored? Most of the posts on burningman.com now have very, very few comments – so how many are they actually censoring? There doesn’t appear to be any oversight of the censors, and “if you don’t like it, start your own” continues to be their policy.
In the last JackedRabbit, Will Chase said:
Turnkey camps in Black Rock City are the talk of the community lately, and understandably so. Theme camps that provide all-inclusive camping services for (sometimes large) fees mean that many people visit Black Rock City who wouldn’t otherwise experience Burning Man, but they also raise questions about Radical Self-Reliance, Communal Effort and Decommodification that challenge our core values.
While this is going to be an ongoing conversation, we wanted to let you know that we share your concerns. Right now we’re taking in your feedback, looking at the situation carefully, and talking to the parties involved. We’re trying to create an accurate picture of what’s happening – we are gathering facts to understand the scope and nature of the problems associated with Turnkey camps. This is a continuation of a process that started with a round table discussion with Turnkey camp organizers two years ago, and included the creation of Turnkey Camping Guidelines.
Right now our various teams are deep in their debrief processes for the 2014 event – what worked, what didn’t, and what changes should be made for next year. Turnkey camps are currently being discussed at all levels of the organization and we are reviewing the options available for making positive changes.
And, we’d appreciate your formal input. If you have had a first hand experience with a Turnkey camp – either as a producer, a staff member, a participant or as a community member, please let us know about your experience through our feedback form.
We know that if we all work together as a community, we can find a way to stay true to Radical Inclusion without undermining the rest of the Ten Principles. This community has faced similar challenges throughout its history, and this probably won’t be the last one. Indeed, our society would not be a real community if such challenges did not occur.
We’ll figure out the way forward together.
Stay tuned for more on this topic in the near future!
I think the key wording here is “create an accurate picture”. They’re not trying to understand, they’re trying to shape the discussion into an image that suits their goals. And it appears that welcoming Commodification Camps is very much a part of this picture they want to paint for us.
Rather than engaging the community, like they pretend they’re doing, in fact BMOrg are sticking their heads in the sand. They hope they can just keep bullshitting everyone and get away with it, while they commercialize the Playa step by STEP. They want feedback through a form, not publicly visible comments. They have been directly approaching commenters who criticize them online, asking them to come into HQ for a face-to-face chat. One of our readers shared this with us:
April 25th, 6:54pm
Hey there … Will Chase from Burning Man here.
OK so we have no problem at all with constructive criticism, disagreement and dissent — hell, yell it from the rooftops if you want — but we DO have a problem when it’s based on misinformation, because that doesn’t serve anybody.
Where do you live? Because I’d like to invite you to the Burning Man office in SF to meet with me, and you can tell me everything you think is wrong with what we’re doing, and what you think our intentions are, and I can set you straight, person-to-person.
I’m quite serious about this, because I’m frankly sick of your sniping on our posts, implying that we’re a bunch of greedy nefarious assholes and that all we’re trying to accomplish here is to get one over on people and cash out. Because I’ll tell ya what, you couldn’t be more wrong … and it doesn’t serve our community for you to be spreading BS.
Also, you seem like a smart guy, and maybe you’ve got some good ideas about what we could be doing better. And I’d be happy to learn from you.
Whaddya say? You willing to step out from behind your anonymity and have a conversation?
Thank you for reaching out, but I have tried to be pretty clear on my advice in the past. Would be glad to have reasoned dialog on any and all topics. However, I fail to see why the ad hominem aspect of a personal meeting is necessary. Though not as auspicious a dialog, the anonymous Publius was a good advocate in the Federalist Papers. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Would you like my email address?
Nope, that’s now how this is going to work. Anonymity may be beneficial for some things, but not this. We have the principle of “immediacy”, pretty much for this exact reason … because there’s no substitution for face-to-face, personal interactions when it comes to interpersonal understanding. You seem to have some interesting ideas that we could learn from, along with a number of misconceptions that I’d love to clear up for you. The offer stands to come in and meet with me. Let me know if you’re interested.
No matter to BMOrg that this reader doesn’t live in San Francisco. They didn’t even bother to ask.
Tell them, not the community, because only they matter, not the community. Rather than “figure out the way forward together”, they’re going to make decisions away from the public and tell us that it’s for our own good. These will be decisions that suit their interests first, and the community second. How much do you want to bet that the decision will be “Commodification Camps can continue, and can get whatever placement they want, and all the tickets they want, and leave tons of MOOP”?
I don’t really mind that my comment got censored, because I can just go and post it here to a MUCH bigger audience – and in the process, further raise awareness about the disconnect between BMOrg’s words and their actions.
What about everyone else, though? What about Burners who have intelligent opinions, but don’t have a highly visible blog? Isn’t Burning Man supposed to be an experiment, in new ways we can live together without commerce or commodification? Don’t BMOrg have a Civic Responsibility to do what their citizens putting in the Communal Effort want…rather than what is most profitable for themselves?
One commenter on Facebook coined the phrase “social capital Ponzi scheme”, which I think is a great analogy:
A while back the phrase “social capital Ponzi scheme” came to mind.
We who gifted their love, time, energy, capital towards the “community” over the years had an expectation that that community would still be there, to enjoy. We expected it to be valued and perserved, not exploited for crass commercial gain.
