Commodification Camp Concerns

Last night a couple of dozen interested Burners participated in the “Turnkey/Plug-n-Play Forum” discussion. It was organized by Travis Puglisi, who makes a (modest) living working on camps, art projects, or as a vendor at Burning Man, Coachella, the Joshua Tree music festival and others. BMOrg were invited to participate, but declined. I guess they’re too busy engaging the community in conversation about Turnkey camps to actually want to talk to anyone.

Kudos to Travis for making a genuine effort to connect with the community by asking: if he wants to make a living from festivals like Burning Man, then what is acceptable behavior, and what is detrimental to our values? [Travis later commented that he doesn’t actually care about this, even if the community thinks it’s wrong he’s still fine with treating BM as a commercial gig]. It’s more than BMOrg are doing: they are just defining Turnkey as any camp where some camp members arrive early to set up the infrastructure, whether paid or unpaid. By this definition, almost every camp is a Turnkey camp, so there’s nothing they can do about the problem. That’s why at Burners.Me we like “Commodification Camps”, because it highlights the main issue in reference to the 10 Principles: Commodification.

2014 psyclone medallionIn the past Travis has been one of the organizers of Play)A(Skool. He quit “declined collaboration” when they wanted to bring 80 RVs, considering that model to be unsustainable. This year he worked for camp Psyclone, ultra-wealthy Burners who were mostly from New York. Psyclone, located at 6:30 & A, scored a clean green on the MOOP map – except for a single red dot, which they have not yet received any explanation about. The camp conceived of and fabricated their own art, they make their own food (it’s not catered), sort their own trash and take aluminum to Recycle Camp.

This year the camp consisted of 17 RVs, 10 hexayurts, 2 tents, 6 yurt-like structures, and 3 inflatable prototype shelters. Travis was careful not to name anyone from the camp, but I’m guessing the latter were Clearchannel CEO and Billionaire Burner Bob Pittman’s Dhomes:

pittman dhome

Pittman (L) in front of one of his Spider Dhomes. Photo: Nellie Bowles

Inside the inflatable party pad. Photo: Nellie Bowles

Inside the inflatable party pad. Photo: Nellie Bowles

Pittman plans to bring 200 Dhomes next year, renting them for $5-10k per week. Read all about it in Re/Code. Travis demurred pled ignorance on answering how much Psyclone’s camp dues were for 2014.

Here’s some coverage of Psyclone from last year, from Modern Luxury:

…the anti-establishment art and music festival has really grown up. This year, the call of the Playa—the festival’s name for the stretch of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that’s now its home—drew a crowd of bigwig burners, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, Sean Combs [P.Diddy], MTV founder Bob Pittman and two intrepid members of the Hamptons social set, who recalled the event for us.

Burning Man is a not-for-profit weeklong festival…

Remember when you were a kid at Disney World and were totally awestruck? When you’re a “virgin burner” you feel like it’s Christmas morning every morning of the festival. Burning Man is a big hippie commune where the ideals of the ’70s are vibrantly alive, if only for a week. No money, no red-velvet ropes; everything is shared and all are invited everywhere.

Burning Man teaches radical self-reliance with its “Bring what you need or find what you need, but give more than you receive” message. At the core of its values is the principle of taking care of the Playa. The worst thing you can do at Burning Man is to be irresponsible with your MOOP

This year, our 60-person camp was called PsyClone, and it was just about the coolest place I’ve ever been. I got to meet entrepreneurs, famous actors, people who work in politics, fellow doctors (I’m a psychiatrist) and amazing artists, all in one tented campsite. At about a quarter of an acre, the camp was very small, consisting of RVs and tents in the back and a central area for socializing, plus sofas, a refrigerator, a homemade shower and a barbecue. At the front of the camp, major pieces of art were set up to attract visitors.

2014 psycloneEach camp applies for space from the Burning Man administrators about six months ahead of time. The event organizers decide your location depending on how you plan to contribute and how clean you left your space the previous year. To attend Burning Man, you don’t need an official camp—you can just show up and pitch a tent—but know that you’ll likely be in a less-desirable location.

…There truly is no place like home.

– See more at Modern Luxury 

Last night’s meeting went for a couple of hours, and although some good points were made from different sides of the Commodification Camp debate, it was ultimately inconclusive. Some of the issues raised are worthy of further consideration and discussion by the community.


