The Great BMOrg Cash-Out of 2010-2017, $35-47 Million: an Updated Estimate

A guest post from our reader A Balanced Perspective, updating his post earlier this year.

breaking bad money


 

The BMOrg Cash Out of 2010-2017, $35-$47 Million, an Updated Estimate

by A Balanced Perspective

I penned The Great BMOrg Cash Out of 2010 to 2016 – $28 Million to $45 Million, Est post in May. This post is an updated estimate of the BMOrg’s cash out based on knowledge gained in the prior few months.

Despite numerous requests to prove anything incorrect within the original post, no person proved anything incorrect, except I didn’t include the cash from images and trademarks licensing revenue streams; I was naive in the belief of California 501(c)3 laws requiring disclosure of the BMOrg’s large conflicts of interest; DPW labourers are employees, not contractors as I believed, but the cash they were paid is not sufficient to change the estimate; and the other Burning Man Project (the Project) board members were elected for terms of two years, not one year. I penned the post upon this rubbish solely from a belief in fair play, a belief of the awesome Burning Man community, and all awesome Burners whom contribute to throwing the incredible crowd sourced parties, must be treated, by the BMOrg, in a fair manner.

In the manner of the prior estimate, this estimate is based upon simple maths on their statements, their numbers, and their corporate records.

Click on the numerous links for the supporting statements, numbers, and corporate records. Might any person might prove any number or statement to be incorrect, please do so within the comments on this site.

Please disclose if you have signed any contract to be a representative of the BMOrg, or if you are a member of their social media crew. I’m much obliged, Elizabeth, for editing my draft, and to a brace of our brilliant mates for their assistance towards an improved understanding of the financial maneuvers.

A summary of their $35 million to $47 million cash out, mostly tax free, capitalistic cash out, based on simple maths on their afterburn reports, the Scribe’s brilliant SFBG reporting, Decommodification Incorporated and Clarification of Decommodification posts by burnersxxx, on their corporate records, and Larry Harvey’s statements.

Background and Organizational Summary

Black Rock City LLC (BRC LLC) was incorporated in 1999 with Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, William Roger Peterson, Crimson Rose Elliot Peterson, Michael Danger Ranger Mikel, and Harley Dubois as owners. They are permanent Project board members, per the Project’s bylaws. Marian is the Project’s CEO and/or President, Larry is the Project’s Executive Director, William Roger Peterson as the Project’s Director of Nevada Relations and Special Projects, and Harley Dubois is the Project’s Transition Manager and Black Rock City Manager. I refer to these six as the BMOrg within this post, in due of they are in near total control over their for-profit and non-profit corporate entities. Their precise salaries and positions upon the Project may be obtained by viewing and copying the minutes of the Project board meetings, physically available to any person venturing to their Alabama Street headquarters, as per CA 501(c)3 law and page 36 of the Project’s bylaws.

At the conclusion of 2013, they donated the BRC LLC, which does business as Burning Man, and manages the Burning Man event, to the 501(c)3 non-profit Project, and thus obtained a huge tax deduction in return. The BRC LLC is presently a for-profit subsidiary corporation of the 501(c)3 Project, all profits from the Burning Man event flow up onto the Project’s ledger.

The Great BMOrg Cash Out of 2010 to 2017

2010:
a) Over $4 million of salary. Payroll increased from $2.8 million in 2009 to $7.2 million in 2010, with solely 30 salary employees, temporary salary labourers (DPW), and the six LLC owners to pay as Senior Staff. The contract labourers were paid solely $231,783, and legal and consultants were paid $1,468,000. In 2009, the contract labourers were paid $161,000, thus the increase of payroll isn’t DPW being switched from contract labourers to payroll, it’s a legitimate $4.4 million increase year over year. Thus, unless the salaried employees were paid, on average, over $90,000 each, or the pay of DPW labourers increased far over $500,000, the six prior BRC LLC owners took over $4 million of payroll towards their pockets. Kudos to Woody for providing a spreadsheet clearly illustrating the huge increase of their salaries from 2009 to 2010.

2011:

a) $4 million of salary from $7.1 million of payroll

2012:
a) $4 million of salary from $7.8 million of payroll

b) $100,000 from licence of images. Decommodification LLC, their pass-through royalties company, was formed in November 2010. The BMOrg, previously through their BRC LLC, has been taking 10% of the revenue from licensing of images since 2002. It is believed the 10% levy, a site fee, or a percenage of profits is now going to their for-profit licensing royalties company, Decommodification LLC.

2013:
a) Over $3 million of salary from $7.0 million of payroll.

b) $300,000 from licence of images, primarily from Spark: A Burning Man Story, to their Decommodification LLC. I’m not of the ability to estimate a value upon their income from their Youtube channel, their Ignite! site, print, or upon other potential sources of image licence revenues, thus, I didn’t include other potential revenues in this estimate.

c) $1,000,000 from the licence of their Burning Man(TM) name and trademarks )'(, paid to their Decommodification LLC. The Burning Man(TM) name, and other trademarks, were previously transferred from their BRC LLC to their Decommodification LLC. The BMOrg stated $4.5 million was paid to the BLM, but the BLM, upon being queried, stated they received $3.5 million. Since the original afterburn line was “BLM and other usage fees, and in due of their false statement, I’m estimating the missing $1 million was a usage fee for licensing the Burning Man(TM) name and trademarks. The BMOrg is encouraged to inform us, and the Reno Gazette Journal, where’s the missing $1 million?

d) End of 2013, $1 million to $4 million of cash and properties. They donated their BRC LLC to the 501(c)3 non-profit Project, gifting the event back to the community, as was repeated throughout Spark, though first the BRC LLC was likely stripped of cash towards their pockets, and property towards Black Rock City Properties LLC, of unknown ownership. The cash was likely not a large amount, most profits from prior burns were apparently taken as salaries and trademark licence levies. We won’t know the amount of cash stripped from the BRC LLC ledger prior to the donation, despite Larry stating otherwise, we’ll only know, sometime in 2016, the cash remaining on the ledger post the donation.

They obtained brilliant advice on this donation. They are already taking most of the cash profits from seven years of the Burning Man(TM) event towards their pockets, so how might they gain even more cash? Their donation of the BRC LLC towards the 501(c)3 Project results in their cash out being mostly tax free, perhaps a tax deduction of $30 million to $45 million, 1x or 1.5x sales, due to the future revenues of the BRC LLC from the Burning Man(TM) event, and comparable valuations from purchases of EDM rave festivals. Perchance, they deferred salary from prior years to 2013, terming it a loan, and obtained the benefit of gaining more cash tax free.

2014:
a) $4 million to $6 million from 2014 ticket sales, held in reserve, or held in escrow, for the purchase of the Burning Man(TM) name and trademarks from their Decommodification LLC in early 2017. That’s when Larry states they will be paid for their value, that’s when they will officially cash out. I estimated $4 million of each year of 2014, 2015, and 2016, in due of that was their, by simple maths upon their numbers, prior salary, it would be unreasonable to estimate a smaller number. The $6 million high estimate is due to the Burning Man event revenues increasing from $12 million in 2009, the year prior to their salaries were first increased to over $4 million, to nearly $30 million in 2014. Thus, $6 million is not an unreasonable estimate. This results in a total payment of $12 million to $18 million for the Burning Man(TM) name, logo )$( and other trademarks in early 2017.

The BRC LLC places the cash in reserve, or escrow, each year, but it’s not a completed deal. The value of the Burning Man(TM) trademarks increased since the price might have been set in 2011, and the acceptance of this amount is subject to a vote by the six former BRC LLC owners, though their vote does have to be unanimous to not accept the cash. Financial maneuvers might also occur, perchance donating Decommodification LLC to the 501(c)3 Project for additional tax deductions, after the assets of Decommodification LLC are stripped away to yet another LLC, in the same manner as the BRC LLC was donated to the Project, after the trademarks and other assets were stripped towards their Decommodification LLC.

Mandatory conditions were attached upon the donation of the BRC LLC to the Project, as is the usual for large donations, and some of the conditions are reflected within the Project bylaws, updated at the time of the donation. Burners have not been informed of these conditions, and the plan, might be something Burners don’t expect at all.

b) 500,000 to $1 million in salaries. They are entitled to reasonable salaries for their positions on the 501(c)3 Project. As stated prior, their precise positions and salaries are available on the Project board meetings minutes.

c) $1 million for licence of the Burning Man(TM) trademarks. The $1 million amount in 2013, perchance was decided during the middle of 2013, thus the licence levy might be higher than $1 million for the complete year of 2014.

d) $500,000 to $800,000 for licence of images of Burning Man, primarily from Spark: A Burning Man Story, distributed on Netflix, Showtime, and other channels. The ticket terms state the licensing of images at Burning Man, i.e., images of the art, mutant vehicles, theme camps, and Burners, is controlled by the BRC LLC, and Decommodification LLC. There is no rationale their for-profit Decommodification LLC is within the ticket terms, other than to take licensing revenues towards their pockets.

Thus, by this simple estimate based upon their numbers and their statements, in 2014 Where Your Ticket Money Goes  is $85 to $130 of each ticket is directed towards their pockets, in place of towards awesome Burners throwing this crowd sourced party.

2015:
a) $4 million to $6 million from 2015 ticket sales, held in reserve, or held in escrow, for the purchase of the Burning Man(TM) name and other trademarks from their Decommodification LLC in early 2017.

b) $500,000 to $1 million in reasonable salaries.

c) $1 million for licence of the Burning Man(TM) trademarks, paid to their Decommodification LLC.

d) $400,000 to $800,000 for licence of images of Burning Man, paid to their Decommodification LLC.

2016:
a) $4 million to $6 million from 2016 ticket sales, held in reserve, or held in escrow, for the purchase of the Burning Man(TM) name and trademarks from their Decommodification LLC in early 2017,

b) $500,000 to $1 million in reasonable salaries.

c) $1 million for licence of the Burning Man(TM) trademarks, paid to their Decommodification LLC.

d) $400,000 to $800,000 for licence of images of Burning Man, paid to their Decommodification LLC.

Early 2017:

As penned within this estimate, the Burning Man Project, or its BRC LLC subsidiary, is scheduled to purchase the trademarks from Decommodification LLC, including the Burning Man(TM) name, )$( logo, and additional trademarks, such as Decompression(TM) and Decommodification(TM). That’s when they’ll be paid for their value.

Thus, $35 million to $47 million of cash is directed towards minting them, mostly tax free. Upon averages, each of the six former BRC LLC owners will pocket as much cash as was commissioned by them for all the art, including the temples, in the entire history of Burning Man, which is less than $7 million, per the afterburn reports.

cash cowIF ANY PERSON MIGHT PROVE ANY OF THIS ESTIMATE TO BE INCORRECT, PLEASE DO SO IN THE COMMENTS BELOW ON THIS SITE. I would be very much obliged, towards obtaining improved information upon their seven year cash out.

Not a shabby capitalistic pocketing for a bottom up crowd sourced party that awesome Burners have thrown for two decades upon our theme camps, mutant vehicles, art projects, and the labours of thousands of Burner volunteers.
.
.
.
.
Opinion – A Fair Manner Forward

The BMOrg must:

a) Disclose the details of their cash out to numerous people whom donate cash, art, and volunteer labour to the 501(c)3 Project. The BMOrg must also disclose their large conflicts of interest to thousands of donors gifting art, volunteer labour, mutant vehicles, sound camps, theme camps, and others providing entertainment to ticket buyers. Tickets sold by Black Rock City LLC, dba Burning Man, a subsidiary corporation of the Project, is the primary source of cash going into the pockets of the six people controlling these corporations. They are firmly in control of the Project, and most are also on the BRC LLC board. I believe it dishonourable of them to hide, from donors, the cash directed to their pockets through bureaucratic processes, misdirections and omissions, and false statements, while remaining firmly in control. I’m of the opinion they must act in the manner people believe a 501(c)3, licensed by the State of California, and receiving donations, must act.

b) Disclose the mandatory conditions attached to the donation of the BRC LLC to the Project. Burning Man states, “Over time, however, it is likely that the event will evolve in ways that support the efforts of the non-profit in more distinct ways than are currently apparent or even yet explored“. It is fair for Burners to know, and have great input, into the 100 year plan.

c) Place independent Burners, whom truly represent the awesome Burning Man community, on the Project Board, in place of your mates, fund managers and corporate executives.

d) Distribute most tickets through the awesome Burning Man communities, in place of over the Internet. Rebuild the Burner community in this manner. If people desire tickets, they might obtain tickets by making connections within the Burner community by contributing to the bottom up crowd sourced parties. Permit volunteers to purchase several tickets for their mates. Gift several thousand tickets to mutant vehicle owners, sound camps, theme camps providing entertainment, and artists, whom contribute mightedly towards throwing the crowd sourced party on the playa. Permit them to sell the tickets, at listed price, to their campers and others to defray the costs of their incredible gifts to the community, and of providing entertainment to the BMOrg’s ticket buyers.

e) Negotiate a fair contract with the awesome artists, collectively. Fair is not divide and conquer, nor reimbursing artists solely 30% to 40% of their costs, solely $12 of each $380 or $650 ticket sold to Safari Camps.

f) Pay those whom labour, for more than a brace of weeks, a fair wage. Might you pay an additional 100 awesome DPW arses an hourly wage of $15 for two months, it is $500,000, solely $8 of each $380 or $650 Safari Camp ticket. Add in another $4 per ticket for raising the wages paid towards the DPW to a fair value.

