Thought Police: Don’t Call It A Festival


thought policeYet another preachy Burnier-Than-Thou post at the BJ telling Burners they’re doing it wrong.

For all the things that Burning Man certainly is, one that mindful Burners will vigilantly note that Burning Man is not, is a festival.

The word “festival” encompasses a lot of ideas (film festivals, music festivals, taco festivals etc.) but usually it expresses a period of celebration. Burning Man contains some of the same ingredients, but it’s a totally different recipe. At Burning Man an effigy is raised and eventually burned, but the experience is accompanied as much by tears as by laughter.

Do we celebrate at Burning Man? Absolutely. Ask any Burner why they’re involved, though, and their response will often sound much more purposeful, like you might expect from a teenager running away to join the circus or a monk on a pilgrimage in a foreign land.


Barf. Hate to break it to you, BMorg, but not everybody goes to Burning Man because they want to be a monk on a pilgrimage. Some go to have a great time, that is: entertainment. That is the product that is being offered here.

Hey, if the culture is suffering, it couldn’t be because of Caravansicle or VIP tickets or all the cool celebrities and 100+ licensed vendors on the Playa, or the luxury chopper flights for the Sheriff’s family to 18 course dinners, or BMorg starting their own private airline. These are all important parts of a circus for teenage runaways radical self-reliance and civic responsibility.

Cultural challenges can’t be because of the founders starting to celebrate their 70th birthdays. And there’s no way that a year-round organization of more than 100 full time staff dedicated to spreading the culture could be doing a bad job, because they all got together at Esalen and the GLC and told each other how great they are in a group hug. So that only leaves one group left to blame. We, The Burners. And if we could all just stop calling it a festival, then we wouldn’t have to radically include so many of those gosh darned ravers!

black rock helicopter da vinci

burner air express helicopter

Friends don’t let friends call Burning Man a festival? If that is true, then it proves that BMorg is no friend to Burning Man. Here’s their web site:

Screenshot 2017-04-12 09.59.27.png

“Burning Man isn’t your usual festival”. Makes is sound like it’s a festival, albeit an unusual one.

Here’s the trademark, part of the actual ownership of Burning Man which the founders did not transfer into the non-profit structure, instead creating a new company which earns revenues from licensing Burning Man’s intellectual property that they ironically named Decommodification, LLC.

Screenshot 2017-04-12 10.02.21


That sure makes it sound like an art festival (with live entertainment). Seems pretty clear.

Burning Man’s press kit in 1995 described it thus:

an arts festival, a ritual sacrifice, a spiritual quest, and a post-modern carnival of the absurd” [Source: Burning Man archives, Bancroft Library]

This is also how it was seen by the Black Rock Arts Foundation, the charity non-profit pre-cursor to the Burning Man Project of today:

Screenshot 2017-04-12 15.37.41

Here’s Burning Man founder/owner Danger Ranger calling it a festival on their board of directors page at

Screenshot 2017-04-12 14.16.09.png


And while we’re talking about the Board, we also have Burning Man Project Director Chip Conley and his site Fest300, which tracks the top 300 festivals in the world. Not only is Burning Man a permanent feature in this list, but so are several of its regional subsidiaries. If you look at the mix of the content on the site, Burning Man certainly gets far more coverage at this festival site run by a Burning Man director than any of the other 299 festivals.

In the original August 15, 1994 partnership agreement between Larry Harvey, John Law and Michael Mikel to form Paperman LLC and operate a business under the name Burning Man with its principal place of business in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, it is specifically called a festival:

[Source: Case 3:07-cv-00134-WHA Document 15-1 ]

In 1994, they had no problem making net profit from the sale of the Burning Man Festival videos:

Here’s some bragging from BM founder Harley Dubois that she knows a thing or two about how festivals run. Presumably completely irrelevant experience to Burning Man, since it’s not a festival. So why bother even mentioning it in the BJ?