What Makes A Commodification Camp?

Is it employing workers, making a profit, or the level of camp dues provided? Or is it selling hotel rooms and services to “Safari tourists”? To me, it’s a Commodification Camp if its members don’t have to build anything, work any shifts, or pack anything up; they simply fly in and fly out without putting in any Communal Effort and Gift with their checkbook, if at all. You can’t call it Inclusion or Participation if it happens in a wristband-only VIP area.

The difference between Burning Man and many other events is that this city is built on the backs of volunteers. Those running for-profit camps, are therefore lining their pockets with the blood, sweat, and tears of the rest of us, for whom Burning Man has always been a labor of love. Why should everyone work for free, pay to be there, and pay to bring art and gifts – while a select few charge thousands or tens of thousands per head for hotels and pay slave labor wages for others to wait on them and clean up their mess?

Light sculptures at Psyclone

Light sculptures at Psyclone

Psyclone had 6 paid workers managing the build, logistics, operations, and tear-down. There was one person on shift at the camp at all times, not so much to be a sherpa but to help camp members with requests like organizing a group to move heavy objects. The lowest paid was making $150 a day, and the highest paid made $350 per day. Travis himself earned $13,450 for working May through September on the camp – hardly a fortune. Nevada minimum wage is $8.25 per hour; assuming Travis worked 40 hours per week for 20 weeks, for him that works out to $16.81 per hour. No-one could accuse him of trying to get rich off Burning Man – this is slightly above what he could get at McDonald’s. It is, though, significantly more than what most DPW workers earn.

Most DPW and Gate workers are volunteers. They get a free or discounted ticket, and food from the commissary – except once Burning Man actually starts. Then, they are expected to fend for themselves. This is pretty impractical, it’s not like people who are living on the Playa for a month can pop out to Whole Foods to stock up on supplies. BMOrg spends $1.4 million a year on food, so it seems a little stingy that their workers have to starve once the event is underway – while First Camp dine on fresh produce brought in every day.

There are about 400 DPW workers. If they were all paid minimum wage for an average of 4 weeks at 40 hours per week, that would be $528,000 – $7.76 per ticket. This is about the same as what BMOrg charge as a ticket processing fee, and less than what they charge to mail tickets or hold them at Will Call. It’s about the same as what BMOrg spend on travel and costumes for themselves every year.



Camp Costs Are Increasing

Once Burning Man was sold out, and became the latest “bucket list” destination, the vendors increased their fees massively. A camp that provided a generator, kitchen trailer, and A/C unit, supporting 15 RVs, used to cost $5000 per head. The generator rental and drainage with United for this camp used to cost $7900 2 years ago, now it is $33,000. This means the camp costs are now $7000 per head. Renting a C-class RV for the week used to cost $3500, now it’s $5500. BMOrg implemented a Vendor Approval Process which was used by vendors as an excuse for massive price hikes.

Even camps that don’t make a profit, where everyone chips in to cover expenses, are faced with increasing costs due to supply and demand. Only a small number of vendors are allowed; the lack of competition means vendors can price gouge. One suggestion was that vendors should have to open their books and disclose their profit margins to the community – this would be a good idea for The Burning Man Project too.


Principles vs Laws

MOOP #fail

MOOP #fail

Back in the day, Burning Man had 2 immutable laws. “No Commerce” – you couldn’t buy or sell anything on the Playa; and “Leave No Trace” – you have to pick up after yourself. Violate either law, and you could be kicked out of the event. Since the Principles were introduced in 2004 as “guidelines”, the rules are now more rubbery. So we get multi-million dollar camps like Caravancicle/Lost Hotel leaving vast swathes of yellow and red on the MOOP map, and every year sees “commerce creep” with the introduction of a new money-making item – merchandise in 2013, gasoline in 2014.

Burning Man’s Chief Philosophy Officer, Larry Harvey, has spearheaded their “10 Principles” series of blog posts – 21 so far. The mere fact that they have to devote so many words to trying to explain these things, suggests that perhaps there are a better set of community credos we could come up with. I mean, “thou shalt not kill” is pretty frikkin’ clear. “Decommodification”, on the other hand, gets pretty confusing when the owners create a company called Decommodification, LLC to earn royalties from the event – potentially $1 million a year or more.