‘ABalancedPerspective’


 

[Update 12/1/14 2:49pm]

Within this estimate, I estimated for 2010, over $4 million of salaries were paid towards the six prior BRC LLC owners, in due of the payroll rising from $2.8 million in 2009, to $7.2 million within 2010, with solely 30 salary employees, as Larry stated to the sfpublicpress.

The BMOrg, upon their new burningman.org website, states they, at present, have 70 employees or contractors labouring for the Burning Man Project. Except, the estimate of their cashout for 2014 to 2017 does not have anything, in the least, to do in regards of the number of employees or contractors at the present time. Their cashout, of 2014 to 2017, is payment for their Burning Man(TM) trademarks in early 2017, licence of their Burning Man(TM) trademarks each year, licence payments, from others, for images of Burning Man, and salaries in due of their positions upon the Burning Man Project. All above, except salaries, by appearance, are in due of contracts penned prior to 2014.

Please view the post, above, for this information, with payment towards them, of an estimated $85 to $130 of each ticket sold for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 burns

Exploring the Other: 2014 Edition

Burning Man requires its Regional Events to have transparent financials, donate to their charities, and obtain a license to use their trademarks. For themselves, the requirements are not so strict. Sure, they have to disclose the activities of their non-profits to the IRS. And they share numbers with us in their Afterburn reports. The Afterburn numbers are not audited as far as we can tell, and are not a complete financial statement. Significantly, Revenues are left out. Also significantly, very general category headings are used for expense items. We know that Decommodification, LLC, a private, for-profit company, owns all the rights to the trademarks, images, videos, soundtracks, fine art, and other intellectual property of the event. We believe that Black Rock City, LLC pays royalties to Decommodification, LLC, to call their event in the Nevada desert “Burning Man”. But there is no line item for this payment. How much are those royalties? That’s a secret.

cartoon_accounting_2In order to estimate it, some forensic accounting is required. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And Burners.Me is the only site on the Internet that is even trying.

Last month, right before the event, Burning Man added a page to their site explaining “where does my ticket money go”. The page appears to be an “orphan”, which means it is not linked to by any other page there. The Reno Gazette-Journal somehow found this page, describing it as an “announcement”, and used it as a reference for their story “Where does your ticket money go?”. The Journal said:

Burning Man announced today where ticket sales money goes to shed light on why tickets cost what they do

We looked for the announcement on their web site, their press page, their blog, and in their JackRabbit speaks newsletter – couldn’t find it. Some claimed they posted it to Facebook, but it doesn’t appear in their official feed. The page seems like it was added to the site for the purpose of the RGJ story. It is filed under “What is Burning Man?”, but that page has no link to it.

Water please, he's got mud on his advertising!Was it really an announcement, designed to shed light? Or was it a ruse, designed to muddy the waters and confuse the language, figures, and facts used in public discussions of the event?

The story raised an issue with us here. Both Burning Man, and the RGJ, were claiming that “BLM fees were $4.5 million”. The entry in the Afterburn accounts says “BLM and Other”. So what is the Other? And how much are the payments to them?

We have speculated that “Other” is Decommodification, LLC. Payments to them may be lumped together in this figure, and may also be included in “Taxes and Other Licensing Fees”. We said:

the reason that the word “other” is significant in the original report is that in 2013, this category jumped from $1.8m to $4.5m – with no explanation given for the gigantic leap ($2,654,919 gain). “Taxes and Licenses” jumped from $154,994 to $1,021,851, also without explanation ($866,857 gain). At the same time, “Decommodification LLC owns the rights to everything” (or words to that effect) is now on all the tickets. Coincidence? Well the fact that BMOrg is trying to gloss over it by using increasingly vague language makes that seem even less likely.

…What is interesting here is the subtle use of language to mask truth. The carefully chosen words “BLM and Other Usage Fees” are repeated and slightly distorted, through a technique sometimes called “Chinese whispers”, to become “BLM manages the event…2013 fees”.

The distorted information has been picked up and repeated by many other sites: Las Vegas Sun, High Country NewsRedditRon’s Log, Yahoo Finance, the Black Rock Beacon.

So who is correct? Burning Man themselves? Mainstream media newspapers? Or little ‘ole us, puny and pesky “social media bloggers”?

It’s us, of course. RGJ is wrong, and BMOrg are either misleading us (accidentally or deliberately), outright lying, or (to be charitable) are merely ignorant and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

How do we know? Because we went to the source. The Federal Bureau of Land Management.

Here’s what BMOrg said:

The Black Rock Desert is public land, but we don’t get to use it for free. It also takes a lot of equipment and hours of labor to put things together out there. The following are just a few highlights of costs we incurred in 2013:

  • The space we use is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and our 2013 fees to them totaled $4,522,952.

Here’s what the RGJ said:

The following are some of the costs Burning Man said it incurred in 2013:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the land the event is held on: 2013 fees totaled $4,522,952;

Here’s what Gene Seidlitz, chief of the Winnemucca-based Black Rock Field Office of the BLM, and the guy responsible for the Burning Man permit, said in response to our enquiries:

Burning Man is required to pay fees and costs to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as part of a Special Recreation Permit (SRP) issued by BLM to Burning Man each year.  Fees are set by Congress and are currently 3% of revenue related to the SRP.  For Burning Man this includes 3% of ticket sales, ice & coffee sales and other miscellaneous revenue.  The funds go toward BLM’s overall program management within the Winnemucca District with a priority in the Black Rock Field Office.

Burning Man also reimburses (cost recovery) BLM for all reasonable and justifiable costs related to BLM’s administration of the SRP.   Processing includes, but not be limited to, the following: coordination, administration and approval of any necessary NEPA compliance; consultation with appropriate Federal, State, Tribal, and local officials; preparation of the administrative record and resolving any protests, appeals and litigation that might result from the proposal, preparation of all decisions and authorizations resulting from those decisions, monitoring the construction, operation and termination of any resultant authorization; and other necessary processing actions consistent with a final decision.

It seems that those costs jumped, big time, between 2012 and 2013:

In 2012 BLM did a comprehensive analysis of the 2011 operations after the event and determined the BLM needed and would enhance the BLM planning and implementation in 2013 to ensure public health and safety for an event of 70,000 participants in a remote environment was adequately addressed.  As a result BLM’s costs increased from $1.2 million to $2.8 million that year. This was the largest jump in BLM’s costs in the history of Burning Man. Before and since the cost increases have been more incremental and were the result to inflation, growth of the event, etc.

So did the BLM charge Burning Man $4.5 million in 2013, or less?

BLM charged BRC approximately $2.8 M  for costs and approximately $685,000 were the 3% revenue for 2013

Did the BLM do anything to enforce the Vehicle Pass restrictions, or was this something Burning Man came up with?

BRC instituted the vehicle pass program.  This was not something that BLM enforced.

We wondered if the 35,000 vehicle passes were counted in any way by the authorities. It appears not, so it was up to BMOrg to issue them and regulate itself. If they sold more than the stated limit of 35,000, their punishment would be to have more profit forced upon them. If enterprising BMOrg insiders wanted to make some cash on the side, all they needed to do was sell a few vehicle passes on the black secondary market. From the moment they were released, they were for sale for 4-5x face value on Stubhub, and remained at a premium right up until the week of the event. We’ve heard no stories of people being rejected at the Gayte for not having vehicle passes, so I think we can safely assume that they sold more there to whoever required them. Whether or not the new vehicle tax did anything about the environmental footprint of the event (which we were told was the reason for the initiative) is unknown; it definitely was a nice $1.4m+ cash drop to the bottom line for BMOrg (which we speculated was the reason for the initiative).

2014 vehicle pass pricesComing back to the BLM figures, we have:

Costs: $2,800,000

Revenue share: $685,000

At 3%, this means the event revenues were $22,833,000.

We said:

According to the official numbers, in 2013 there were 61,000 tickets sold ($23.23 million). This includes a last minute release of 3000 “OMG” tickets, when the BLM approved a population cap increase. Also according to the official numbers, 69,613 attended the event. What gives? Did anyone at BMOrg make money from the unexpected 8,613 extra people (ticket value: $3.3 million)? Or were these tickets handed out for free to volunteers, who sold them on Stubhub or STEP for personal gain? How much was made from gate sales?

At the time, we were pooh-poohed, “there are no gate sales”. Of course there are, and it has now come out from independent sources that they are called Exception tickets.

In theory, the BLM revenue share should also include sales from ice, coffee, gasoline, propane, Plug-n-Play camps, and any of the other things for sale on the Playa – in 2013, there were 44 licensed vendor permits issued for Burning Man. We have estimated ice and coffee sales as above $1 million annually.

Either BMOrg gave out 1000+ free tickets that they were supposed to sell, in addition to the 8,613 free tickets from the population cap…or there is some discrepancy in the revenues being reported to the BLM.

Could the discrepancy come from the 3000 “Holiday tickets” ($650 – this year, sold at the end of January), and 4000 Low Income tickets ($190)? Back in the day, there was a suggestion that Burners paying the enhanced price were subsidizing the low income Burners. If you count the $650 tickets as $380 (the difference being a donation off-Playa to BMP, perhaps), and keep the Low Income at $190, you get $22,420,000 – which allows for a further $413,000 of additional on-Playa revenues. It seems like ice and coffee alone would be more, and the BLM is supposed to get a share of gross revenues, not net.

In a speech in Tokyo earlier this year, BMOrg CEO Marian Goodell said their revenues were $30 million a year. If she was referring to 2013 – and why wouldn’t she be, since 2014 hadn’t happened yet – then there is $8,167,000 that BMOrg makes off-Playa, in addition to the annual Black Rock desert event. Where does this money come from? It’s hard to imagine it’s from donations, since according to the Burning Man Project’s IRS Form 990, their funding for 2012 was $591,672.

The true figure for “BLM fees” in 2013 is $3,485,000.

Which means “other” is $1,037,952.

Where does this money go?

We have no direct proof that it is to Decommodification, LLC, but I can’t think of any other candidates. The State of Nevada imposes a 5% “live entertainment tax”, but Burning Man and EDC are exempt as outdoor festivals. There are separate line items for taxes, anyway. “Taxes and Licenses” also made a massive, unexplained leap: from $154,994 (2012) to $1,021,851 (2013) – an $866,857 gain. Possibly, some or all of this increase could be going to license the trademark in addition to the Mysterious Other. We know now that Decommodification, LLC permits them to call their 30-year old party “Burning Man”, by licensing “their” intellectual property back to Black Rock City LLC. It seems strange that BMOrg would mis-state their own figures by 23%, and the way the Where Does My Ticket Money Go “announcement” was made is suspicious.

To put the Mysterious Other in context, it is more than the payments for art ($830,280) and donations to local charities ($199,329) combined.

As always, if anyone has any further information, explanation, or details, please share.

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past. . .

by Whatsblem the Pro

war

Controversy over photography, film-making, advertising, and commerce at Burning Man is both constant in the burner community, and nothing new. A whole playbook of common arguments from both sides of all that controversy has accumulated over the years; in the case of statements made by Black Rock City, LLC – the corporation that runs Burning Man – they form a revealing pattern.

In 2005, a couple of burners who go by ‘Chai Guy’ and ‘DaBomb’ attempted to hold Black Rock City, LLC’s feet to the fire over a deal the LLC made with the Discovery Channel and the New York Times, in which they agreed to allow the filming of an episode of “Only in America” on the playa. Chai Guy and DaBomb launched a letter-writing campaign and a petition; the subsequent back-and-forth with Black Rock City, LLC raised some important questions and highlighted some important points:

  • A site fee was paid by a joint venture of the Discovery Channel and the New York Times. How much was it, and what was the money used for?
  • Why is it OK for Black Rock City, LLC to commercialize pictures and video of the event, when this goes against both the rules dictated to participants by the LLC, and the stated philosophy behind the event as expounded upon by Larry Harvey in numerous speeches and texts?
  • Why is there no transparency in such business deals, which are made on behalf of the entire community? What does the LLC have to hide, if not corruption and profit-taking on the part of the LLC’s Board of Directors?
  • If profit is being made from images of participants and the art they build with their own money and labor, why isn’t it being shared with those participants? For that matter, why isn’t the profit from ticket sales being shared with the artists who contribute their time, labor, and genius to the event?