As founder of Burning Man’s Community Services Department, she knows a thing or two about how festivals run…

“What a treat to be invited to Boom to sit on a panel with founders from other festivals.” [Source]

That sure sounds to me like someone who sees themselves as a founder of a festival.

A search for “festival” on Burning Man’s web site turns up 1130 articles. Sure, there are a few saying “we’re not a festival”, but that seems to be a more recent development.

Screenshot 2017-04-12 14.19.16.png

You can also read about the Burning Man festival in their academics and books about Burning Man sections.

For many years they have had no issues with Burning Man being described as a festival in TIME, Dezeen, Wikipedia, Bloomberg, NPR, Stubhub, ABC News, The Atlantic, Hollywood ReporterWall Street Journal , Washington Post, the New York Times…it would be easy to find more, but I think I’ve made my point.


It’s either

a) all these sources, including respected media publications, the founders and legal documents like the trademark registration, are in error and it’s not a festival. In which case Chip Conley needs to do the right thing and remove all references to Burning Man from his Fest300 site. Burning Man themselves need to say “it’s not a festival” on their web site, instead of “it’s not your usual festival”, and submit a new trademark application.


b) of course it’s a fucking festival. It’s a huge fuck-off party in the desert, with tons of stereo equipment and lasers and glowy shit. In which case this latest bullshit about “friends don’t let friends call it a festival” is simply more “social engineering” from BMorg, a minority group in Black Rock City who think they’re important and leading the way when in fact they are creating the problem. They are trying to keep the ravers out to clean up the city for their VIP spectators, and pointing fingers everywhere but the right direction. This battle was lost a long time ago. The ravers are part of the DNA of this “event”. Look elsewhere for the causes of your cultural decline.

As one commenter so aptly put it in the epic Burn.Life discussion,  the fish rots from the head down. Arguing semantics about such matters as if it’s a festival (after 30 years) or if hundreds of choreographed fire dancers and a multi-hour pyrotechnic show are live entertainment seems like pointless navel-gazing to me. What’s the deal with all these plug-n-plays and on-Playa vendors? What’s the vision for Fly Ranch? These are much more pressing issues that the Burner community would like to see addressed. Who cares if people want to Instagram their burn, so long as they pick up MOOP and be kind to one another. It’s 2017, most of the people at the festival never knew a time without Internet and cellphones. Let them call it anything they want, as long as they participate.



78 comments on “Thought Police: Don’t Call It A Festival

  1. Since the event is not a festival, and is instead intended to transform individuals and the world, here is this year’s topical go-to place:


    This is the safe place for all those undocumented burners who have illegally entered BRC. They can be here with the understanding that the camp will not assist Rangers or LE find them or remove them from BRC. It also is a safe home for undocumented aliens.


  2. This is just a semantics jerk off. It depends on how you define festival. If you look at the vast majority of things called “festivals” Burning Man is not a festival. Most festivals are about having a good time with no greater intention. Burning Man has an intention of transforming individuals and society at large. The only problem with calling it a festival is that calling it that attracts people who aren’t aligned with the intention of Burning Man. They are there to dance to bad music, take loads of mind altering drugs, and leave their shit (sometimes literally) all over the playa. Those aren’t Burners and they are causing a cultural collision that is a genuine problem.


      • In my opinion it is the world’s biggest and best rave. Shame about the cultural decay from treating established camps with big followings as the enemy. Pity that VIPs can still get tickets at the last minute to the sold out event, even laminated VIP passes.

        There is good music there. I do not advocate taking mind altering drugs, and if you ever do want to do that, Burning Man is a relatively dangerous environment for it. cf the death toll, the suicide toll, the annual arrest toll, kidnappings, sexual assaults, attempted murders etc. Go for a hike in Muir Woods instead.


    • Obviously the problem is open ticketing – just letting anyone buy a ticket. Instead, the Borg should carefully choose who can buy a ticket. Hold back a good lot of tickets for approved theme camps – the larger ones everyone knows. Assign a good number of tickets to reward the “volunteers” and others who work for the org. And for the rest, have even random individuals fill out a profile so they can be appropriately vetted before being allowed to even wait in line for buy a ticket. That should let the Borg synthesize who is there, exercising their monumental and proven ability to transform individuals and society at large.