Here’s what Larry Harvey says about the Principles:

they utterly lack the imperative mood; they are not commands or requests—they do not give permission or withhold it. For example, Leaving No Trace is not a commandment. Although it speaks of what we value, it does not demand allegiance

…the Ten Principles employ the language of prosody. The principle of Participation states, ”We make the world real through actions that open the heart.” Such language often has the property of meaning many things at once, and this is because it is not produced by following a linear series of logical propositions. Instead of explaining, as if unfolding the planes of a box, poetic language does the opposite.

So the Principles aren’t commandments, mean many things at once, aren’t logical, and are deliberately designed to obscure, not explain. BMOrg can use whatever poetic language they like: Commodification of our culture for money is against Burning Man.

It seems that million-dollar camps are getting preferential placement, as many tickets as they want, and a blind eye turned to blatant violations of the 10 Principles. More than anything, I think this is the problem with Commodification Camps that upsets the community the most. If we’re going to have rules, they should apply to everyone equally.


Radical Inclusion Means Preferring Virgins and Shafting Burners

Back in the day, it was rare to meet a first-timer at Burning Man. There was a community of mostly hard-core Burners, people who went out there every year, spending all year planning what they were going to bring next time so they can give even more. These days, 40% are Virgins, and only 29% have been more than twice.

The problem with this unquenchable thirst for fresh meat is Burners who have been contributing for years no longer feel welcome. It’s hard for them to get tickets, and every year it will get harder.

If the population cap stays the same, and we continue with the ratio of 40% virgins, every year it becomes more difficult for people who’ve been to Burning Man before to return home.

virgins and non virgins

“% Non-Virgins” is calculated by comparing the number of non-virgins to the total number of Burners to date. A non-virgin means “been once or more”, as opposed to Veteran which we define as 3 or more Burns.

A city that truly valued the Communal Effort made by its citizens, would see the % Virgins decreasing every year. It should be a challenge to go to Burning Man if you’re not a Burner, and Burners who’ve put in the hours should have more chance to get a ticket than someone who has contributed a total of 0 to the community.



Self-Reliance Doesn’t Apply To The Wealthy

Some wealthy people will only come to Burning Man if they can be coddled. Driving their own RV from Reno is too much of a hassle for them, taking their own trash out is too much trouble, they need to pay someone else to do that so they can just fly in and out – or they’re not going to bother coming. I ask you: so what? Do we really need people who aren’t interested in Self-Reliance? How is that making the party better for Burners? There are plenty of rich people there who help set up or clean up their camps, pick up after themselves, and contribute to art projects. Why do we need those who don’t?

Some argue that it is so good for the world for the cash-rich and time-poor to experience Burning Man, that we should overlook all of the Principles for the sake of “Rule #1”: Radical Inclusion. A camp producer gave the example of a CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation who was inspired by Burning Man to donate money to arts programs for schools. Their camp spent $180,000 on donations to Burning Man art projects last year, and $230,000 this year. To put this in perspective, BMOrg themselves spent $800,000 – so just one camp can fund a third as much art as BMOrg who rake in $30 million annually. To make sure that money actually goes to the artists, this particular camp facilitated direct donations, rather than going through Burning Man Arts who absorb most of the money donated to them in overhead.

I can see that it might be beneficial for the world if powerful people have a transformational experience at Burning Man, and I believe that can happen. How many, though, just have a great time and then go back to their normal lives? 50%? 90%? P.Diddy – the world’s richest rapper – went last year for the first time, and had a life changing experience.

How did that help the world? Well, it inspired him to make a Burning Man-themed Fiat commercial.


need lsdIf they don’t experience Self Reliance, Leave No Trace, Gifting, Communal Effort, Participation, or Civic Responsibility, then how was it a transformational Burning Man experience? This is like saying “acid is great because people can get deep insights”. Maybe some do, but does that mean anyone can just ignore all the Principles and rules, because it is so important to the world for them to take acid?

The more staff that Commodification Camps hire, the fewer Burners get to go. They get replaced with minimum wage workers who barely get to leave their camp and whose very survival is threatened if they want to quit. Self-reliance means 1 Burner, 1 ticket; Radical Wealth Reliance means the tourists also need tickets for the sherpas who contribute to their burn, but not ours.