Black Rock City, LLC’s initial response to the flap raised by Chai Guy and DaBomb was to simply ignore them. As more and more people wrote letters and signed the petition, this was followed by a “we can’t understand what you’re so upset about” approach:

“It isn’t clear what about this proposal exactly pushed new buttons, since projects like it have been approved for years,” wrote the LLC’s representative in a public statement. That statement also contained an explicit reference to the joint venture between the Discovery Channel and the New York Times, describing this titanic business entity with over sixteen million subscribers as a “boutique cable channel.”

As the groundswell rose further and it became clear that answers were going to have to be provided, the LLC answered the questions it suited them to answer, and simply pretended that all those less convenient questions about money and blatant hypocrisy hadn’t been asked.

As for the money, representatives of the LLC have claimed or insinuated many times that they don’t make a profit from Burning Man; they do it like clockwork in places like the yearly Afterburn Reports at burningman.com. . . and this reporter has had that claim made directly to his face by a member of the LLC’s Board of Directors (which they choose to refer to as a “Town Council”). Every once in a while, though, they slip, and we get a glimpse behind that particular curtain, as in this quote from the 2005 Afterburn Report:

“. . .in the spring of 2001, we purchased a 200-acre tract, now called Black Rock Station, utilizing income we received from ticket sales that year.”

So, way back in 2001, they were able to both produce the event, and purchase 200 acres of land and turn it into a working ranch with just a portion of the profits from ticket sales for that year. The 2001 population was an estimated 26,000 people, with a flat-rate ticket price of $200 each, for a gross of approximately 5.2 million dollars just from ticket sales. That year, and every year since then, the LLC – while handsomely plumping up their revenue – has published wan protestations of how little money they actually take in, yet these days, ticket sales alone are estimated at more than six times what they were in 2001, when they had at least enough extra cash on hand to purchase 200 acres of land and develop it into a working ranch. The networking opportunities and concomitant chances for on-the-sly revenue afforded the Board of Directors have, in that time, been increasingly good pickings as well. Oh, but they’re not making any money, everyone knows that. . . the “Town Council” said so themselves!

With the profits from ticket sales being augmented by so many other revenue streams – like cutting quiet deals with the likes of the Discovery Channel and the New York Times, or wangling a large financial interest in Spark: A Burning Man Story, or the $150,000 Vogue paid the LLC for an on-playa photoshoot just recently – it’s insulting to the intelligence to be told that the LLC is struggling for cash. Yes, we know about BLM fees, law enforcement, taxes, the pittance spent on arts grants, and the rest. If all that added up to the LLC’s Board of Directors being altruistic do-gooders who aren’t lining their pockets like any other gang of corporate predators, then they wouldn’t have been able to produce the event at all back in 2001, much less buy 200 acres of land and build a ranch on it.

As for photography and the rules handed down from on high to burners about the use of their own pictures and videos, let’s face reality: they may say they’re protecting our privacy and warding off opportunists like the Girls Gone Wild crew, but the reality of the situation is that what they’re protecting first and foremost is their ‘right’ to cynically exploit us, our labor, our artwork, and our culture, without having to compete with us for the markets our work creates. In the eyes of the Board of Directors – excuse me, the “Town Council” – we are sheep to be managed and sheared for their profit. We are unpaid cotton-pickers on their plantation, and the cotton business is booming while they tell us of their poverty.

Six years ago, when Chai Guy and DaBomb embarked on their mission to assert the rights of the community and steer Burning Man back on course, it was easier to make the assumption that the Board of Directors were not just on our side, but were us. Old-timers might say that only a fool would have made that assumption even then; in the intervening years we’ve seen ample reason to believe that we have been and continue to be ruthlessly sold out by the “Town Council” for their own gain.

For a time, it seemed that the imminent transition to a non-profit organization would provide rank-and-file burners with some relief from the fleecing; now, however, the Directors have about-faced on the idea of leaving their catbird seats, and insist that we need their leadership so badly that it would be irresponsible of them to abandon us.

Calls to get rid of the corporate old guard in favor of a totally transparent, representative leadership for Burning Man have been made before; most of the heavy hitters in the history of burner dissent, though, have long since given up trying to fight Black Rock City Hall. They may have been entirely correct in throwing in the towel in despair and disgust then, but the transition to a non-profit promises a huge opportunity for a total restructuring of the LLC from the bottom up, so if ever there was a time to get civic-minded and take a good, hard, realistic stance about how our festival-city is run, it’s now. . . because “non-profit corporation” doesn’t mean the usual gang of suspects can’t continue to line their pockets with corporate lucre instead of using it to better serve the community.

It’s time to get a serious dialogue going about our non-profit future, and about who will lead us into it. It’s time to get serious about regime change.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[This is the end of the article. For those interested in the source material used to write this article, including details of Chai Guy and DaBomb’s clash with the Burning Man LLC over their deal with the Discovery Channel and the New York Times, Burners.me presents the following roughly organized heap of data, most of it written by Chai Guy, DaBomb, representatives of the LLC, and/or contributors to forums like eplaya. We’d like to thank Chai Guy and DaBomb for their valiant efforts in service of the community]

During the Spring and Summer of 2005, in the days leading up to the Burning Man Festival, the Discovery Channel/New York Times struck a deal with BMorg to film a reality TV show called “Only in America” during the event. Below are the known facts regarding this arrangement and the repercussions of these facts as they unfolded during the event.

Introduction

Prior to the Burning Man Festival 2005, the Discovery Channel/New York Times works out a deal with the BMorg to film a reality TV show called “Only In America” at the event. And so it begins:

Discovery Channel/New York Times and the BMorg

Sometime prior to Burning Man 2005, the BMorg made an agreement with “Discovery Times”, a joint venture of two major media conglomerates Discovery Channel and New York Times. With 16 million subscribers, BMorg characterizes this joint venture as a “boutique” production company.

http://afterburn.burningman.com/05/communications/media.html

“Although no unusual trends appeared in 2005 in the number or size of the media groups approved to film this year, something about one particular media outlet pushed a few buttons for some Burning Man participants. Discovery Times is a boutique cable channel under the Discovery Channel umbrella in collaboration with the New York Times. Discovery Times applied to send a crew to do a first-person travel-show-style episode for its series “Only In America.” Three or four Discovery Channel applications were turned away in previous years, but this proposal had all the elements together and seemed prepared to make a solid piece about the event. Since deeply personal, firsthand coverage seems to tell Burning Man’s story the best, this proposal seemed a good fit. But some Burning Man participants took exception to this approval, citing displeasure with the commercial nature of the cable channel’s parent company and what they deemed a “reality TV” approach to television.

“It isn’t clear what about this proposal exactly pushed new buttons, since projects like it have been approved for years. Burning Man’s decision to approve the show was in line with its approach to media coverage since 1995 and even earlier. With respect for context and careful guidelines for the rights of participants, coverage like Discovery Times can in fact accurately capture the very newsworthy story of Black Rock City. As with any such coverage, Burning Man retains the right to review footage before it is broadcast through the careful use of entrance policies and written agreements. While no one wants to micromanage the creativity of any filmmaker, the Media team does work to protect Black Rock City by proactively keeping an eye on specific issues in coverage of the event.”

The exact scope as to the terms of the agreement is undisclosed by both BMorg and Discovery. However, a sum of money called a “site fee” was involved in which BMorg received payment for said agreement.

As Discovery began development for the production of a show, Todd Schindler of Discovery approaches various departments within Burning Man requesting support with the following correspondence:

Hello:

My name is Todd Schindler and I’m a researcher for the Discovery Times Channel (a joint venture between Discovery Channel and The New York Times).

As part of our new documentary program “Only in America,” we’ll be attending Burning Man this year and filming an episode of the show. The program features Pulitzer Prize-winning NY Times journalist Charlie LeDuff as the host. At Burning Man, Charlie will be living at a theme camp and participating in all the goings-on of the camp.

We are hoping to get as well-rounded picture about what goes on at Burning Man as possible — including the logistics of setting up and breaking down, the maintenance of the city throughout the week, and also the work that the Black Rock Rangers do. To that end, we would love to be able to accompany some rangers as they make their rounds and/or speak to the person in charge of the rangers about the evolution and philosophy of the group. We hope this might be possible sometime during the week we are there. (We will be there from Sunday, Aug. 28 until Sunday, Sept. 4).

Please let me know if we can work out a time. I greatly appreciate your help.

Best,

Todd Schindler

Researcher, Discovery Times Channel

In response to this e-mail, according to information from Maid Marian, Todd was invited by some unknown person to embed with the Los Angeles Fire Conclave:

Within weeks of Todd Schindler’s e-mail an announcement is made that the Discovery Crew will be embedded with the Los Angeles Fire Conclave (LAFC).

Below is a statement made by DaBomb, a member of the LAFC.

September 2005

My playa name is DaBomb, and I’ve been a burner since 1998. Through the years, I’ve volunteered a great deal behind the scenes at Burning Man, a community I’m actively involved in both on and off the playa. For 2005 I came to the playa with a new dream: to perform as a fire dancer on burn night. In spring of 2005, I joined the Los Angeles Fire Conclave (LAFC) in pursuit of this dream.

My fire tool is the fire hoop. In order to participate in this year’s burn as a fire performer, myself and 3 other fire hoopers were required to include fire torches in our repertoire. To that end, we were also required by our squad leader to purchase our torches specifically from Bearclaw Manufacturing. Though there was some dissent from others within the squad as to this requirement, the squad leader insisted that he wanted uniformity within the performances and wanted all tools to look the same.

These seemed like small requirements for such an exciting occasion, and so I overlooked them at the time. All summer I regularly attended the practice meetings on Wednesday night with the rest of my squad. The enthusiasm and camaraderie of the LAFC increased with each passing week as the Burning Man Festival grew closer. I also diligently practiced on my own during my free time. As a member of the LAFC, strong skills in your chosen fire tool and fire safety training were required and I didn’t want to be cut. Sadly, as the summer wore on, some performers were dropped or left the conclave because they were unable to meet these conditions.

On Wednesday, August 17th, 2005 with only two weeks to go before Burning Man, TedWard LeCouteur, the shin of the LAFC, announced during a practice meeting that Todd Schindler of the Discovery Crew was present at that evening’s fire practice. TedWard further announced that the Discovery Crew would embed with the LAFC during this year’s burn. TedWard also happens to be the owner of Bearclaw Manufacturing.

TedWard’s announcement disturbed me and I took issue with it. I wanted to know who, on behalf of LAFC, invited the Discovery Crew and why. I also wanted to know why as a performance troupe, this invitation was not extended by a democratic vote. It was reprehensible to me that the Discovery Crew was granted special privileges with regards to performing inside the circle before the Man burns with the LAFC. I strongly believe that all fire performers desiring to perform with our conclave be made to adhere to the same rules and strict standards as all other members of LAFC. Specifically this person should have attended all mandatory meetings for LAFC and that this person should be competent with their tools. For a fact, the Discovery Team’s host did not attend LAFC’s mandatory meetings that summer. Todd Schindler was merely a researcher for the show, and not the host himself. Therefore, the skill level of the show’s host was unknown.

My concerns sparked a heated debate between TedWard and myself.

Finally, a response to my issues with the Discovery Team’s involvement with LAFC came in the form of these words from Maid Marian:

“re: the LA Fire Conclave. A member of the conclave INVITED the Discovery folks there. So, I’d look to that person and his/her desire for personal exposure before you point to us or Discovery for their uninvited intrusion.”

This information was very illuminating, however I have not had the opportunity to discuss this with TedWard, so I do not know if it was indeed him that invited the Discovery Team to participate with the LAFC. As it turned out, much to my relief, they did not participate in our performance at Burning Man this year.

Love & Rockets,

DaBomb

August 18, 2005 to present

Upon news of Discovery Channel/New York Times involvement and intended filming at the event, the community of Black Rock City begins to voice dissent and a letter campaign to BMorg begins:

The Community’s Response to Media Presence at Burning Man 2005

Immediately after the news leaks, a letter writing campaign ensues to BMorg as members of the Black Rock City community react negatively to Discovery’s presence at the event. Maid Marian, Mistress of Communications for BMorg, characterizes this response at first as a “big stink” and is unable or unwilling to comprehend why. As the e-mails pour in, she rephrases her comments calling it “a groundswell.”

As of yet, all these hard asked questions go unanswered by BMorg. BMorg continues to receive e-mails on this issue to present day.