      If the Borg would apply this effort, I am sure they can return the NV Burn to what is was 10 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, and I forgot to suggest that they hold back a few thousand tickets to sell at premium price to those who cannot bother to be involved in creating the event. This will let those attend who can afford to fly in, and pay others to create “their camp.” In this way a wider section of the world can be transformed by the magic that the Borg creates, and they can avoid the confusion, commitment and effort that open ticketing causes.

        )'( + )$( >> )'(


      • The org has been very clear about open ticketing. They are going to stay with it. To do otherwise would be to violate the principle of radical inclusion. The point of the event is transformation, not just of those who go, but of society at large. You can’t accomplish that by only encouraging experienced Burners to go. As far as ticket prices, the idea that Burning Man is making tons of money off the event has been debunked so many times it is pointless to argue. The event basically breaks even. The current ticket structure allows for the low income ticket so Burners of all incomes can attend. Rich people have been coming to Burning Man forever, might as well use that fact to support those who can’t afford a full price ticket.

        The answer to the culture crisis is teaching. Experienced Burners taking newbies under their wing and teaching them the ropes. Teaching them about personal responsibility and community spirit. The big problem is with the bros and the festival kids who treat Burning Man like EDC. First, no MC should be paid beyond their expenses. They should be gifting their art. We sometimes cover other artists expenses, so I think that is fair, but if anyone is getting paid to appear beyond expenses, they shouldn’t be there. Every MC should start their set by talking about the principles. Particularly personal responsibility and leave no trace. If they did that, it would go a long way reconciling the festival kids with the Burners. The Bros are just a waste of human flesh but every society has a few of those.


        • Wow. It is truly amazing how you misunderstood my post.

          Here, since you apparently have a room-temperature IQ, let me explain:

          1. The “open ticketing” I described was what we had in the good ‘ole days, ten years ago, when everyone who wanted to come was there. And that’s when we had volunteers and good camps and all was well.

          2. The changed ticketing I “suggested” was in fact describing what the Borg did after the 2010 sellout, presuming that they had the power and wisdom to decide who could come to maintain or even improve the event. But they mostly did it in response to scalpers making a profit on demand they thought they should reap, and do so now. It is the opposite of radical inclusion. “Radical inclusion” is their rationalization for letting rich people come without participating. Thinking that the current ticketing is “open” and “radical inclusion” shows you are an idiot; just what the Borg want and need.

          3. The current ticketing is part of the cause, if not the whole cause of the present problems of who is there. This is because the Borg in fact do NOT know how to transform people or the world. If they did, they would not have these problems.

          Now go have some milk and cookies. It’s late.


          • My IQ is 148…how’s yours doing? I just didn’t take the bait on your implied conspiracy theories. The main sale is still an open sale. Scalped tickets are cancelled when they are discovered. They tried placing pay and play camps one year to see if that would increase participation, that didn’t work, so they stopped doing it. That’s why you see the fancy RVs staged in Gerlach before the gate opens, because those camps don’t get placement or early entry passes anymore.

            The directed sale is in response to the need of established camps to have a critical mass of participants to create an experience for everyone. Those participants can be experienced Burners or newbies. Usually it’s a combination of both and usually it is the best experience for newbies because they have someone who cares showing them the ropes and they get the idea that Burning Man is about creating something, not seeing something.

            The problem with Burning Man isn’t rich people stealing a lot of tickets. There have been rich people who have come to Burning Man since the beginning and some of them are truly committed Burners. The percentage of tickets lost to scalping is not what is causing the problems at Burning Man. It’s small.

            The current problem at Burning Man is caused by thousands of privileged millennial zombie ravers who don’t understand and don’t care about the culture established over decades and the sound camps that deliberately attract them with paid MCs. They want to turn our home into their party so they can put the “Burning Man” notch on their belt without ever having participated in Burning man.


