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.