E-mail from Burning Anne (the Scarf Thief):

September 18, 2005

Dear please don’t be “Made” Marian,

I am hoping the above is a hoax of some kind. As a 7 year citizen of the Burningman “community” I was horrified to receive the above information. How can you even consider accepting money to “commercialize” an event that has prided itself on non commercialization? I’m sure you realize this would destroy any future events, not to mention that all true burners would find this outrageously hypocritical. In a time of lying politicians and no escape from corruption and profiteering Burningman is our only refuge. Do not take this away from us!

I think you should also know that for the past few years word on the Playa is many people asking where all the 37,000 x $220 hefty and getting heftier fees are going. Obviously profit is already being made. While this is uncomfortable to accept, it is still acceptable. Selling out is not.

I urge you to not sign off on this – if you do had better give it back in kind to us folks who created this great city for you on our sweat and dollars.

E-mail from mstephrussell:

Saturday, September 17 2005

I am a 3rd time attendee of the Burning Man Event, just recently back. It was at this year’s BM that I heard some individuals speaking on stage at Center Camp in regards to an arrangement between the Discovery Channel and the Burning Man Project. Wait, let’s back up for a sec.

Early on in my introduction to the Burning Man, in the first year before I went out three years ago, I attended a free lecture in my town by Larry Harvey. I had heard about the Burning Man for years before that, and had talked to different folks who had gone, and I was curious. It was then that I met Larry, chatted with him briefly, and had the opportunity to hear directly about the principles that the Burning Man was based on and operated on, when I decided to participate. “An Experiment in Community Dictated by Extreme Survival Conditions. Radical Self _Expression.” Upon the first year, I got a real first person experience. The community, the art work, and the beautiful desert all together was well worth the trip, and I have made the commitment each year since to devote my own resources to the Burning Man. I have been honored to be a participant in and a citizen of Black Rock City. I was told from Day One at the gate of BRC “Welcome Home”, and I took it to heart.

I view that participation as a contract of good faith that exists three ways between myself, the other attendees, and the Burning Man Project. Now, after the fact I am finding out that I am unwitting player in a TV show that I never agreed to. I am participating in a small way, or a big way, either way in another mechanism to sell product.

I remember a few years ago, I am in the airport (I might have been in route to BRC). In a hurry to get to my destination, and about to enter a moving sidewalk, I almost miss the sign posted on the front of it. I don’t recall the exact wording, but the jist of it was that I was being recorded for a reality show on airports, and if I did not concede to this filming, that I should go right away to the proper authorities to inform them of my intentions. I am sure that most travelers did not even notice the post, nor did they have the time between connecting flights, and /or TSA probings to go chase down some bureaucrat to protect their own privacy. Well, personally I made the call to step on board the treadmill to sell more crap, and engaged in a series of lewd gestures that would most likely insure that my presence end up on the editing room floor. Never saw the show, but I did hear an advertisement for it one time, and it occured to me then what production value they got by cutting that labor cost down to next to nothing, no paid talent, just concept people and editors. Oh, and one little check written to the airport.

I have deep personal connection to the Burning Man, and a large part of the whole experience is that I make this journey once a year across vast distance into harsh survival conditions in order to get away from the trappings of commercialism. Now I am reminded to what extent those who need to sell colored bubbles will go to find fresh meat to fillet. I don’t know all the details of the deal, and most of the time I would not give a care, but this time around I do care, very much so. Burning Man is not just the Project. Burning Man would not exist without the people who come to make it happen, and Burning Man belongs to everyone who came thru that gate, including me.

So, I would greatly appreciate some straight talk. From what I understand, the Project agreed to have a crew from Discovery Channel attend the event and shoot footage for use in a television show to be broadcast. Was the BMP in on this undertaking, and if so were they paid a fee for it, and why was the community not told about it before hand? Will the community have an opportunity to have a say in whether or not this show is broadcast or released in any way? What if Discovery decides to ignore the wishes of the BMP and do what it wants with this content? Is the BMP really prepared to enter into an expensive legal battle with a big boy like Discovery with deep legal pockets? What are your intentions?

E-mail from DaBomb:

August 23, 2005

Thanks for your response [to my previous e-mail]. However, this response can hardly be called an answer to my questions. I can appreciate how busy your are on the playa at the moment. And I respectfully tender this reply:

In reference to your comment about “balance between the “community” and the Project” (and I find it telling that you capitalized the “project”, but placed quotation marks when referencing the Participants) I’m a little unclear. I always thought the project was the community?

You see, Larry Harvey remarked at the genesis of the Project in 1986: “An entire community converged around the sculpture. It was more than a sculpture; it was a presence. A presence that invited interaction.”

How is interaction encouraged through a television program?

You yourself once said about the Project: “We don’t encourage radical self-expression so people can find themselves for sale in a video store.” So, I’m just wondering if now, 19 years since the beginning of the event, it’s OK to find myself for sale on cable TV?

Why use a televised show to promote an event that is antithetical to the very corporate/commoditization model that is being used to broadcast it?

Without all the facts, I don’t know what to make of the Discovery Channel/New York Times deal. I feel it has the potential of taking us, somewhere that we, the participants, don’t want to go. If commoditization is where the leadership of the event wants to direct us towards, I would ask that it state its intentions clearly so that myself and everyone involved can make a decision on whether to continue supporting it with our money, time, art and volunteerism.

I am very disturbed at the notion that the Burning Man Project is unwittingly turning its “community” into a “commodity”. I am trying to preserve the integrity of the event.

So, in the spirit of my mission, (and when you have a moment) please, endeavor to explain how creating a reality television program for mass consumption, how this serves to benefit both the Community and the Project as whole?

Perhaps its true, as a friend of mine within BMorg has told me, nobody is getting rich by putting on this event. But it’s also true that this event is not headed by a bunch of starving artists either. I believe it’s run by a intelligent and well meaning individuals who need to understand that the community makes the event. Not the other way around.

E-mail from Chai Guy:

August, 22, 2005

I am writing to tell you that I am saddened and disappointed with the decision to allow The Discovery Times Channel to film at Burning Man this year. To that end I have a few questions.

1. How much money will Burning Man LLC be receiving from this project and how much of that money will be given back to the artists featured in the film (if any)?

2. Is there a method to “opt-out” of having your image or art filmed for this project? If so, what is it?

3. Will this project ever be sold in other formats? Who owns the rights to the images filmed? Are there any licensing fees or stipulations for promotional tie-ins or products associated with this agreement (i.e. calendars from photos of the event, etc.)?

4. If nudity is filmed, will that nudity be aired without censorship (blurs. black bars etc.) in the European or other markets? Will the “nude” footage ever be released in a secondary format such as a DVD, or streaming video on a website?

5. To what degree will Burning Man LLC have artistic control over the final product? Will Burning Man LLC be able to veto any footage for any reason?

6. What steps will Burning Man LLC be taking to prevent the Discovery Times Channel from filming participants who do not wish to be filmed? If unwilling participants are filmed and that film is aired, will Burning Man LLC file litigation on behalf of that participant for invasion of privacy or intellectual property rights theft?

7. Do you, at this time have the camera tag # for this film crew(s) and if so what is it? If you do not have the tag # at this time, will it made available upon request at Media Mecca during the event?

I appreciate your consideration and time in this matter.

E-mail from Dr. Ratbite LaRue:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

So far, I find this issue very unpleasant.

BM LLC is accepting money to let large corporation come to BRC and SPECTATE. TDC will then turn around and sell what they produce (through advertising revenue) for profit. This product is going to be distributed through the largest all-spectator/non-participant medium that exists – television – and the right to get a corporation/product/brand associated with TDC presentation on Burning Man will go to the highest bidder.

BM LLC is going to get a chunk of that money, but what Burning Man is selling is the art, time, creativity and effort of a lot of people that PAY for the privilege of coming to BRC to PARTICIPATE.

To me this feels like the time and creativity of the people that make Burning Man a reality (as opposed to people like you that do the hard work to make BM possible) is being commoditized and sold out from under them without permission any form of compensation.

TDC wants to come to BM for one reason only … because they can make money doing it.

Without all the people that buy tickets, bring art, and PARTICIPATE, there would be nothing for BM LLC to sell to TLC except a nice wind fence, a big tent and a lot of portable toilets. What do you think they would pay for just that?

I am interested in knowing what TLC is paying to BM to come out and produce a show. If you are going to respond that this information is confidential I hope you will give a detailed explanation of why this is and has to be confidential. If BM agreed in advance with TLC not to share this information with the people that are going to make this show possible, let me say in advance, that stinks.

At the moment there is a small, but growing contingent of people that will looking to find this production with the aim of giving an alternative point of view of how unwelcome, unpopular this production is.

E-mail from Alanna:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I have talked to others who have read the thread on Tribe.net [about the Discovery Channel at Burning Man this year] and no one is happy about it. Not only does it feel like an invasion of personal space in our COMMUNITY, but you are selling us out to do so. Many feel betrayed, confused and angry. Some (I know) have chosen not to go because of this.

It chips away at the very meaning of what this annual gathering is about and what we all so eagerly look forward to and prepare for year after year.

The beauty of Burning Man is that it is a COMMUNITY that functions without the exchange of money (mostly) and it gives to us all a renewed sense of trust, value, love and belief in the people around us. It’s an important energy that we all look forward to sharing anad holding onto for as long as we can.

But when huge conglomerates come in to “observe” us (as if we’re on display for their enjoyment), pay the BM-LLC fees to do so and the those that work so hard to make this COMMUNITY what it is do not have any say so in it whatsoever, it makes me wonder what this COMMUNITY is really about? What is the true nature of the relationship betweem the COMMUNITY and the BM LLC? I want to know WHY the BM LLC has chosen to do this. I want to know WHAT they are getting out of having the Discovery Times come in to our COMMUNITY. What is the point of this?

E-mail from Diode:

Sun, August 21, 2005

I wish to express my disappointment at the decision of the Burning Man organization to allow the Discovery Channel to produce a documentary at the burn which will be shown on commercial TV.

I have watched the preview clip for the series on the Discovery Channel website, which was preceded by a cute Mr. Clean shower brush commercial. I see no redeeming value in the series beyond the monetary value it may produce for Burning Man LLC. No redeeming value is also a euphemism for cheap schlock show for pop culture television.

The previous documentaries about the festival were, as far as I know, produced by people with an inherent interest and participation in the Burning Man project, and the quality and intimacy of their work reflected this. Though the end pieces were sometimes sold in commercial venues, at least they were works of love and creativity.

I don’t see how anyone affiliated with the Burning Man event could see this decision as any other than a complete reversal of the precepts that underlay the event, that have been put forth by Larry Harvey and the Burning Man LLC time and time again as its founding principals. I refer to the concept that the Burn is a noncommercial event where the participants are free to produce the unique community and art which lies at the soul of the festival in an field of radical self-expression.

Is my art and activity that may come under the Discovery crew cameras going to be displayed on millions of televisions for couch potatoes world-wide? Will the nudity and excess which occur frequently at Burning Man going to end up on DVD’s sold through commercial channels?

I’m sure there is a justification and rationale for this decision, which I and others attending the burn this year would like to hear from the BM LLC if only to satisfy our curiosity as to why you allowed this to come to pass.

Thanks for your time. I intend to do my utmost to be a unique creative spark of intelligence at the festival this year as every year and I wish you well in your work.

August 29 – September 5, 2005

The Discovery Team begins taping at the Burning Man Arts Festival 2005:

Discovery Crew on the Playa

The Discovery Team arrives at Burning Man 2005 and “interacts” with the Community. Below are eyewitness accounts of this exchange.

As posted by Chai Guy – Wed Sep 07, 2005 4:54 pm

The producer pulled up to the MOUSETRAP in an undecorated golf cart and walked up the individual in charge and said:

“Ok, charlie is going to be here in like 15 minutes so everything set? We wanna see something spectacular so make sure you smash something that will look really impressive on camera ok?”

someone over hearing this shouted out “How about your golf cart?””

to which the crowd began chanting “Golf Cart, Golf Cart, Golf Cart!!”

As posted by Kernul Killbuck – Fri Sep 09, 2005 10:24 pm

On Tuesday night, as Miniman begged his father to acknowledge him… which he eventually did… I was approached by the Discovery crew for an interview. They did fully describe why they were, and what they were there for– and said they would not film me without a signed release.

Well, being a (sorta) shameless self promoter, I fully agreed. As the interview began, a fellow in a tan suit with an accent began to question my responses to the question of “what Burning Man means.” He was rather good at it… but so am I– profession don’t you know… and I enjoyed the barbed banter. I also had the advantage of having seen this person also engage another in an interview a few minutes before off in the distance- but when he came forward with me, I understood he was no average BRC citizen, but the appointed shill, there to do the job of having the interviewee question his or her own assumptions.

In the end, I left them with a laughing phrase they surely will never use, even on cable.

As posted by DaMongolian – Thursday, September 8, 2005 – 4:10 PM

hah!!! I had a first hand interaction with the DCT crew this year.