Here’s an idea: why doesn’t BMOrg throw “Radical Inclusion” events off-Playa? They can invite all the underage children, politicians, frat boys, and trailer park tourists they want – all 7 billion people in the Default World. Removing the need for Radical Self Reliance will make it possible to acculturate a much wider audience. They can use these “Rely On Others, Gift Nothing, MOOP away, Express Conformity” Commodifcation events to educate the masses. Maybe some of them will then want to become Burners and come out to the Playa to pitch in and create Black Rock City with the rest of us. BMOrg could take some of the profits made from commodifiying Burner culture and blending it with the Default world, and invest that into more art at Burning Man. I think most Burners are OK with the owners making a profit from the event (although they tell us it’s a non-profit), but not OK with less art every year.


The Bottom Line

If a camp gets placement, it should have a public, interactive component. Each camp needs to gift something to everyone: all Burners should be welcome at any camp at Burning Man. I would rather burn with 70,000 Burners than 20,000 Burners and 50,000 tourists, no matter how rich or famous they are. If they can’t go without being coddled, then maybe we don’t want them – let Burners who get the Principles and make a Communal Effort take those spots. Making Burning Man into the Default world does not make it better, it makes it lamer.

What’s the point of Burning Man, anyway? Fun? Profit? Brainwashing? Building a corporate brand?

Dennis Kucinich lectures the IDEATEs

Former Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich lectures the village Ideates

Is Burning Man something provided by BMOrg for the purpose of acculturating strangers; or is it something Burners provide to each other by bringing the art, music, costumes, food, and drink? In the former scenario, experienced Burners just get in the way. Dennis Kucinich couldn’t even be fucked putting a pair of cargo pants on, but he had no problem giving media interviews and political speeches out there. How did that help make the world a better place?  At least Grover wore some kind of pouffy bandanna and a blinky light…and he’s been milking that in the press ever since.

I’ll leave you with a comment Mortician made at, which I think is an excellent expression of the Commodification Camp problem:

Participants (and I am using that term loosely) who live in walled off camps, who do not interact – or negatively interact- with their neighbors, who have roped off VIP areas and private art cars which exist only to exclude, who use the Playa as a networking opportunity, a private nightclub or rave, a chance to package and sell the efforts of others, or a questionable employment backdrop within their camp create a negative experience for everyone around them.

I don’t personally think it matters one bit how much money someone has as to whether they can create positive or negative experiences for the community. I also don’t believe that everyone who comes has to participate in every single aspect of their camps to be a positive contributor. Its fine if a camp, say, has some people come early to set up and another group sticks around at the end to strike. The question in my mind is not related to someones net worth or how many rebar stakes they have pounded. It is completely about whether someone is coming to actively be a part of the city and open to interaction, or whether they are coming to violate the community by co-opting others contributions, treat those same contributors with active rejection, derision, and exclusion from behind velvet ropes and wristbands, and do everything possible to separate themselves from the general community via handlers, sherpas, and walls.

If the more egregious PnP camps need that much hand holding and separation from the general community, why don’t they just either go down to Vegas for their long clubbing weekend where the entire town exists to cater to that need level, or come out to the playa and set up their camp at some other time when there is no one else out they need to keep out?

 2014 laser harp psyclone tp drum wall psyclone tp psyclone front tp

71 comments on “Commodification Camp Concerns

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  12. Artists can’t profit from the work they’re knocking themselves out to build for free. Burners can’t scalp tickets. Or even get them sometimes. Or get placement. But if you’re a Commodification Camp producer, you can scalp all the tickets you like, and profit from the work that others are building, without all that hassle about pesky “interactivity”.

    The conclusion is obvious. Everyone should become a Commodification Camp producer. Then you can still do whatever it is you love, but get all the tickets you want, guarantee placement, AND make a huge profit.

  13. One thing this is driving home. The billionaire techies are just like the industrial robber barons, the slave owning plantation masters, and the feudal lords that came before them. They love to go out and hobnob with the peasants to show that they can connect with the common masses, but they want to retreat to their castles when they’ve had enough of the lower castes.

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  17. Well that’s it for me…..I’m not going to BM to be a tableau for voyeurs or rich guy / non participants / non contributors or mild entertainment for the same.. I don’t know how BM can stickhandle around its principles so easily – lawyers at work no doubt – but it has and Its astounding.