          • At 148 maybe you did better than me with Div, Grad, Curl and all that. What is apparent is that you are not very good at reading comprehension, logic, and are a slave to group dynamics:

            Let me explain again: Since the sellout, the Borg is explicitly choosing who is there, down to each individual and group sale. You don’t get even the opportunity to wait in line to buy a ticket unless they chose to give you a link. This means that the Borg are wholly and specifically responsible for who is there, and the results of their choices. They chose those “bad” people who are not good burners. No conspiracy theory, just fact. Calling this “open sale” is doublespeak, and you are eating it up.

            When I went, everyone who wanted to go was there. The selection was based on who knew and wanted to be there, from their personal burner network. The Borg has abandoned this approach, resulting in the current bad mix of people. This also shows that, unlike the natural burner network, the Borg in fact do NOT know how to create the right mix of people.


          • A. You have presented zero evidence “the Borg is explicitly choosing who is there, down to each individual and group sale.” B. The org didn’t end the policy of everyone who wants to be there being there, the BLM did.


          • Also, the org never tried to make a specific mix of people. They just said everyone is invited. It sounds like you haven’t been on playa since the event has sold out. It is truly sad to think there are people who want to come home but can’t. It does change the feeling of the event to know there are people who want to be there and couldn’t get tickets. But that is not something the org can control. The BLM sets the limits. The average income of Burners is $53K. Considering there are several billionaires that attend Burning Man that number is relatively low. It’s just above average household income for the US. The problem isn’t rich people spoiling the event. The problem is non-participant EDM zombies, as you would know if you had first hand knowledge. BTW, despite the problems, the Burn is still the most mind-blowing, spiritually challenging, personally impactful happening out there. If you can’t take a significant journey at Burning Man, the problem isn’t the event.


          • “The current problem at Burning Man is caused by thousands of privileged millennial zombie ravers who don’t understand and don’t care about the culture established over decades and the sound camps that deliberately attract them with paid MCs.”

            Those people all had tickets. They either got them through the DS program, or filled out a profile and got a link to buy a ticket. This means that they were chosen by the Borg. More importantly, with the present obsequious ticketing system, many people no longer want to even try to get tickets – many of those are the real burners; I doubt any of them are ravers. The Borg created this problem by the way they curate the ticketing.

            Instead, they should let all past burners, based on the number of tickets they have bought before the sellout, choose who get tickets each year.


          • Based on your logic the Grateful Dead chose every person who ever saw one of their concerts. Newbies are the life blood that keeps the event relevant and transformational. Removing the thing that is attracting those who don’t participate (i.e. paid big name MCs) is a more reliable way to handle the culture problem than some chaotic system where some mass of experienced Burners chooses who comes. That’s the easiest way for it to turn into a camp for the cool kids. Each individual should make the choice “I want to go” and then fight for tickets. If the professional RAVE scene went away we might not even sell out. Solve that problem first, then if there is still a problem, maybe a radical system like you are proposing should be tried.


          • “Based on your logic the Grateful Dead chose every person who ever saw one of their concerts.”

            No. You are wrong. …Perhaps your IQ of “142” was reported in base 5?


          • I didn’t say get rid of electronic music. I said get rid of the paid professionals. If being an MC is your art and you want to gift it, more power to you.


          • “No. You are wrong” is not a response unless you explain how I am wrong, which i doubt you can do. Tickets are for sale. People go online to buy tickets. What’s the difference?


          • “Tickets are for sale. People go online to buy tickets. What’s the difference?”

            To buy a ticket the Borg has to give you a code, either directly based on your profile, or through codes given to your DS group: No Profile/Group = No code = No ticket

            This means that the Borg have to approve and invite you, or your group (for a fixed number), for you to come.

            Ten years ago you simply logged onto the web site, waited in line, and bought a ticket. You could be a Martian on your first trip to Earth to buy a ticket, as long as you had a credit card and a mailing address.