It was OUR collective investment. No amount of quibbling about trademark and LLC and whatnot will make this any less true. Now the scheme needs fresh-meat gullible social capital “investors” to keep the whole thing from imploding. It’s sad to see so many “much ado about nothing” types either naively or willfully ignore the cancer. The cancer is the very real possibility that the passionate volunteers — those who helped create the vibe of BRC — will get fed up and quit, because they realize they are no longer contributing to an actual investment in community over the long term.
Black Rock City today seems to be run like a tyrannical dictatorship, exploiting its volunteers, exploiting its customers, suing charities, and telling us they’re saving the world while lining their pockets via complex tax shelters. We pay them for the privilege of going to their party, which makes us customers. We pay to bring our art and music, which makes us contributors. We participate and put communal effort in, which makes us citizens. We get no vote, we get silenced if we speak out, we get ostracized and prevented from buying tickets through their profiling system. Only they can make money, if anyone else tries the legal team comes down on them like the Hammer of Thor. Radical inclusion, my ass. If you’re on the board, you can produce all the promo videos and multi-million dollar Commodification Camps you want.
On that, here’s what they say about using videos of Burning Man to promote your brand:
in concert with our principle of Decommodification, Burning Man takes a strong stance against any images, video, or audio from the event being used in any type of commercial manner. You can’t use Black Rock City as a backdrop for a music video or a fictional film. You can’t use Black Rock City for a product promotion, for any kind of commercial, or for a fashion shoot. Not even if you’re from VOGUE. Seriously. Next to violating the privacy and other rights of participants, nothing is as degrading to the future of our city and culture as using Burning Man to sell something, and we stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation.
And here’s one of their director’s commercials promoting his brand:
Is this the society we want? We have to live by the rules and shut up, while their directors get to ignore the Principles and do whatever they like to monetize the Playa. If we speak up about things that concern us publicly, we get summoned into headquarters for The Questioning. Is this really something special that we should export around the globe, and bring millions of virgins into for the purposes of “acculturation”?
It’s hard to see how Burning Man can get better if BMOrg take the public position that there’s nothing wrong in the first place, and only ever have to consider viewpoints that agree with the decisions they’ve already made. OK, fair enough, they have the right to delete any comments they want on their web site: but don’t feed us blatant lies like “You’ll never find one of your posts removed if you remain true to the policies and guidelines posted here. You won’t ever be censored just because we disagree with your opinion.”
I see through your hollow words, BMOrg, many others do too – more each week. I didn’t really expect you to consider my post, or answer my very reasonable questions; but I also didn’t think things have sunk so low that you censor anything that doesn’t fit the Corporate Speak. Why not just ignore questions you don’t want to answer, like you’ve always done in the past? Like you’ve done with the other commenters to this post? [Update: that’s exactly what they did, once I tricked them into thinking it wasn’t Burners.Me commenting – they ignored it. Are they really having a conversation with Burners via social media?]
Maybe you’re still fooled, dear reader…but the Kool Aid has well and truly worn off here.
You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. -Abraham Lincoln
[Update 10/7/14 5:30pm] – Will Chase from BMOrg has responded to this article, see comments. They claim my comments somehow got caught in their “spam filter” – which makes no sense given that the exact same content went straight up when I said it was from someone other than Burners.Me. Anyway, they have published the comment, but have still not answered any Burner questions on their post. I asked Will when we might expect a response, he said “I don’t know when for sure, but I know that we will”. Coming soon…
[Update 10/7/14 6:24pm] In tracking down a troll comment to this post – which appears to have come from Burning Man HQ, like several other troll comments hiding behind fake names – I came across an old message from Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell that I had not seen before. It was sent on February 17, 2014, answering a question I asked her on December 16, 2013. Make of it what you will:
Steve Jones quoted me out of context, and it’s picked up here as if it’s true:
http://burners.me/2013/12/05/not-so-vogue/ [NOTE: this link she posted actually says the story is NOT true]
We NEVER ever took any money from Vogue to do a shoot. There has yet to be a shoot at Burning Man with our permission. What I said was that we always say no, and sometimes they come back and ask again…and that we sometimes use a high fee to just dissuade them from further conversation if they insist on being pushy. $150,000 site fee is absurd. And, if anyone said they’d do it, we’d just laugh. It’s like a dumb game with some of these companies, so we play along sometimes to just see how far they’d go.
When we say NO we mean no, and so many of them say: “pretty please”, or “why not”, or “for how much”….i mean really.
There seems to be a Vogue photo shoot in the 2010 November (or 2011?) French Vogue magazine that looks like Burning Man. If it is, we didn’t approve of it, and have scratched our heads internally about it since it was spotted several years ago.
There have been other Vogue photo shoots:
September 3, 2014 http://www.vogue.com/1067007/burning-man-festival-fashion/
August 29, 2012 Paris Vogue http://en.vogue.fr/fashion-culture/fashion-exhibitions/diaporama/burning-man-1/9498
November 2010, Paris Vogue David Mushegain http://soyons-ouf.blogspot.com/2010/11/burning-man-in-french-vogue.html
May 2010 British Vogue: http://www.ramshacklechic.com/2010/05/british-vogue-does-burning-man-yet-another-hit/