    I’m gone.

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  22. My opinion of a solution to this:

    Anyone who is paying others to do their work should have to give a SIGNIFICANT donation to the BM Org (for each worker) so that the ticket fees go down for EVERYONE.

  23. Lots of good ideas here. But sadly the Borg will not be listening. They don’t have to. They don’t care about the actual event or the specialness of it. With such a large number of virgins every year there’s always going to be a lot of amazed people and positive feedback. I wonder when the last time a Borg member actually a ‘normal’ burn? One where they didn’t have everything taken care of for them in their own personal plug’n’play? Do you think they remember how that felt? Or do they think the p’n’p is normal and thus it doesn’t seem wrong to them?

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  25. Bob Bittman seems like he’s one of the good billionaire burners (facilitates some actual cool shit, seems pretty open to the general population, etc), but then you have to remember he’s CEO of fucking ClearChannel, the company most responsible for corporatizing the event/festival arena. And once that’s remembered, it’s hard to imagine that his motives are anything other than watering down Burning Man, as well. c

    • It’s Bob Pittman. MTV and Clear Channel do have a history of co-opting commercializing events. It has been reported that Pittman wants to bring 1000s of his inflatable houses to the Play and rent them out as an alternative to RV’s.

      • Important to maintain the distinction between people who provide back-up/support services and those trying to make money on playa. Looks like Bob Pittman has developed something pretty neat that could also be used in other environments (See: Burners without Borders etc). In principle, there’s no difference between what he is doing and renting out tents, RVs and equipment back in Reno. Except that his spider dome thingies look badass, and what’s wrong with that? Probably better for the environment too.

        • I think the Dhomes look cool too. Using Burning Man to promote commerical ventures is against the rules – at least, it used to be. If it’s allowed now, expect a whole slew of Burners.Me advertisements…coming soon.

  26. Burning Man is one of the most beautiful, inspiring and fun things I have ever discovered on this planet. And the very best thing I found on the Playa wasn’t the art (which was great) or the music (which was loud) or the perfect environment for getting high (or so I’m told) but it was the incredible people. Virtually everyone I meet there gives me something real and personal and unexpected. The community there has changed the way I view humanity, and much for the better. To think that the Borg would change the whole scene by changing who comes from Burners and some wide eyed virgins to mostly virgins and a bunch of privaliged parasites is shocking and very very sad. I used to think I would go to every Burn until I had to be carried there on life support and thought that if I died there, I would die happy. Frankly I would hate to see that dream go.

  27. I really keep suggesting it to our local burn because we have a similar issue with Festy kids. The thing is, some learn and some don’t. The problem is when they have no idea what they are getting themselves into and are nearly killed by the elements. We need a short quiz in the ticket buying process so that people can demonstrate, as a minimum, that they understand the principles AND that they can be entering a life threatening environment if they are not radically self reliant. As far as the wealthy people, take notes on who is or becomes a philanthropist. People who buy tickets to the event ultimately to “take up space” need not be welcome.

  28. BAN RVs – it’s reasonably easy to enforce at the gate. Sure you’d have a few rich people bringing big tents but if there’s one thing that’s got worse and worse over the years it’s the vast number of RVs, which by their very nature are private walled gardens, as well as being fugly, expensive, polluting (the MPG is a joke on those things), and frankly mollycoddle the laziest and least contributing attendees.

    • Not to mention their need to be pumped; or neighbors this year flagged down a pump truck every other day. I did not appreciate the smell as the truck backed up right between the RV and our camp and sat there for minutes. And, it seems to me, every RV stop means a less efficient public potty sucking schedule.

  29. Hey, I think that if you don’t have a person in your camp to do lasers, don’t fucking do lasers! Simple. IMHO, this slippery slope became much more slippery when large scale potable & gray water delivery/removal became available. Its hard to run a PnP or Commodification camp if you yourself are hauling in & out all of your water.