            Understand? Do you need pictures?


          • They are collecting information on demand not selecting who is going. What kind of weird conspiracy theory is that? Do you think they even have the time or capacity to individually approve or deny over 100k applicants? Come on man. There are enough ridiculous theories out there, we don’t need a new one out of left field. Do you know one person who was denied a place in line after registering?


          • When have you ever been asked to go through such a process to get a Grateful Dead concert ticket?


          • I used to get GD tickets through mail order. However there have been lots of times I’ve registered ahead of time to buy tickets. Usually when there is a lottery system (remember the ticketing system was originally setup to be a lottery). We were members of Prince’s fan club for years and ALWAYS had to register to get tickets. In that case we got tickets in the first fifteen rows. The data the org gathers from registration allows them to show the BLM what demand is like. That allows them to argue for increasing the limits on attendees.


          • But seriously, are you arguing that someone at BM org is going through more than 100k registrations and saying “yes” or “no”? Is that your argument? The registration doesn’t have much data attached to it, so someone would have to do additional research on every person to determine if they were worthy. Is that what you think is happening?


          • Whatever they are doing it is degrading the mix of people who attend. It was much better when you just logged in and bought your ticket.


          • Nothing has changed in how they are selling tickets with the exception that certain camps are granted the number of tickets they need to provide their gift to the community. Those tickets go to experienced people and newbies, as directed by the camp in question. The rest of the tickets are first come first served. What has changed is who wants to come to Burning Man. The problem is paid big name EDM acts attracting non-participating raver “kids”. Since there are more of these people trying to get tickets, more of them show up on playa. There were always a limited number of people who want to go out to a god forsaken desert in the middle of the summer and work their ass off building art and forming community. That’s why the event didn’t sell out for most of its history. There are an endless number self-centered zombies who want to party and dance to crappy music. That’s why the mix is off. If you want to fix the mix you have to eliminate the thing that is attracting the folks that are exploiting the event for their own purposes.


      • ” That should let the Borg synthesize who is there”

        So now you want the Borg to create new humans from scratch? Sounds like something they would do, with all the transhumanist kooks in the mix…

        Liked by 1 person

    • >transforming individuals and society at large.

      By perfecting the free labor business model and then franchising that. By manipulating people into thinking that their free labor to the company is some kind of spiritual transformation and a social movement that trickles down to the poor black children of China. They sell this to their workers by distributing ego cool points and creating a social ladder in each little community for people to climb. But dues to the master event must be paid once a year in trade for your enlightenment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I always like “Burning Man Project.” It’s what they called it at the beginning, it’s what I first remember it being referred to, and it infers something you need to participate in, not attend, and that it’s ongoing.

    Almost forgot to mention: Nomad is a silly person.


        • Let it go, man. Just walk away. You’ll feel better. I mean, if Transformus is so great, all this wallowing in your past must feel meaningless.


          • HA! I dare say I have been to more burns than you have in past years, including working theme camps. That I have not been invited to buy an over-priced ticket to support the $20 million+ of overhead they never had 10 yeas ago is the choice of the Borg.

            As for my amusement in the flopping of a dying fish who decided a free ride on the boat is better than swimming, we all have our vices.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Being at a burn is being at a burn. It is quite distinct from the drama off-playa. These discussions are 99% drama and have virtually nothing to do with being at any burn.

            Interestingly enough, the other burns I attend have no off-event drama: you buy your ticket, you go, and you enjoy the event and primarily the fellow burners. The Borg and their NPD behavior dearly love all this off-playa drama where they are the focus and where they are in control.

            The NV burn is what it is, not what the Borg and their acolytes claim it is. I have invested quite some time in Burning Man on-playa before it turned into Burnt Man, and now my contribution is limited to comments here. The reader can decide if my lack of being chosen to attend since the sellout discounts what I have to say here.

