Halcyon and Fest300 Defend Plug-n-Plays

haclyonIn our post Selling Out Part II, we mentioned that BMOrg has been silent on the erupting Commodification Camp Controversy. Well, they’ve issued a response – of sorts. While not quite official, pink-haired guru John “Halcyon” Styn, a regular contributor at burningman.com, has written a piece at Fest300, the new web site being promoted by Burning Man Project Director Chip Conley. Some Burners have described the story as “damage control”.

The title is “Don’t Hate The Plug And Plays” – isn’t it great to be told how to think by BTT’s?

There have been reports circulating about the elitist, lavish accommodations at Burning Man that come with a price tag of $17,000 and at the cost of oppressive work conditions for those who set up these “plug-and-play camps.”  The thinking is that  the plug-and-play experience is in direct opposition of the spirit, rules, and magic of Burning Man.

While a “pre-fabricated experience for sale” does conflict with most interpretations of Burning Man’s radical self-reliance principle, I believe the current concern is misdirected. 

Is this an attempt to “re-direct” the concern of Burners? If so, it is being presented to the community as an independent social media message – rather than something from a deep insider on a BMOrg Director’s site. The content is certainly toeing the new corporate line.

Halcyon loves plug-n-play, he’s a huge proponent of it:

I’m actually a huge proponent of creating easily accessible Burn experiences for the super wealthy and influential. I want the movers and shakers of the world to have a taste of true Gifting. I want P. Diddy and Zuckerberg to experience soul-deep joy as they give pancakes to a stranger. I want those experiences to affect the people who truly steer resources in the default world.

A plug-and-play experience lowers the barrier to entry. And in certain scenarios, that is a wonderful thing. For some people, we should make it as easy as possible to welcome them “Home. “ Apparently even Mark Zuckerberg (after helicoptering in) pitched his own tent and took his shift making grilled cheese. 

My mom is another example. 2014 was her first year. She cruised in on Tuesday and flew out on a charter plane (like a boss!) on Thursday. I took care of her set-up, breakdown, bike, air-conditioned lodging, and meals. I have zero guilt for setting my mother up with what was essentially a plug-and-play camp. The challenges to attend Burning Man serve as a highly functional moat for most people—keeping out those who are not yet ready to be here. But these barriers can present insurmountable obstacles to others who deserve to attend Burning Man, they simply need a little help.

…My mom’s experience was admittedly plug-and-play, but she worked hard to be a contributing member of the camp and what we gifted. She served ice cream. She worked our water bar. She even went on an ice run. 

an "Art Cart". This guy is a true Burner

an “Art Cart”. This guy is a true Burner

I think Halcyon may be missing the point. Being able to fly in for 24 hours, hand out some grilled cheese sandwiches, then tell everyone that you’re a Burner IS the problem. We want citizens, not tourists. We want selfless gifting and spectacular art, not spectators and daytrippers on a safari of freaks. We want to party with other Burners who are mad enough to trek out to the desert for this bizarre event…not have to turn the stereo down because your Mom wants to sleep in at 11am. Just because there’s one principle that says “Radical Inclusion”, does that really mean the festival has to become as similar to the Default world as we can possibly make it? Will we soon have a Jail and a Senior Citizen’s home? Homeless Burners? Welfare recipients? Gangs? Google bus protestors? If we have to include all these Default world things, then how about a freaking garbage man?

“Zuck worked a shift! Mom went on an ice run! Grover gave me a Cuban cigar!” wow, look at what amazing Burners. Where would Black Rock City be without them? Let’s all invite more tourists who fly in, take a selfie and tweet it from the Playa, gift something, and fly out again. Because nothing says “radical” like partying with your parents.

According to Halcyon, the issue is not:

  • wealth
  • plug-n-play
  • radical inclusion
  • radical self-reliance

The issue is Gifting and Participation.