It was Saturday afternoon, and I was leading the pyro perimeter team around the man, so that the pyro team could load the fireworks etc without being disturbed. Anyway, at one point, the crew up on top of The Man started yelling that someone was throwing eggs, after a few moments, I identified the offender, who was being filmed by a film crew. I jumped in to interact as the Pyro team was mighty pissed (not to mention nervous….initially they didn’t know what was being thrown, and wether or not it might ignite what they were working on) Initially, I started out a little hot, because I was being protective of the pyro team. So when I saw that the film crew was now filming my interaction with the host, I asked them not to film, and they quickly complied by turning the camera away.

After a few moments of talk with the egg thrower, I realized that this was the (infamous) DCT crew, after confirming this with the film crew, I told them to go ahead and film, somehow this knowledge also helped me to relax a little. Turns out the host, had interviewed Larry, the day before and asked if he could throw an egg at the man…..something which any other day of the week would not have been a big deal. (other than the moop factor) But as it turns out…..they picked the day of the burn, during the pyro load in to do that particular shoot. I explained the situation, and they were very apologetic. After, I signed a release. Then….one of the producers pulled me aside and said sheepishly….when he threw the egg….we weren’t filming….any chance we can just get a shot of him going through the motion, he won’t actually throw it.

I thought about it for a second, and then asked them to do it as a cut away from farther away from the man….(at about the L2K ring) As luck would have it….it wasn’t far enough away, the Pyro team saw it, and freaked out again, even calling into their Supe and asking that the crew be ejected from the event. Once again, I interacted and explained what I had ‘okayed’ thankfully they got it that time, and I told them to go far far away from the man, until that evening for the burn. As far as I know, they did.

I personally, have no problem with them filming or with the way the crew behaved themselves….the host….well…..he might be a bit of a yahoo and an ass…(or at least his screen persona is) but then….there are plenty of other asses at BM….so big deal.

September 4th, 2005

The day after the burn, the Black Rock City Community Collective sets up a panel discussion at Center Camp inviting both BMorg and the Discovery Team to attend.

Panel Discussion at Center Camp

In an effort to encourage a dialogue between the BMorg and the Community, the Black Rock City Community Collective prepares for a panel discussion of all interested parties on this issue. Namely the Community, the BMorg, and their invited guests: the Discovery Crew. Below is a full account of what happened.

During the week of Burning Man 2005, members of the Black Rock City Community Collective tried to initiate contact with the Discovery Crew, going first to Media Mecca in an effort to locate them. Since all video cameras are required to be tagged at the event, an enquiry was made as to the camera tag number. The volunteer at Media Mecca either feigned ignorance or did not actually know the answer. This is disturbing. If they did not know what Discovery Channel’s tag number was, how would they be able to take any actions against them in the event that complaint was filed?

Finally, after more stonewalling, we were introduced to the Discovery Crew, who became immediately defensive and wanted to know what the camera tag number was wanted for. It was explained that it was necessary to identify the crew so that members of the Community could make an informed decision with regards to consent to be filmed.

Only then did the Discovery crew come forward, introducing themselves individually, including Charlie LeDuff, the host of the show. Ironically, hanging out in Media Mecca is Discovery’s idea of “participation” at Burning Man. As it turned out, they were waiting for the “B crew” to get back from filming cut-away shots. Unfortunately they didn’t know what their camera tag number was either!

After this encounter, arrangements were made to put on a panel discussion at Center Camp on Sunday, September 4th at 3:00 p.m. Numerous invitations were hand-written and personally delivered to members of BMorg at First Camp and the Discovery Channel film crew to participate in this public discussion.

On Sunday, with about a half hour to go before the scheduled stage time, we found Action Girl at Media Mecca, who listened to our complaints, but declined to take part in the public discussion. She seemed mystified why the Discovery Channel was targeted and not ABC’s hour long featured piece (for yet another cheesy magazine format that is slickly packaged for mass consumption). It really is tragic that Action Girl seemed so clueless as to why the Community is upset by these actions.

In the end (and somewhat as expected) nobody from either side attended the panel discussion. Both BMorg’s and the Discovery Team’s conspicuous absence served as a golden opportunity to make a Public Service Announcement instead of the originally planned discussion. The announcement was short but sweet, and was met with a great deal of booing and hissing from the Center Camp audience. The discussion continued off-stage for about 15 minutes.

Friday, July 7 2006

“Wife Swap” on ABC Television / Craigslist

Here’s something that was on CraigsList yesterday (since pulled) and followed by an e-mail forwarded to us by a friend of the Black Rock City Community Collective. The posting is starkly different than the personal e-mail.

We have since contacted Andie Grace and Maid Marian, the Communications Department at BM-org to investigate this and are awaiting their response.

> Subject: (creative gigs) Going to Burning Man? (financial district)
> Date: Thu, 6 Jul 2006 08:17:48 -0700 (PDT)
> From: “Craigslist Subscriptions” <subscriptions@craigslist.org>
> Reply-To: Rachelle.Mendez@rdfusa.com
>
> ABC TV is currently researching & interviewing families who attend
> BURNING MAN.
>
> Ideal candidates believe in self-reliance, expression, and community.
>
> Please call:212-404-2442 or email a family photo and description to:
> rachelle.mendez@rdfusa.com.
>
> All families featured on the show receive a $20,000 honorarium. If
> you refer a family that we feature on the show you receive $1,000.
>
> Apply Today. Casting immediately!

Thu, July 6, 2006 – 9:00 AM

Subject ABC TV: Looking for BURNERS
Message:

Hi Abject,

I’m a casting producer for ABC TV. We’re researching
Burners in hopes of featuring a family of Burners on
our primetime reality show WIFE SWAP. I’m wondering if
you’d consider posting my search and sharing it with
your tribe.

All families featured on the show receive a $20,000
honorarium. If you refer a family that we feature on
the show you receive $1,000.

Potential families can live anywhere in the United
States, but we ask that families applying for the show
consist of two parents and have at least one child,
age 5 or older, living at home.

Casting immediately.

Thanks,

Rachelle
212-404-2442

Rachelle.Mendez@rdfusa.com

Thursday, May 18, 2006

“Only In America” Breach of Contract

On February 2, 2006, “Only In America-Burning Man” aired. In the show DaBomb’s image was broadcast without her knowledge or consent. DaBomb would like to know if this has happened to others.

If this has happened to you — if the unlawful use of your image, art or performance — was used on this episode of “Only In America”, please contact the Black Rock City Community Collective or DaBomb.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Response to Jack Rabbit Speaks

On March 30th, the Jack Rabbit Speaks posted the following:

> : Is it true that there was a reality TV show being filmed on playa
> this year?
>
> A rumor began before the event this year that the Discovery
> Channel would be filming a reality TV show in Black Rock City.
> The show was Discovery Times, which focuses on alternative
> culture, such as power tool races, etc. Mainstream media has
> been coming to Burning Man for ten years now. Recently the
> organization held our annual staff retreat for over 100 of our
> managers. A group of non Media Department staff, who
> were troubled about the Discovery Times piece, discussed the
> decision to allow Discovery Times to film. The staff members
> concluded that after analyzing the decision they felt the problem is
> that our participants do not understand our media selection
> process. If you fall into this category and want to learn more then
> please visit

It appears that this valid question (e.g is it true a reality tv show was filmed) was not answered, but buried in an explanation and a justification as to why media is at the event.

It is indeed a fact and not a rumor that Discovery-Times “Only In America” is a reality television show. And by BMorg’s own admission (listen to BURNcast #1), it is also true that it paid a site fee for the privilege to film at Burning Man.

Even the New York Times, the partner company for the Discovery-Times network identifies this show as “reality programming”. On September 2, 2005, New York Times review by Carlo Rotello, made the following comments about the show calling it what it is: “The need to construct a reality-show plot arc, clumsily signposted with portentous teasers and galumphing mood music, also hamstrings Mr. LeDuff’s reporting.” Below is the article in it’s entirety.

As of yet, the JRS has yet to suppport or announce BURNcast, podcasts that resulted in our efforts here at SaveBRC, in an effort to educate the community about media presence at Burning Man.

These podcasts (which include interviews with Andie Grace, Larry Harvey, Danger Ranger and Maid Marian) were recorded two days before this show aired reflect a positive resolution to the questions raised by SaveBRC.org. They go in great depth how the media process works at Burning Man. In fact, Twan, the Los Angeles regional rep posted it to the LA Burners list when they first were released.

We’ve been were holding off on publishing the next Burncast until the JRS announcement took place because of concerns with issues of bandwidth if all three podcasts were posted at once and announced at the same time. At an average size of 30 mb per show, the downloads may be overwhelming.

The podcasts have thus far been submitted several times to BMorg.

Surely Burning Man supports independent media as well as commercial media?

—————————————————————————

September 2, 2005

Answering Call of America’s Weirdness

By CARLO ROTELLA

Every once in a while, maybe three times an episode (to judge from the first two), “Only in America” produces a moment that stays with you.

Dan, a member of an Oakland biker club called the East Bay Rats, describes the long-ago humiliation of being gang-stomped while his friends looked on and did nothing. It can’t happen to him again, he says, now that he’s a Rat. (Of course, you have to endure a group beating from fellow Rats when you join the club, and members regularly pound each other in a makeshift ring while friends cheer them on during informal fight nights, but people are complicated.)

Dan chokes up and walks away from Charlie LeDuff, the show’s host, who stands there with his chin in his palm. The camera lingers, allowing another Rat to wander into the frame and exchange a sympathetic look with Mr. LeDuff behind Dan’s back. Everything the episode wants to address, especially the urge to ratify community with intramural violence, hangs unspoken in the air between them.

In another episode, Mr. LeDuff, wearing fancy Western wear chosen by two cowboys who ride on the gay rodeo circuit, visits Thad Balkman, a Republican state representative from Oklahoma who crusades against gay marriage. After some inconclusive political fencing, Mr. LeDuff shows off his new threads to Mr. Balkman, who pronounces them “very handsome.” When Mr. LeDuff asks if he looks gay in his getup, Mr. Balkman says, “No, it kind of looks like a Roy Rogers kind of deal.” Mr. Balkman is so bland that at first you might not notice he’s kidding.

Mr. LeDuff, a reporter for The New York Times, claims to have a populist agenda for “Only in America,” which has its premiere tonight on the Discovery Times Channel. “There’s so much stuff going on in this country that’s not covered correctly,” he says, and covering it correctly, for him, means participating: fighting in the ring, riding a bull in the rodeo. “You should certainly live, feel, breathe, eat and understand the way the other people do.” He adds, “I put my body out there so the guy on the couch watching might understand the guy he won’t talk to.”

America’s enduring weirdness beckons to an enterprising reporter seeking resonant subcultures. In addition to bikers and gay rodeo riders, Mr. LeDuff will visit arena football players, fashion models, battle re-enactors and others. Find a scene, work your way into it, hang out, point the camera at people with something to say and let them say it. You can’t go wrong.

Actually, you can. Mr. LeDuff too often gets between us and the people he wants to introduce to us. He has a sense of humor, and one can appreciate the gameness of a reporter who will dress up in drag to fall off a steer, but there’s just too much of him, and he can’t seem to get over himself. His overstyled voiceovers do little to frame the action in an explanatory bigger picture, and he takes up too much screen time. He talks too much, and too often he’s talking about himself. “These guys respect me, like, I’m a gamer,” he says of the East Bay Rats. Even if true, the line makes you wince.

One also grows tired of Mr. LeDuff’s self-regarding need to mark his territory. Depending on whom he’s hanging out with, he will start droppin’ his g’s and otherwise broadening his variable regular-guy diction. When he offers an analytical insight – for instance, when women fight, “it’s kinda hot” – he’ll put some extra stoner drag in his voice to assure us he’s no egghead. Hanging with the head Rat at ringside, Mr. LeDuff is moved to remark, “You’re like the Svengali of a lost generation, man.”

“Well,” says the guy, “at least I throw a good party.”

The need to construct a reality-show plot arc, clumsily signposted with portentous teasers and galumphing mood music, also hamstrings Mr. LeDuff’s reporting.

Each episode has a sustained gimmick. Charlie’s going to fight a giant Rat named Big Mike. Charlie’s not going to let any gay wannabe cowboy outride him. Will he walk out or be carried out? It’s forced and lame, and it suggests that “Only in America” doesn’t trust regular weird American folks to hold our interest.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Egging the Man

The following was posted on Eplaya today from PyroChix, in reponse to Charlie LeDuff egging the man:

PyroChix

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 9:11 am

Post subject: Charlie’s Egg Throwing Stunt

I’m part of the pyro crew that was working on the man, setting up the fireworks for the night of the burn when Mr. LeDuff decided to unleash his artistic impression by throwing eggs at the Man. While seemingly innocuous, he threatened the lives of everyone on that structure. In the intense dryness and static hell that is the Playa, if that egg had knocked into something the wrong way, the explosion you saw during the Burn would’ve happened that afternoon… taking all of the pyro crew as well as Mr. LeDuff and the Rangers on duty to an explosive death.