  30. This has become a business It was never meant to be. It is no more “real to cause” than the modern rave scene. Low behold at least the underground raves still exist where joys are free and all are welcome. It seems what needs to happen is a break away, A new. A place where all can afford to attend and all are again welcome. Where everyone is free to express without worry!! However, what then? For everyone has already so labeled everything. The scene alive, dead? The “burners” now just a name.. Possibly more?? The difference between hippie and flower child a similar trait here. All true to the essence should move towards a new movement. Recreate the beginnings by starting over and recreating the dawn. Holding hands and sharing in one another in “aww and love.” A spiritual awakening. Good luck to all of you. May you revive and find the world that was to be, but has so surely began to crumble under the weight of capitalism and the desire for wealth. Good day.

    • It’s a shame that the commercial evolution has been based on a very traditional, pyramid-shaped model, where the slaves at the bottom create the wealth at the top. A more inclusive model would encourage the whole community to thrive together, and I think would be sustainable over the longer term. Examples of this are eBay and AirBnB, these businesses have enabled their customers to make money – the richer the customers get, the richer the owners get.
      The BMOrg directors telling the media how great it is that they’ve jumped the shark now, kind of says it all. Perhaps it’s time for the counter-counter-culture to emerge.

      • Whatever is next absolutely will not come directly out of the Burning Man community because intention is already built in. You can’t manufacture an actual cultural movement, it just has to happen. For us, we should keep fighting to retain the best parts of Burning Man, but something like a counter-counter-culture is not in the cards for us. Some of us were lucky to participate in Burning Man while it was still truly underground, but to try to break off a piece and shove it underground is a futile effort. But you can’t un-ring a bell.

    • There are burns other than TTITD btw. I am not suggesting you abandon Burning Man, but there are certainly other burns you can go to that don’t have plug-n-play camps or any rampant consumerism. Burns that don’t sell coffee or allow police onsite. They all have their own problems of course ranging from elitism, to ravers, to overworked event leaders. The art is less impressive and the scale of the events is smaller, but there is a much greater percentage of fire spinners (20-30%) and other participants.

  31. Before I even heard of PnP camps, I was going to take a Wall Street CEO friend as a guest but gave up when I saw what was necessary. This person was so default-world civilized that a level of comfort would be required such as a delivered RV or other complicated support.

    It is very difficult for a person in that position to get away for that length of time without a reliable telephone or even a means to have an emergency teleconference. An evacuation plan would need to be in place if the stock market should crash or other emergency. Thousands of jobs depend on these people.

    It occurred to me that it was just too much work for me and I also felt that if someone had all of those things they might not be able to immerse themselves fully in the experience.

    • It’s really not that hard. Buy a satellite phone for a few hundred dollars, and rent an RV. If they need to leave, simply drive out, or charter an aircraft. It’s not like being in Africa or deep in the Amazon.

      I’ve done outside world business while on the Playa (because it was urgent and I had to). When Hurricane Katrina hit I was at Burning Man and watching it on CNN, in an extreme level of comfort. In no way did this prevent me from participating. When someone came to my camp, I said hello and poured them a drink. When I had an empty beer can in my hand on the dancefloor at Opulent Temple, I put it in my pocket. When I needed to go to the bathroom away from the RV, I lined up for the Port-a-potties. When my bike broke a pedal, I walked it all the way back to camp. None of these things require superhuman effort or ingenuity, or an unacceptable degree of discomfort.

      The Playa is a great leveler, no matter how fancy your camp is you still get cracked feet and dust in your lungs and struggle to sleep because noisy art cars are driving around. To me that’s a key part of the whole experience: survival, and having fun even in harsh, challenging conditions.

      If Eric Schmidt can make it, other Wall Street CEOs can make it – although he stayed in Reno. It sounds like your friend was curious about the spectacle but not interested in the “Radical Self Reliance” part, so it’s probably good you didn’t bring them, just another sparkle pony…

  32. So Burning Man what are you going to do about it?! I hear a lot of talk and not a lot of do. .. Is it up to the organizers or the citizens of BRC? I say both but it definitely starts with the higher ups. If nothing is done Burning Man will be no different from the “default world” and the title of “Home” shall be stripped of its essence.

  33. For what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul? BMorg has gained the world but has lost its soul. It is just not worth it in the long run to allow Turnkeys to operate in fashion.

  34. Kudos upon an awesome statement of the issues of Commodification Camps, burnersxxx. The joy of Burning Man is labouring with your mates, purposed towards creating a camp, and creating the gifts, towards others, the camp provides, with near to all participating in the throwing of the awesome crowd sourced party. Buying a spot, for cash, in a Plug and Play is solely commerce, of being a Spectator, the founding principle of Burning Man was ‘Participants Only. No Spectators’.