In this new “burn for the century” vision, sound camps bringing in the world’s best DJs to gift us is wrong. 5000 people came to your sound camp? That’s not participation, compared to someone’s Mom doing an ice run or Dennis Kucinich giving speeches about Obamacare.

From where Halcyon sits, if Burners want to fly in and stay in $17,000 private rooms and call that Self Reliance, that’s just fine. And just because it’s called Self-Reliance, doesn’t mean you actually have to rely on yourself:

Radical self-reliance means taking care of your shit—or finding someone who will. Sometimes that literally means you find a service to take care of your shit (i.e the saints who empty the Porta-Potties). But it could also mean that you buy pre-made meals or pre-made outfits. We all have our own line of what we consider self-reliance. If you want to mill your own flour and weave your own fabric, my hat is off to you. Self-reliance to me means that I find a great hat to bring to Burning Man. I may pay someone to bring it onto the Playa in a plastic bin so that I can fly to Reno with minimal luggage and then take the Burner Express bus to the Playa. As long as your shit is taken care of, nobody can decide what the degree of self-reliance is right for anyone else

He pays someone to bring his hat? That doesn’t sound real self-reliant to me. That sounds more like a sherpa.

Halcyon wants the elite Commodification Burners to feel ownership of the city. If they didn’t get the chance to Gift enough, it’s the camp organizers fault.

It is a disservice to any member of a plug-and-play camp to give them an experience where they do not have the feeling of being a co-host and being able to offer a gift to the city. I don’t care who cooks your meals or what extravagances you receive. I care about what you give.

I care that you feel ownership of the event. 

 …The true gift is feeling like this is your city. This is your family. And at any given time you will act as a janitor, security guard, therapist, architect, carpenter, and occasionally, king.

That’s the true gift of Burning Man? To be a janitor and security guard? So how does Caravancicle giving its guests popsicles to hand out help – they feel it’s their city because they’re acting as the ice cream man?

Frozen Irony: '...the kids all run up when they hear the music, then I hurl Ice Cream at them 'till they run away.'

Halcyon ends his piece by jumping on the Playa monetization bandwagon and advertising his services. Plug-n-play camps can now employ him as a consultant to help tailor the Burn experience of their tourists guests. Otherwise, they could feel like a king but experience a shallow version of the total package:

If your plug-and-play experience only provides you with the experience of playing the role of king the entire time, then sure, you’ll have a blast—but you will have an extremely shallow version of the total possible experience

…I maintain that there is a place for plug-and-play camping at Burning Man. Those camps simply must work extra hard to integrate their members into the community experience so that everyone understands and embraces the Ten Principles. It is definitely possible. In fact, I will publicly offer my pre-event consulting services to help create optimally integrated experiences for any of these camps and their members. 

But I should warn you…I’m really freakin’ expensive.

Hey, everyone else is getting paid! Might as well advertise your services while you’ve got the chance. Next year there will probably be dozens of highly paid “experience integration consultants” competing for the Commodification Camp dollar.

HuffPo vs NYT – Mainstream Media Battles Over Burners

The Huffington Post has responded to the New York Times article about Burning Man yesterday. It’s amusing to see Huffington Post pretending that they are on the side of the “counter culture”. They must think they’re still a blogger site, forgetting that mainstream media heavyweight AOL Time Warner bought them out for $315 million in 2011.

HuffPo says:

mohawkBilton breaks the news that uber-rich people go to Burning Man, and some of them pay to have a more comfortable, less gritty experience. How shocking! And how timely – this has only been going on since 2005!

…judging from the responses of some (though clearly not all) of the 1%ers who visit the playa, Burning Man still has the capacity to transform and inspire. No, not by doing drugs and running around naked – the twenty-year old cliché which Bilton repeats without the slightest gesture toward actual journalism. But by interacting with new, creative people in intimate ways; by experiencing new forms of art, spirituality, culture, and music; and by celebrating with an ecstasy that would make Nick Bilton cower in his stylish boots.