By airing this act, Discovery Channel and the LLC not only condone his act of irresponsibility, they also promote future idiots to follow suit. There’s a reason we have a safety perimeter on the day of the Burn, yet the LLC and Discovery Channel are representing that they refuse to understand the potential danger involved.

LeDuff has no idea how close he came to dying that day, whether from the potential explosion or the number of us that had to be restrained from kicking the crap out of him for endangering our lives. No where else in America except for Burning Man would Mr. LeDuff get away with a blatant act of potential manslaughter without being thrown into jail for at least a harsh talking to. Instead, he’s getting noteriety from it.

Had the explosion occured, anything having to do with Burning Man’s fire related activities would instantly be shut down because the pyrotechnician whose license the event depends on would have died. The insurance companies and legal authorities including the BLM would have to shut down the event as well. There would be no Burning Man if Mr. LeDuff’s act of “artistic expression” set off an explosion. The chances that his actions could have set off an explosion were high, easily 50%. That Saturday had high levels of static electricity due to several white outs. I’m not speaking as an alarmist, I’m a realist, and I know that I could easily have died that day.

I’ll be writing to the LLC and Discovery Channel regarding this act. I’m speaking for myself and not necessarily all the pyro crew members, but I want it to be on record that if anyone in future years pulls a stunt similar, legal repercussions will be sought against the LLC, Discovery Channel, and Mr. LeDuff for their irresponsible validation of hazardous acts. I invite anyone else who plans on writing to the LLC, Discovery Channel, or Charlie LeDuff to make use of my comments here. If you do so, however, I would like to know about it just for reference.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Rip, Edit, Burn

The latest edition of the JRS mentions our still-in-production-and-upcoming podcast with the Burning Man organization and characterizes our visit to BMHQ as a positive conclusion. We wholeheartedly agree. At the moment the producers, Chai Guy and DaBomb are in the the midst of putting the material together. Though we are working to upload this podcast in a reasonable timeframe, there are logistical issues due to the physical distance between the two (Chai Guy lives in Lake Tahoe, DaBomb in Los Angeles) to be able to collaborate effectively. They are both working fast as they can while still doing their full-time jobs, learning the technical aspects of the producing the podcast and creating a meaningful piece for our listeners and for the community. Please…stay tuned…it’s coming soon!

Friday, February 3, 2006

We give it a thumbs down!

Last night, the show “Only In America” aired. Many have contacted us to ask us what we think of the show.

We’d like to take this moment to remind y’all that when we first brought up the issue of Discovery Channel’s presence at Burning Man, we took issues with the commercialization and exploitation of the event, privacy rights and an artist’s right and ownership to their art and performance. We did not set out to be arbiters of taste of this show.

Therefore, our main mission in setting up SaveBRC.org is focused on these issues and not about our personal critique of this particular show.

That’s our party line and we’re sticking to it.

Having said that, many of you have insisted: peee-shaw…what did ya REALLY think of the show?

Well…um…OK…here ya go:

DaBomb’s Review:

I’m offended by people who are outsiders that try to appear to be an insider. Charlie LeDuff aka “Media Man” (who has provided further evidence that the New York Times isn’t worth the paper that it is printed on) pretends to get involved, makes pseudo observations and interpretations and doesn’t actually try to feel the environment that he parades around in. Media Man ends up being a saccharin caricature of sophomoric pretense and posture. His show is about himself, not the cultures that he purports to explore.

Of course he had the mohawk before arriving. He had already decided what Burning Man was before he arrived. His mind wasn’t open. He wasn’t experiencing the now. “Its like Vegas North.” Why do small minds have so much trouble understanding what is around them? His mind couldn’t see the Temple. Fire breathing wasn’t elemental to him, it was a novelty. In Media Man’s own words: “The more I see America, the less I get it.”

Just my two cents. Your mileage may vary.

Chai Guy’s Review:

I want to make it clear that my objection to this show was not about the content, but rather the nature of the show, (Reality TV), the undisclosed site fees, the behavior of the crew at the event, and the commodification of Burning Man.

The original concept of the “Only in America” show didn’t seem half bad. Follow a Burning Man virgin around as he experiences the event for the first time. Unfortunately that idea got lost somewhere. They replaced it with something ripped right out of the Official Burning Man Press Kit: “Become your alter ego or spoof the media itself.” Source: http://www.burningman.com/press/faq.html

The “spoof” being Media Man, and I can only guess that Charlie’s “alter-ego” must be Hunter S. Thompson??

You would think that a week on the playa would provide for more than an hour’s worth of spontaneous, film worthy events, apparently not for Charlie LeDuff. We see Charlie ride his bike through the Greeter Gate, why not just film him arriving in his vehicle? We see Charlie being given a mohawk on the playa, but if you looked closely at the previous scenes, you’d have seen that he already had the mohawk before he came to Black Rock City.

Two weeks prior to the event Charlie was set to spin fire in the circle before the man burned with the LA Fire Conclave, allegedly by invitation of their leader, Tedward. That idea (along with letting Charlie do a “ride along” with the Black Rock Rangers) was vetoed before he got to the Playa. So the next best thing apparently was to teach Charlie how to breathe fire. Tedward being the good self-promoter that he is wears a t-shit with his company’s name on it (nice product placement Tedward!). He also works the phrase “Only in America”, the title of the series, into his interview with Charlie. Being the consummate L.A. actor, Tedward asks Charlie “Can we take five?” when his friends show up in their RV.

A good deal of time is spent with Tedward teaching Charlie how to breathe fire. This is where the show degenerates into what “Only In America” is really about, which is placing Charlie in “extreme” circumstances and allowing the reality TV show arch to happen.

Charlie rides his bike to the man saying, “I’m worked up enough to egg the man to see if I get beaten to a pulp”. He even calls throwing eggs at the man his “Radical Self Expression”. We all know it was a staged event; he threw his first egg at the man and pissed off the pyro team who were busy getting the structure ready for the burn. A Black Rock Ranger intervened and convinced him to “pretend” to throw the egg from a distance further back, and that’s what you see on TV. He then gets into an altercation with someone, who cracks an egg over Charlie’s head, but look closely and you’ll see the producer secure the egg from Charlie after whispering in his ear before she hands it off to the “angry participant”. Aside from an admonishment by the Ranger to “pick up your egg shells” the Leave No Trace ethos of the event gets left in the dust.

Charlie interviews a couple that is about to be married by a “Shaman” (who, incidentally, gushes on camera ” I really love the Discovery Channel!”). Charlie proceeds to make fun of the ceremony and the “Bio Chemist from the Northwest wearing black face, spouting half baked American Indian mysticism” apparently Charlie completely misses the irony that he’s been sporting a mohawk the entire week.

Upon hearing the news of Hurricane Katrina, Charlie heads off to a radio station to get the word out. Talking on the air with the radio host, Charlie becomes rather incoherent as he drifts from discussion of Katrina to the war in Iraq to a potential military draft and after a requested moment of silence (for what, I’m not exactly sure, the war, the hurricane? both?) he launches into an acapella version of “This Land Is Your Land”. You kind of get the feeling here that Charlie thinks he’s missing the story of the century, but isn’t sure what to do about it. Unfortunately he doesn’t stick around to see the money raised by participants for hurricane relief as they leave BRC, or the support offered by members of the community in the weeks and months following.

For most of the show Charlie seems rather obsessed with drug use at the event. He mentions the word “drugs” five times, as well as statements like “Some people stay high for days on end”, “They like to get high”, “Some don’t care and just stay wasted”, “Mind Freak”,” Trip out”, and “Just Groovin”. Listening to his “Hippie Speak”, it’s difficult for me to remember that he and I are of the same generation.

The show does have a few moments of saving grace. These occur when participants are allowed to express themselves to the camera, in their own words. Kernul Killbuck does an excellent job of tilting Charlie off his game (I don’t think Charlie likes to be touched), and delivering a great soliloquy on the event and the burning of the man. The interviews with artists like Matteo of “Head Space” were also well done.

Unfortunately those moments are few and far between. The flow is too often interrupted by Charlie’s narration, which offers very little insight into Burning Man or even his own personal experience. His lack of research is readily apparent, he refers to the Black Rock Rangers as “cops”, the event as “Las Vegas North” (twice actually), and the Temples of Dreams as the “Faux Buddhist Temple”. The most interesting question he can think to ask Larry Harvey is “Why?” and then proceeds to look bored out of his mind during the response. I honestly expected a little more from a New York Times reporter.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

High Noon at BMHQ

That’s it. We quit. It’s true: if you can’t beat’em, join’em. Forget Discovery Channel. It’s all about independent media! Read on:

First of all, thanks for taking the time to express your opinion about corporate media such as Discovery Channel at Burning Man and also signing the petition on SaveBRC.org. For those of you who are interested, the show “Only In America” will air on February 2 at 8:00 p.m. on Discovery Times Channel.

As an interesting side note NO MENTION of the Discovery Times Channel “Only in America” Burning Man episode has been mentioned on the official Burning Man website or in the latest version of “The Jack Rabbit Speaks” newsletter (which DID happen to mention an upcoming piece on the event happening on “Current TV”, but didn’t offer many details). If Burning Man is so proud of this thing, why not let everyone know about it? Makes us wonder.

It has been quite a road since we first launched the website. At first we simply forwarded the petitions to BMorg directly. However, ActionGirl (AKA Andie Grace) the Director of Communications, complained that the first 40 petitions crashed her email client and implied that our efforts had caused a denial of service attack or something…pshhhawww!

After we cleared that misunderstanding up, we came to agreement with ActionGirl in which we were to hand deliver the petitions to BMorg offices (wearing tutus) as well as an opportunity to view the footage that BMorg was to approve and sign off on*. But then, BMorg reneged on this as well.

(*There was some disagreement on what footage we had been invited to view. Later Actiongrl stated that it wasn’t the Discovery Times footage, that it was some other footage, what footage she was actually referring to still isn’t really clear to us.)

Now ActionGrl and SaveBRC.org have agreed to hand-deliver the petitions…while wearing tutus…on Tuesday, January 31. Furthermore, ActionGrl has agreed to interview for a podcast for SaveBRC.org.

Our interview with Actiongrl will focus on Burning Man, and the media and how each effect each other. We hope this will be the start of a regular monthly podcast on the event. If you have any interview questions you’d like us to ask Andie, please submit them ASAP (all questions need to be submitted by Monday, January 30th). Also, if you have any story or interview ideas for future podcasts or would like to be interviewed, give us a shout out as

well!

Thanks so much and stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Jack Rabbit Speaks With A Forked Tongue

The most recent edition of Jack Rabbit Speaks features an announcement about the upcoming Xingolati cruise that sounds distinctly like a commercial. In one sentence I read plugs for four different for-profit business ventures.

We believed that BMorg was trying to support regionals, not snub them in favor of Carnival Cruise event, which costs in excess of $500. In promoting the cruise, no mention of the Los Angeles Decompression was mentioned which takes place tomorrow, October 15th.

The JRS barely mentions the Los Angeles Decom in any of their publications or email newsletters. In fact it was only mentioned yesterday as an oversight if you can’t go on a cruise.

“Okay, if you can’t make the cruise, I KNOW it’s last minute, but I swear if it weren’t my down time I’d have let you know sooner. And, I know they’ll do it again;I have this feeling it’ll be a big success.”

This is out of the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter.

“The cruise in question is a highly commercial cruise featuring artists, Burning Man-types, bands (including Mutaytor) and art. But it also has a lot of corporate sponsorship, commercial and monetary goals and the spirit of Burning Man (Leave no trace, free expression, etc.) are not a part of the cruise. It is a corporate event.

Just today, Maid Marian posted a follow up to that edition of Jack Rabbit Speaks due in part to a huge response to it. In it she states: “[There] is no sellout here. I appreciate the passion and concern of everyone who I’ve heard from today. I’m not promoting that un-named cruise line [um…that’s a lie because she did]….There’s also no “sell out” going on with regard to any television shows, movies or other media outlets.”

Well, Maid Marian is mistaken because the Jack Rabbit Speaks *is* the official Burning Man news outlet, and it *was* being used to promote a corporate-for-profit venture and looking to monetarily benefit from plugging several commercial ventures. And Maid Marian herself wrote that copy! C-a-r-n-i-v-a-l C-r-u-i-s-e does not spell “unnamed”, sorry Marian.

Why is the (so called) official mailing list of Burning Man being used to promote For-Profit products and services of other companies?