    In addendum, of the Social Alchemist Seeks Sherpa For Startup Shenanigans post, a brilliant statement, based upon numerous quotes and actions by the BMOrg, describing the direction of which they desire Burning Man to go. I have no qualms queued behind posts as these. Much obliged.

  35. Hard to sell space if you don’t get placed might wanna rethink your big plans Trav man! Interaction out weighs rvs and gated communities! Lame he’s even allowed to be there… All about profits!

  36. The definition of a principle – “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.”

    If they are fungible, optional or only guidelines, then they are not principles.

    Soft pedaling their definition for the benefit of getting around them is what snake oil salesman do; all I can say is caveat emptor.

    • The principles only codify (more or less) the ethos of the culture. Burning Man was (partially is) about doing things different then the “default world”, making an event where commerce is not the rule, where you have to pack your own parachute, where you can try new things and be different. The Commodification camps run totally counter to the ethos of what makes Burning Man different.

      There is a difference, to me, between being invited by friends, contacts, or even strangers to join and participate in a camp and kicking in money for camp fees (most of us have done this to some degree) and buying access via a service provider. The fact that the customers don’t spend any money on the playa does not make them any less of a commodity just another all inclusive vacation. I really don’t understand the argument that these camps are not commodification packaging and selling access is the very definition of commodification.

      This feels like a spiritual movement that has become a religion, codifying the “rules” for the masses but ignoring them for the elites when profit and power come in to play. At the root of this is the plain greed, hypocrisy and rationalization. Maybe they want to build a desert version of the Bohemian Society where the movers and shakers can go to unwind and be amused but I hope not. To echo the Wander “For what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?”.

      So what do we do?

      I think the dialog that Travis kicked off is a good start but as long as the BMOrg says one thing these dialogs are pointless. So what else can we do? Public shame and ridicule those who provide these services? Continue to call out the BMOrg on their double speak? Hope that the BMOrg realizes that they are down the path to killing the goose that laid the golden egg? Educate the newbies? Pull in the Media (I can visualize a Vanity Fair article on the finances of the BMOrg now that would be interesting)? Or just ride this out and enjoy it while it lasts?

      Unplug and play!

  37. Thanks. You stated the problem perfectly and succinctly: “The difference between Burning Man and many other events is that this city is built on the backs of volunteers. Those running for-profit camps are therefore lining their pockets with the blood, sweat, and tears of the rest of us, for whom Burning Man has always been a labor of love.”

  38. To be blunt, it feels at times like has assumed toxic levels of bad faith in every move that BMorg has taken, to the point where rank and file burners are as likely to roll their eyes as take half of these posts remotely seriously. That’s the bed you made.

    And I am pretty sure that at some point, burnersxxx was a little more pro-plug n’ play than this post would lead you to believe. Just an observation. Maybe he’s lived a little closer to the experiential industries than the rest of us.

    BUT… on the subject of community sentiment on the sherpa-camp industry?

    Nailed it.

    It currently feels like BMorg wants people-of-influence at any cost, with any number of do overs till they get it “right”, while the community feels like “wealth and potential influence” is not a free pass to treat Burning Man like a bucket-list safari layover.

    The extent to which BMorg seem to really, really want everyone to give concierge campers an infinately-reusable free pass is kind of gross. Cudos for addressing that.

    • Thanks…I guess. I call it like I see it, if I see BMOrg making great decisions for the benefit of the community I would be glad to write about that. Unfortunately, they don’t give me much to work with.

      I have definitely camped on the Playa in great luxury, as well as roughed it. Whether my neighbor has a bigger or newer RV than me does not affect my burn in any way. I see nothing wrong with rich people at Burning Man. In fact, as I’ve said here many times, to me just going to Burning Man makes someone rich, compared to 99% of the world. I think that organized camps can have private areas, that’s fine, but every camp should contribute something to the city. That’s what it’s all about.

      I’m trying to avoid a class war, by encouraging Burners to take their issues out on the decision makers – BMOrg – rather than each other. The person next to you with a nice RV who seems to spend a lot of the daytime inside with the A/C running, is not what’s ruining Burning Man.