And no, not necessarily the MDMA kind, Nick. There are several sober camps at Burning Man, many families with kids, and many of us whose idea of a peak experience no longer necessitates chemical enhancement. We have had experiences that you cannot even imagine. And many of them have indeed been in Black Rock City.

Quite a personal attack on Mr Bilton. I found his article to be well written and really on the money, so to speak.

I don’t see drugs and nudity as a cliche, they are a fundamental part of the Burning Man experience. Even if you keep your clothes on and only drink water, you can’t go to Burning Man without seeing nudity and a population where the majority are on mind-altering drugs. I make no distinction between chemicals, mushrooms, weed, or booze – they’re all drugs, let’s not split hairs. The idea that because there are sober camps and a kids area, most Burners don’t do drugs, is ludicrous. What would the “actual journalists” at HuffPo prefer Mr Bilton had written? Perhaps “people used to think Burners do drugs and get naked, but they don’t any more”? 10% of the population goes to the Orgy Dome, FFS.

I’m not sure where “actual journalist” Jay Michaelson gets his information from – quite possibly, his ass. Uber-rich people, the 1% of the 1%, were going to Burning Man way before 2005.

According to the main Black Rock Census, in 2013 more than 50% of Burners earned US$50,000 a year or more. That is enough to put them in the top 0.3% of wealth globally. So it’s fair to say that the majority of Burners are in the 1%.

Next, the Huffington Post gets all Burnier-than-thou on us:

lego raversBurning Man is not a “festival.” Festivals are basically big parties, put on (usually for profit) by organizers, which customers come to visit. Burning Man is a participant-created community experience, coordinated by a non-profit, that is about radical self-expression in all its forms. Spectators are scorned.

Er, so Burning Man is not a festival because it’s co-ordinated by a non-profit? Tell that to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

They rent a remote location, sell tickets, you have to piss in a portaloo, there’s many different famous musicians playing – looks like a festival to me. It also looks like a festival to Decommodification, LLC, the private for-profit corporation that now owns the royalties and rights to the Burning Man trademarks. What trademarks are they? You know, the ones in the category of “festivals”:


Time for some more “actual journalism”:

gay boysIt’s no surprise to me that great ideas come out of Burning Man, because some of mine did as well…

The people diluting Burning Man aren’t the techies, as irritating as they are. They are the frat boys, douchebag EDM-party people, and others who come because they hear accounts like Bilton’s, and want to get in on the action. (And of course, the scalpers who feed them.) They are the people who think “strange clothing,” rather than self-expression, is the point – and so they all tend to look alike. I wonder if Bilton looked like them.

And your data here is based on what, Jay? Did you interview 70,000 people? “They all look alike” sounds like racism to me.

Scalping is not a problem at Burning Man, according to its founder Larry Harvey. Neither are New York Times readers. The EDM party people have been there for 20 years, and guess what: most of them aren’t douchebags. Most of them are Burners! For every family not doing any drugs except sugar and coffee in Kidsville, there are 30 Burners on the dance floor of a major sound camp flying off their face.  Have a look at Robot Heart on any given sunrise, there are thousands if not tens of thousands of people there for the music – and that is just one art car. However much the BTT’s want to think people go to Burning Man for TEDx talks and Polyamory workshops and networking and saving the world – the reality is, most of the people are there to RAGE for a week.

Here’s some real journalism for you. Cold, hard, facts. The people diluting Burning Man are its owners. The way they dilute it is deciding to up the population cap from 50,000 to 70,000, and possibly even further. The magical distribution of tickets that leads to 40% Virgins – either cunningly planned, or a coincidence that has mysteriously repeated every year since the lottery – is responsible for a large influx of “not cool enough to be a real Burner” types. The media blitz that lures the limousine liberals is due to BMOrg’s many full-time PR people, not the New York Times.

Face facts, Burners. Gifting free booze and free international DJs to 70,000 people costs money. A lot of it. None of it is BMOrg’s, and most of it is from rich people. Thank you, rich people – you’re welcome.