And with regards to the media, specifically the Discovery Channel: how can a non-commerce event be shown on a network that pays for their airtime with commercials?

Friday, October 7, 2005

On Sunday after the burn, 2005, Larry Harvey and John Barlow gave a talk at Otter Oasis Camp.

Stickmon, who camped at Otter Oasis and knew about the Discovery Channel/New York Times deal with BM-LLC for an undisclosed fee had some concerns. During the “Q&A” portion of the talk, Stickmon asked Larry Harvey this: “How can the organizers who believe that Burning Man is not for sale justify charging a large fee to both Discovery Channel and the New York Times for documenting the festival?”

Harvey’s response: “What’s wrong with making some money off of them?”

This response was followed with a smattering of laughter by Harvey and the audience.

As a burners the question must be put: is Larry’s response acceptable to you, in light of what you understand about Burning Man? The fee and the resulting advertising revenue generated from this program to be the gross antithesis of the “10 Principles” as set by BMorg, particularly principle #3 “Decommodification” which states: “our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising.”

Members of the Black Rock City Community Collective will be at San Francisco Decompression this Sunday, October 9th. We have invited the BM-LLC to speak to the Community regarding this issue and we are still awaiting a response. We hope that BM-LLC will agree to this discussion, because we believe in Principle #9 that “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture.”

On Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Andie Grace has agreed to allow us to hand deliver (under the stipulation as per our offer that we wear pretty fluffy tutus) all of your petitions. At this time, the Collective asks that you please express yourself either against or in favor of the Discovery Channel and we will personally hand them over to BMorg (in pretty fluffy tutus) and make sure that your voice is heard.

On Sun, September 25, 2005 – 8:40 PM

Andie Grace, the Communications Manager for BMorg, in response to a thread on Tribe.net submitted the following post:

I do apologize for being so blunt, but all this feels just a bit like moving in next to the airport and then complaining about the noise. Cameras have never been *banned* at Burning Man, and we’ve allowed the media for years – much of it higher-end, higher-visibilty, and frankly more commercially-oriented than this. TIME magazine and the Chronicle sell adspace, you know?

We welcome the media and appreciate their efforts to tell the story of our unique corner of modern culture. We do expect them to work with us and comport themselves in a manner that respects the tenets and aspects of our community, but we have allowed this type of coverage for years and will continue to do so.

If Burning Man is a private party where only the “cool” kids are allowed to see and understand it, then, um, whatever – enjoy, and I’ll be somewhere else. See, I’m not interested in working as hard as I do just to facilitate a secret party for the hip cognoscenti. What we do out there, what we all know is possible, is the type of thing that can change the world. It definitely changed mine. I *do* and have always actively hoped to share that story with the world, as long as – and here’s the big nail that it all hangs on – the media get it RIGHT. Helping them to do so is my job, and I feel I have done it well over the years, as have the amazing team of people who I am so lucky to work with.

“The BORG has EVERY right to keep every single camera out of the event, if they wish to do so. of course, they don’t wish this anymore, as is now clear to me. “

We never, ever said we wanted to keep all cameras out, so I don’t know what the “anymore” is referencing.

My email is bouncing because of the “petition” emails (and, I hasten to add, as the target of this petition I have no way to verify if it’s the same person submitting an email over and over, so it’s really hard to call an email petition a “signed document”.) Plus, it’s a bit hard not to take it all with a grain of salt since half the people filling out the form seem to be of the mind that Discovery is the first time we’ve allowed cameras at the event. Intelligent discourse I will listen to, but it would be nice if everyone reading the webpage and making up their own minds would at least take the time to get their facts straight before trotting out their indignation and barraging my inbox, keeping me from being able to do my job effectively. :\”

On Sun, September 25, 2005 – 11:28 PM

Chai Guy responded to Andie Grace’s response:

Andie,

We are not trying to disrupt your work. If you would like to set up another inbox at burningman.com for the specific purpose

of receiving these complaint emails we would be more than happy to change the web page to reflect that. We ask only for your word that you, or someone with authority inside the organization take the time to read and respond to

each email (or to post a response publicly on Burningman.com or in email form which will post on the savebrc.org in it’s entirety without editing).

Each petition that is forwarded to you has the person’s email address included in the petition. If there is a way of making these complaints more legitimate to you, please let us know and we may consider using that method.

The issue isn’t about making this a private party for the “cool” kids. This is an issue about the commodification of our event and selling that which does not belong to you. This issue is about a camera crew that showed little

respect for the event’s participants or art. This issue is about a one hour reality tv program.

If you want to contact a representative of the Black Rock City Community please do so at Chaiguy@gmail.com or bombacious@hotmail.com

Update – Tuesday, September 27, 2005:

We have really good news: Andie Grace has agreed to allow us to hand deliver (under the stipulation as per our offer that we wear pretty fluffy tutus) all of your petitions. At this time, the Collective asks that you please express yourself either against or in favor of the Discovery Channel and we will personally hand them over to BMorg (in pretty fluffy tutus) and make sure that your voice is heard. Keep those petitions, cards and letters coming while we go to a dance supply store. Or…does anybody got a coupla tutus we can borrow?

Update – Monday, September 26, 2005:

We were informed that the petition had crashed the mail box of Andie Grace, the Manager of Communications. At the time we were notified, only 49 petitions had been sent. We have since stopped forwarding this petition to her. Instead, we are holding onto all petitions until BMorg responds to us with an address of where they would like them. We have asked for their word that they will read every comment made on the petition.

Regarding CHARLES LeDUFF December 17, 2003, 3:08 p.m.

Another Jayson Blair?

More of the same at the “Paper of Record.”

By Michelle Malkin

Looks like the New York Times has another ugly Jayson Blair-like scandal on its hands. This time, the young minority reporter is Charlie LeDuff, a part Native-American, part-Cajun writer, known as a rising star and favorite pet of former executive editor Howell Raines.

The hotshot LeDuff is now in hot water over his cribbing of anecdotes from someone else’s book about kayaking down the Los Angeles River for his own Page One fluff story about — you guessed it! — kayaking down the Los Angeles River. An embarrassing correction published in the New York Times on Dec. 8 explained:

An article last Monday about the Los Angeles River recounted its history and described the reporter’s trip downriver in a kayak. In research for the article, the reporter consulted a 1999 book by Blake Gumprecht, “The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth.” Several passages relating facts and lore about the river distilled passages from the book. Although the facts in those passages were confirmed independently-through other sources or the reporter’s first hand observation-the article should have acknowledged the significant contribution of Mr. Gumprecht’s research.

Gumprecht, an assistant professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire and a former newspaper reporter, told Slate’s Jack Shafer he was “fairly shocked” by the similarities between his book and the Times’s story, and that LeDuff’s borrowing went beyond accepted journalistic practices.

Perhaps not coincidentally, LeDuff was a good pal of the disgraced Jayson Blair. According to New York Metro:

One of Blair’s closest friends was Charlie LeDuff, a rising star in Raines’s firmament known for his colorful writing style. “Jayson would sort of tag along” with him, said a friend of LeDuff’s. “He was very competitive with Charlie, and then kind of took it many, many steps too far-because he could get away with it.”

Like Blair, LeDuff climbed the Times’s ladder swiftly thanks to the media diversity machine. The 36-year-old scribe went straight from journalism school to a minority internship at the Times to full-time reporter in 1995. As LeDuff explained in a 2001 interview with JournalismJobs.com:

[The New York Times was] my first newspaper job. I was an intern for three months at the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal. That was my first publication-type job. But the first thing I ever wrote that got published, my Russian friend in the Northeast got killed with alcohol. I just sort of wrote an obituary. The new class of Russian youth, after the fall of the wall, on the street corners selling pins and posters, running from the law. And I wrote that and I think I wrote it pretty well. I felt good and I felt like, hey I’m smart enough. I can do this.

The New York Post’s Keith Kelly says there’s no word on whether LeDuff will be punished for his not-so-bright transgression. But the Times has been willing to overlook LeDuff’s journalistic shortcuts before. In September, author and columnist Marvin Olasky reported that LeDuff attributed fake quotes to a naval officer in San Diego to fit the reporter’s antiwar agenda.

Lieutenant Commander Beidler, 32, on his way to Iraq in January, was walking with his family toward the end of Naval Station Pier 2 when the Times’s Charlie LeDuff asked him for his general view of war protesters. Mr. Beidler recalls stating, “Protesters have a right to protest, and our job is to defend those rights. But in protesting, they shouldn’t protest blindly; instead, they should provide reasonable solutions to the problem.” The LeDuff version had Mr. Beidler criticizing Los Angeles protesters but turning his guns at a complacent United States: “It’s war, Commander Beidler said, and the nation is fat. ‘No one is screaming for battery-powered cars,’ he added.” The journalist then turned to Commander Beidler wife’s Christal: “‘I’m just numb,’ she said as she patted down his collar. ‘I’ll cry myself to sleep, I’m sure.'”

Mr. Beidler was at sea when he discovered how far at sea the Times’s reporting was, but he sent off a letter to the editor stating what he had said and arguing that the quotes about national fatness and battery-powered cars “were completely fabricated by Mr. LeDuff in order to connect our nation’s dependence on oil with the current military buildup in the Middle East.”

Mr. Beidler also stated, “Mr. LeDuff continued his shameful behavior by attributing words and actions to my wife that were not her own. Not only did she not say she would cry herself to sleep, but she didn’t pat down my collar either, which was impossible for her to accomplish with my civilian shirt hidden under my jacket and a duffle bag hanging on my shoulder closest to her.”

In response, a Times editor shrugged off Beidler’s complaint. LeDuff, he informed Beidler, “thinks that he accurately represented his interview with you and your wife, and therefore so do I. If you have another encounter some day with The New York Times, I hope its outcome is more satisfactory to you.”

Institutional arrogance. Diversity monomania. Intellectual thievery. Wasn’t this all supposed to end with the fall of Raines? How many other victims of LeDuff’s “colorful writing” are out there? And how many other Jayson Blairs remain nestled in the Gray Lady’s bosom?

Stay tuned.

Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist and author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. For more on the Charles LeDuff see TimesWatch.

E-PLAYA THREAD:

Do it like they do on the ‘Discovery Channel’…

Post by Adonis252 » Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:34 am

I am just wondering if anyone else was interviewed by a camera crew from the television station, ‘Discovery Channel’. Myself and three others were interviewed at our oasis for “Hot people who need to be cooled down’, on tuesday if I don’t remember correctly. If you know anything about this I would love to know when it will be aired or how I could get a copy of the episode.

I think I did sign a release form….oooops….It seemed like a good idea at the time….Hi mom…

Adonis252

Post by robotland » Sat Jan 21, 2006 7:08 am

The Discovery Times channel guys were taping for the program “Only in America”…but were met with great resistance on several fronts, and I wonder if the piece will be aired.

robotland

Post by Chai Guy » Sat Jan 21, 2006 10:54 am

I’ve heard from sources inside the LLC that the footage has been edited and shown to the organization. I’m unaware if the footage has been approved yet (The LLC must approve the final cut before it is aired).

Action Girl has promised to allow Savebrc.org an opportunity to view the footage before it airs, as well as the opportunity to hand deliver several hundred letters (and counting) of BRC citizens who wish to voice their dissent over allowing a reality television show to be filmed at the event.

Chai Guy

Post by DaBomb » Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:16 pm

Chai Guy wrote:

I’ve heard from sources inside the LLC that the footage has been edited and shown to the organization. I’m unaware if the footage has been approved yet (The LLC must approve the final cut before it is aired).

They must have approved the footage because an air-date has been set.

Chai Guy wrote:

Action Girl has promised to allow Savebrc.org an opportunity to view the footage before it airs, as well as the opportunity to hand deliver several hundred letters (and counting) of BRC citizens who wish to voice their dissent over allowing a reality television show to be filmed at the event.

Apparently, they reneged on this deal because it has been screened, approved, and like I said, an airdate has been set. Whatever happened to the BM credo welcoming community participation and in-put? Perhaps not when there is a voice of dissent.

Love & Rockets

DaBomb

Post by ravenluv » Sat Jan 21, 2006 4:32 pm

does anyone know the air date?

ravenluv

Post by Eric » Sat Jan 21, 2006 9:49 pm

ravenluv wrote:

does anyone know the air date?

From the Discovery Channel website:

TLC :: Episode :: Burning Man

… FEB 02 2006 @ 11:00 PM. FEB 03 2006 @ 04:00 AM. FEB 03 2006 @ 07:00 AM. FEB 03 2006 @ 12:00 PM. FEB 03 2006 @ 03:00 PM. DTC — Only in America. Burning Man. …

I believe it’s on “The Learning Channel” (hence the clever “TLC” in the quote above), not Discovery proper.

