Berning Man: Notes On For-Profit Cultural Remoras

For everyone who lives outside of San Francisco, this post should come with little surprise. However, in speaking to many of my friends in “The City,” I was reminded that they don’t have to deal with a creeping phenomenon that people from New York, Boston, DC, Seattle & other satellite regions have been tolerating for years. That being: Burner Posers.

There is a small but growing community of producers who have realized that Burning Man-flavored parties tend to be the best parties in any given city. If you invite a bunch of Burners, have similar music to what you’d hear at a Burner event (warning, varies from city to city), throw it somewhere that doesn’t have a velvet rope & dot your Facebook invite with Burning Man-infused language, you win! People flock to your event to celebrate the costumes, deco & energy of a good crowd, volunteers work the party for free, and you make out like bandits because you’re not actually building a camp at that thing in the desert.

While this may just sound like someone showing up to a Kostume Kult party wearing their trading desk/investment banking costume, getting drunk & yelling fag a little too loudly to their friends, it goes much deeper than that. These are definitely the parties with girls rocking headdresses. These are definitely the parties that need a little reminder about inappropriate touch. These are the parties with $6.00 water. These are the parties with bottle service. Yes, that’s right, recently, someone sent me an event invite with pictures of the temple & talked about how you could get bottle service. It was literally titled “Berning Man” and featured VIP contact numbers to call ahead to get your table reserved. The event was taken down shortly after, but looked to be serious, unfortunately.

I bring this up because I think it’s important to realize that the farther you get from the epicenter of Burner culture, the more distorted the messaging & the more non-Burner organizations exploit the loose understanding of what those parties are.  They have trouble with consent, and you might have a problem with random people there.

Of course, you couldn’t get away with it in San Francisco and other places along the California coast. Why would I go to a fake burner party if Opulent Temple or False Profit were doing something the same night. However, in NYC, we get a legit Burner party once a month, if that? When DiSORIENT & Kostume Kult are busy building their bonkers installations for the Esplanade, weeks go by. Unless you’re heading to the Hamptons on a regular basis, things do dry up a little bit. 

While it’s easy to just brush these parties aside as posers & brand building awareness, one of the central issues I have with them is their rejection of the 10 principles. A lot of these events aren’t camp-oriented, they don’t build community, they’re in no way radically inclusive & there is no gifting or leave no trace mentality. These parties don’t fundraise for dope camps, though they may still ask you to work for free. I think we’ve all been to at least 1 or 2 of these events. These shindigs talk about gifting & decommodification, then charge 7 bucks for water & can’t be bothered to care about a keg pull that’s half foam.

Many of you reading this may not think it’s your problem and you’d largely be right. I’d say we all have a responsibility to respect the principles & vote with our dollars as often as we can. If there’s one thing we can do, it’s support events that are thrown the right way, and go to causes that we all can believe in. Like, art on the playa and social activism in our cities. Not “Let’s help the promoter explore his coke habit.” What do you think? Is burner poser culture a problem? Just harmless fun for the kids? Is it causing non-Burners to get a distorted view of what true Burning Man events are supposed to be? Light up the comments & give me an earful either way.

20 comments on “Berning Man: Notes On For-Profit Cultural Remoras

  1. This isn’t an issue at all in fly-over country where I live. We do have regular music festivals now adding art installations and transformational festivals, but they aren’t targeting burners, just copying elements of Burning Man (and festivals copying BM is a national trend). To be sure, fuck promoters who are targeting burners as an audience and seeking a profit, but we don’t have that here.

    From what I know of the San Francisco burner scene I’m not very impressed (especially given how many burners live in the Bay Area). The opportunities for getting involved with building an art piece are way better in the Bay than here, but what else is there? A decompression put on by BMORG? Everywhere else, the community throws the decompression. Frequent fundraiser parties for theme camps? Sure, we don’t have those, but I think they are at the root of the problem you describe.

    How many people at a Kostume Kult fundraiser will be going to TTITD in a given year? If you’re not going to TTITD, you’re not going to see anything out of the funds raised. KK does good stuff with the money they raise, but they are (just like the remoras) seeking a profit. You’re already losing some of the 10 principles by throwing a profit seeking event, even if the profit goes to make the big burn more awesome. It’s no surprise that some people will seek to exploit the burner audience by throwing similar events that line their own pockets. The problem is that (from what I’m aware of) the NYC and SF burner scenes largely revolve around theme camp fundraisers. And with a demand for more burner events than the theme camps provide, profit seeking remoras step in to fill the gap. Maybe there are less gaps in SF than NYC.

    Also, theme camp fundraisers and remora events both boil down to basically a night at a club. Sure, it’s fun to party with a bunch of burners in a club, but there’s so much stuff that goes on at a burn that can’t happen in a club environment. If all you have going on locally is club nights, you’re getting a pretty limited view of burner culture.

    I like my local scene. We have regular free meet-ups which strengthen the community (although there’s nothing really burnery about them other than the attendees). We have 5 weekend long burns in my state and another 5 in a six hour drive of me; all 10 coordinate their schedules, so there is basically a burn every other week all summer long (not to mention those that are a little further away). And then there are a couple events in the winter that are basically club nights.

  2. I can hear the Remora… or is it Tinnitus?

    Definitely the wiki remora. *Wanders off to fuel my diesel genny.*

  3. On a completely different scale, but with the same possible ramifications, are those individuals who lay claim to Burner status without any real understanding (or experience) with living the 10 Principles. They steal our stories and claim them as their own, copy our costumes, and hover around the fringe of cultures, like annoying and potentially dangerous blood-suckers.

    These copycats, large and small, are performing an act of identity theft. In both cases, something valuable is claimed and exchanged for unearned benefits. Those who pose as Burners or who profit from inauthentic Burner events are thieves that threaten the social capital that true Burners have worked hard to create.

  4. AMEN.

    I do the Thunder Gumbo parties in NYC. I spend at least 60 hours producing each one for free. Our DJ’s play for cab fare except for the occasional out of town guest who we help pay for plane fare. Our deco team works for free. But then our profits go towards basic work on our Extremely Expensive Art Car. It’s a slow and challenging way to make 3 grand, but it’s a great way to build relationships.

    I am super, duper tired of some promoters who I don’t need to name who promote to an existing burner community, steal the most shallow of the fashion trends from said community, and then fail to give one fucking cent back to the community or pay their employees a reasonable wage. It is the fucking worst. The crowd is %100 drugs. The deco is done by a couple small shops that I like supporting as they are fabricators trying to make a living but it is the same shops providing the same stuff to the same 3 parties. They are boring + scum.

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