            But I do understand that the truth I bring bothers you. You would feel better if just walked away.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, this pissed me off. In my experience, people who say it’s not a festival have exactly one type of festival in mind; a festival featuring jam bands and/or electronic music.* Yes, Burning Man isn’t that kind of festival, and yes, there are some people who use the word “festival” exclusively in reference to that kind of festival. I think it’s dumb to restrict the word “festival” just to that kind of festival, but with there being some cross-over appeal for Burning Man to some people who go to these events, saying “Burning Man isn’t a festival” has some value in educating virgins.

    But this article acknowledges the existence of taco festivals and film festivals, which also aren’t the same thing as jam/EDM music festivals. If a taco festival is a festival, how the hell is Burning Man not a festival?

    *FFS, those aren’t even the only kinds of MUSIC festivals. There are country festivals and Christian rock festivals that have a very different vibe than the music festivals that attract hippies and ravers.


  5. The apt commenter was yours truly. Just commented on the piece at the BJ (Blow Job Journal?).

    What a joke this event has become. They take themselves far too seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, it’s not a festival. It’s a religious experience. But I’m not religious. So I guess it’s a spiritual experience. But I’m not spiritual. I’m not an atheist either and I’m not agnostic. I like to cook and I like salad. Ask me more about me. Me Me Me Me ME MeMEMEMEMEMEME EMEM MEMEMEMEMMEM MEM MEEM MMEEME ME!!!!!


      • I’m sorry again. Thing got out of control and we were just having fun. You can ask me any questions about myself and ME MEM ME EME EMMME MEMM EMEM M EM MEM MEME and me . Don’t be shy. I have a lot of things to tell you about MEM ME ME MEE MME M MEM M EM EM EME… Fuck! I’m sorry, I did it again. But really, I’m available for questions about me. em em emmem memememm eM EME EM MEMM EEMEM EME M EM EMEM EMM MEEEEEEEE!!!!!


        • Seriously, who the fuck are you people? Don’t you care about other people? I pour my heart out to you and no one seems to care. I have feelings, too. It’s like all you care about is you. I’m done with this relationship. Don’t ever call me again – just delete my number. Forget I exist because that’s so easy for you, apparently. The world and the universe revolves around you and no one else. I get it. So don’t ever call me again. I mean it.


          • I just wanted to let you know that I’m on vacation, and I don’t have time for this. I’m and my Dad’s cabin and it doesn’t have electricity so Dad hat to fix the generator so I could charge my phone just because I was hoping you would say something. It wasn’t easy, I hope you know that. I don’t even care, I just want to give you the opportunity to fix this; to make things better. I’m waiting but whatever. I don’t even care. You did this to yourself.


          • Fucking assholes. Dad’s taking me fishing. We’re going to eat fish, I’d like to beat you in the face with it when I catch it. I hope it’s a big one, asshole! I wish you were here. We used to have good times together – forget them !


          • I’m sorry about all of this. You led me to this, but I don’t blame you. It’s your fault but not really. I hope we can be friends after this because we all love Burning Man. It’s so much fun. Last year was great! You made me cry too much, but when I wasn’t crying it was great. Tuesday was really great because you were out of camp most of the day. I don’t blame you for ruining everything, but you did. Take care. (delete my email, too)… Dad thinks you suck.


          • It’s been almost 2 hours since my last post. Yes, I know I’m in Europe and it’s 3am in the US, but that shouldn’t matter. The Internet is 24/7. It’s like you don’t care. Why won’t you reply? I’m a really nice person with hopes and reams for the future.

            I can pull rebar out of the playa with the best of them. I would be a good member of your camp. I just like to have fun.


  7. How about an alternative location where “radical inclusion” is only practiced AFTER gate entry…and “fuck you, turn around and go away” is a possibility, to be meted out (by consensus, if needed) by a group of veteran gatekeepers?


  8. It’s all about creating and maintaining the purposefully elusive and indefinable “magic” – that earns them the 6-figure salaries and first class seats. Once you define their magic, they have lost their thin je ne sais quoi facade, and have to be judged by what they are, not by the promises they make.

    Liked by 1 person

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