  39. Great overview of the CC issue.
    Here are my suggestions to address it:
    1) under theme camp guidelines, make clear that profiting is not okay, against principles and grounds for losing placement (which provides tickets and early passes necessary for any big camp).
    2) under theme camp guidelines, suggest a % of camp dues that goes to playa gift.. If you are paying $15,000 a person dues, and you are gifting nothing to the playa or just popsicles….the gift is clearly not a big part of your experience or contribution.
    3) change the ticketing system to make it easier for veterans and more difficult for virgins. This year 60% of the people on the playa were either virgins (40%) or had been there one year (20%)..while lots of veterans weren’t able to get tickets. Distribute 80% of the tickets to theme camps and a lottery for people who have existing burner profiles.. and raffle off the other 20% to virgins (new burner profiles). Since there are lots of individual to individual ticket sales.. virgins percentage will probably be up to 30%.. but that seems a reasonable percentage to keep our culture strong (including the principle of Leave no Trace) and inclusive.
    4) under theme camp guidelines… theme camps should strive to only pay people for skills that the campers don’t bring.. ie pay for welder, United Services to suck gray water, someone to build lasers. Payment for activities such as bartenders, servers, djs, masseurs, guest services, guest liaisons, goes against the principles of burning man and is highly discouraged and frowned upon, and will affect placement and early arrival passes. Bringing call girls/escorts to your theme camp to serve your guests is illegal in the state of Nevada.. and against the ideals and principles of burning man.
    5) So it seems like maybe the people who go to the TK/PNP camps do so because maybe they don’t have connections at other camps..and so don’t have a route to be part of cooperative, communal LNT participatory gifting camp. So why doesn’t Burning Man organize a theme camp matching board.. where camps who are looking for people can post with descriptions and details of the type of people they are looking for and people who are looking for camps can post.. and that way skills and knowledge can be shared. and those interested in coming to Burning Man for the first time can find a camp whose culture and gifts align. And once they connect, they can meet in person to make sure its a good fit. This way people who don’t have burning man connections dont have to turn to TK/PNP camps… and can join camps that support and promote the 10 principles.

    • The above post is almost word per word what I wrote on Travis theme camp post. I guess either your on the exact same track and examples or you and me have mind melt.. I said the same thing exactly to him including the welder part.. If it’s a quote throw me a bone please you can find my post on burning man theme camp organizers under Dave benham. Good to hear others agree!

      • You mean this?
        “How about a change in terms Plug n play us what I believe to be the long time art and we’ll planning of getting a camp set up so it’s members can play and usually is interactive since its placed however the term Safari seems to apply to camps who plan and build a camp based on members being able to arrive and have there needs taken care of w min effort on the clients part and no Interactivity required the akronym PnP really applies to any camp or group who has there shit together to get it done so most of the week is having fun and not being merried to camp. So accomodiation, safari and sherpa are all terms associated w paid setups. Just pointing these difference out so people can address the correct issue, yes safari camps should pay for the land they require not just get placed and then at least the money funds the arts and not one person’s gain. Icky”

  40. This is a legitimate and important issue, and I hope you keep pushing it hard on this site, but I find it amusing that you rode BMORG both for wanting someone else to meet for a conversation on their terms and also for not wanting to meet for a conversation on someone else’s terms.

      • Perhaps you are talking about this post:

        …where I criticized BMOrg for trying to summon commenters into their office, rather than engaging in discussion online.

        In the current post, I am criticizing BMOrg for saying “the turnkey camp conversation is really important to us”, but when someone actually goes to the trouble of organizing an online discussion about it, they initially agreed to have someone participate, and then changed their mind and pulled out.

        I see both as the same thing, not opposite: BMOrg saying they care about dialog with the community, but when given the chance, nothing happens. Actions speak louder than words, and in the case of BMOrg Directors commercializing the Playa and creating mega-MOOP camps, their actions speak volumes.

        They have at least 30 full-time employees, as well as an army of thousands of volunteers. Burning Man is not for another 10 months. What could they all possibly be doing that is more important than talking to the community about Commodification Camps? There seems to be no problem finding resources on their internal IP network to come and troll my site under fake names, a pity they couldn’t find someone to sit on a phone conference for 2 hours and take some notes.

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