Eric ShutterSlut

BRC Weekly

Post by theCryptofishist » Sun Jan 22, 2006 11:10 am

Conspiracy theory I: they waited to do the approval until Action Grl was on the road this month.

theCryptofishist

Post by actiongrl » Mon Jan 23, 2006 1:57 pm

I remember saying you guys could deliver the petitions in your tutus, but I do not remember saying you’d be invited to the pre-screening. If I did, I’m sorry, but I think it was a misunderstanding, because I can’t think of a reason why it would be plausible to invite anyone.

It is important to understand that aside from certain things pertaining to the survival of the event, we don’t exercise “creative control” over anyone’s piece, and as long as it isn’t potentially damaging nor in violation of our Basic Use Agreements, we can’t force anyone to edit their piece anyway.

The piece was shown to us just before I left on my trip, and we had a great dialogue about it. Overall the piece is quite funny I think, and should be airing soon on Discovery Times.

actiongrl

Post by Chai Guy » Mon Jan 23, 2006 4:33 pm

actiongrl wrote:

I remember saying you guys could deliver the petitions in your tutus, but I do not remember saying you’d be invited to the pre-screening.

From 3playa:

actiongrl – Sep 27 2005, 11:42AM

Chai, I’d love to have those in a printed format, but I can’t read unless materials are delivered in a real tutu. Not a Sears tutu, but a real one.

If we time it right maybe you can come in and get a sneak preview of the piece. I’d also be interested to show you “Strange Universe” (“THE SECRET RITES OF BURNING MAN!”) from 1996 and a few other pieces.

Chai Guy – Sep 27 2005, 11:47AM

I was feeling part of the scenery

Andie, sounds good. I shall hand deliver them in a real tutu, and hopefully get a chance to preview the piece. I do want to deliver these objections prior to the LLC signing off on the project however.

http://bbs.3playa.com/?view_thread=369&end=2217#bottom

Chai Guy

Post by actiongrl » Tue Jan 24, 2006 1:41 pm

Gotcha. I see what I said. I wasn’t thinking of the screening where they sought approval, but rather just showing you a copy of it sometime after they submitted it. Usually they just mail us a copy, but this time they brought it over and took it away with them again, so I don’t have anything to show you, though eventually they will be sending us one when it’s completely finished – what we saw was the first cut.

“Maybe you can come and get a sneak preview” is different from “You can come to the screening with the producers.” That process is already pretty delicate given that we don’t have “creative control” but rather control over holding folks to the terms of the contract – eg., not showing illegal acts or nudity without written permission, or making outright incorrect statements about numbers and statistics, etc. Sometimes even our own employees don’t understand that difference and think that we can make someone take something out just because it’s inane or what have you, but really, nobody has that kind of control. So, it can be a delicate process to manage people’s expectations about how much their opinions can affect a finished piece…

At any rate, I think the piece turned out to be pretty funny, and our only few concerns were addressed cooperatively. David, the producer, is a really good guy.

actiongrl

Postby Chai Guy » Tue Jan 24, 2006 2:24 pm

Actiongrl,

The thing is, we felt the Discovery Times Channel filming at Burning Man was wrong. We invited you and the LLC to respond in a public forum at the event and you (and Maid Marian, and Larry Harvey) graciously declined. Fine.

Then we started a petition drive, we sent you 40 email petitions and you claimed it crashed your server and that you couldn’t get any work done. There was even an insinuation that it was some kind of denial of service attack (who knew 40 text only emails would crash a server?) We apologized and asked you what the appropriate channels were for our discourse. After some discussion you agreed to allow us to deliver the petitions in our tutus. You even stated that we might have an opportunity to view some footage (It’s not really worth me getting into the semantics of what that footage was or who might be there, I really don’t care about that). All we asked for is the opportunity to deliver the petitions BEFORE the LLC signed off on the footage, in the manner that you chose. That opportunity has been denied.

Frankly, I thought we were trying to work together on this, and I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. All we’ve ever wanted was to give people on both sides of this issue a voice.

I don’t feel like you’ve kept your end of the bargain here, and it has nothing to do with not being able to view the footage, I want to make that very clear.

Chai Guy

Postby actiongrl » Tue Jan 24, 2006 4:02 pm

“it crashed your server”

It crashed my email program. Happens to me a lot on high volume days, because I have too much email. Nothing malicious, although it did put me in a pretty crappy mood that day.

If there was some insinuation that there was every any question we were going to deny them the right to broadcast the footage based on anything that could have been said in your petitions, I’m sorry for that misunderstanding. Having allowed them to shoot, the chances of our denying them permission to broadcast would have been EXTREMELY slim. The piece would have had to violate the agreement we had made with them, and it didn’t. I’m sorry this has blossomed into a misunderstanding between us, but what I agreed to do was accept the petitions in written form. I didn’t think I was going to have to contact your group to ask that you bring them to me – I figured that since you were motivated to get this information to us, you might proactively contact me about it.

I also offered to show you the piece (I did *not* extend an offer to participate in the approval process) and some others from the archive, to deepen our conversation about the approval process and give you more understanding of our legal rights in the situation. If I gave the impression that the Discovery Times piece would be affected in any way by the delivery of these petitions, I’m sorry, but that’s not what I was trying to say. My endeavor was to include you in more information about our Media Process and give you a chance to deliver the feedback in a way that worked on both sides, but I never meant to give the impression that Burning Man was necessarily going to change its longstanding policies on media or back out of letting “Only In America” broadcast because of it.

actiongrl

Post by capjbadger » Tue Jan 24, 2006 6:06 pm

Whether or not our input was going to change if Discovery Channel was going to broadcast the piece is not the issue here. The fact that the ORG agreed to this in the first place is.

As a new burner, I’ve read though all the info I could get my hands on and thought I had a pretty good grasp of what BM was suppose to be and the spirit by which it was run.

Seems I have been lied to.

Might as well put a pair of mouse ears on Larry and call it a day… 😦

capjbadger

Postby actiongrl » Tue Jan 24, 2006 7:24 pm

I’m not prepared to make this yet another thread where I defend our allowing the media into the event as we have done for ten years. I’ve had the conversations face to face, on email, and on three different bulletin boards for months now, and while I appreciate that there are some who disagree, I am going to have to admit that I don’t think the response to savebrc.org has been so overwhelming as to say that Burning Man really needs to make significant changes to what has been a successfully applied media policy for most of its existence.

I have also spoken with hundreds of people who heard about Burning Man for the first time through the popular media and had a fantastic and transformative time there. The media are part of our experience at the event and working with them is my job, and I did it. If you want to know more about why we allow press at Burning Man, come over to Media Mecca like Chai and Da Bomb did and talk with us about it. Read the Afterburn report where we acknowledge the Discovery Times controversy and explain why we handled it the way we did. (That’s due out in the coming months, I just turned in my report.)

I’m basically saying I’m over it with the rehashing and the BBS discussion thereof, though. Frankly, I am increasingly disappointed in how human beings will speak so coarsely to one another online, and I’m really losing my taste for encouraging people to use these mediums when we address newcomers by calling them names… Would any one walk up to me and make that mouse ears comment in person? I doubt it, and if you did, I’d have every right to be indignant about it, and I would. When I have talked about this in person, I’ve found that many people who expressed outrage about the Discovery Times piece really didn’t understand much about our media process or how much media exposure we get. With a little more information, they generally understood our decision…maybe not all supported it, but they at least could understand why we work with the media like we do.

I think I’ve tried to address that with you guys several times, Chai.

My phone number is going to be sent to you via PM. Using our voices is really the only way i’m willing to discuss this further, because the fact is I’ve already said my piece online over and again, and I remain of my same opinion.

We’ve had successful conversations in real life, and I’m willing to hear you out and tell you anything you need to know too. If you feel the world needs to know the outcomes of our conversation, you can tell them about it, but I am not interested in participating in this forum about it.

actiongrl

Post by capjbadger » Tue Jan 24, 2006 7:41 pm

Kinetic IV wrote:

capjbadger wrote:

Might as well put a pair of mouse ears on Larry and call it a day… 😦

With regret, don’t forget a second pair for AG in this case.

My quip was not so much pointing blame at any one person, but simply using him to made a point.

I’ve seen too many other place/events go down this road. Places I called home. I don’t want to see this go the same way.

Now… Where do I sign up? 👿

I’m not going to stand by and let this die too.

capjbadger

Postby Kinetic IV » Tue Jan 24, 2006 7:58 pm

AG, are you really understanding what Chai’s trying to get across to you? I don’t think you are and that saddens me because for the longest time I felt you were one person inside the org that still understood the concerns of the participants. Now I don’t think that’s the case anymore. So Chai only presented 40 names on the petition…hmmm…after reading that comment I felt like damn, unless we have the big bucks like Discovery did to wave in your faces our concerns are not going to be heard…or even stand a chance of getting higher up into the ORG where someone might decide to act on it.

As for the mouse ears comment many people only know me online and few truly know me offline. If I met you in person and felt something was wrong I would look you right square in the eye and say so. It might not be pleasant but it would be done. I did put the “with regret” comment in there because I highly respect you…and I hated saying anything at all. But the event is very important to me, I understand the need for some media attention but months later I still feel this was the wrong thing to do.

I’ll shut up now, my voice really means nothing. But at least until now I had the slight illusion that it might.

Kinetic IV

Postby actiongrl » Tue Jan 24, 2006 9:03 pm

Everything anyone has said has made its way to the top on this one, trust me on that. I’m just telling you that allowing the media has been our policy for a great number of reasons that apply to our experience as the people who organize this event, and that I feel like we did the right thing by our stated policies, and that while we are very very cautious and aware of the rights of our participants and seek to protect the event we all love by working closely with the media, the mere fact of their presence at the event is really not open to debate.

actiongrl

Postby capjbadger » Tue Jan 24, 2006 9:18 pm

actiongrl wrote:

Everything anyone has said has made its way to the top on this one, trust me on that. I’m just telling you that allowing the media has been our policy for a great number of reasons that apply to our experience as the people who organize this event, and that I feel like we did the right thing by our stated policies, and that while we are very very cautious and aware of the rights of our participants and seek to protect the event we all love by working closely with the media, the mere fact of their presence at the event is really not open to debate.

“Decommodification

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.”

This isn’t about the media being there, it’s about them buying the rights to other people’s art and selling that on national TV for their own profit. You sold us out, plain and simple.

Just wondering… What’s the taxes on 30 pieces of silver come out to anyway?

capjbadger

Post by robotland » Wed Jan 25, 2006 7:47 am

Having met AG and Larry, I can tell you FOR CERTAIN that she does NOT possess devil horns…Mr. Harvey wouldn’t remove his hat, of course.

I think Andie has been very diplomatic, and does NOT deserve to be likened to Judas, or worse, Mickey Mouse. Had it not been for the media, I wouldn’t have had a clue about this fantastic event that has enormously enriched my existence, facilitated the meeting of many wonderful people and reinvigorated my artistic career. I can understand how difficult it might be to perceive Burning Man as a perfect, incorruptable experience while at the same time accepting profit-driven camera crews let loose to record it…But all of our existence as human beings involves making such tradeoffs. If I had worked as hard as the BMorg to produce this amazing, unique experience, I’d be flattered by almost any media attention- Girls Gone Wild creeps and amateur pornographers notwithstanding. Conversely, if you wanted to start your own event, and do all the hard work, and then deny the media any access whatsoever, then all power to you. Until recently, I wondered if the Discovery Times program would even be aired- A lot of people seemed to be taken aback by the idea, and I can’t say that I blame them. But I have faith that the Powers That Be have and will continue to defend our privacy and our rights as Participants. I’ll be curious to see the program, and won’t make further conclusions until I have.

robotland

Postby capjbadger » Wed Jan 25, 2006 1:38 pm

I’ll say it again since it seems people are not understanding. The quips I’ve been making have been at the ORG as a whole, not at any one person. I’m sure AG and Larry are wonderful people and I have no beef with them personally.

(*Chuckle* Goes to show our mindset when getting compared to Mickey Mouse is worse that being a Judas.. 😉 )

That having been said, seems I need to say this again since you are not getting the gist of all this.

The media being there in the first place is NOT the problem.

Read that line again so it sinks in…

The ORG SELLING the rights to other people’s art for profit is the issue here. The ORG exploited other people’s work and sold it to DC which is directly against the principles that BM is suppose to run on.

If they want to sell, fine. But at least be up front about it instead of hiding behind the lie that BM is somehow without commerce.

“…unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising.”

If the media wants in, cool. They get in just like every one else, and act as part of the community and participates, not sitting around being spectators.

Robot, you heard about the event via the media. Cool. I heard about it via social circles. Cool also. (granted I have the advantage of living in the SF bay area). Neither is wrong. I simply have a very hard time putting the actions of the ORG together with “Decommodification” and not seeing the hypocrisy.

capjbadger

Postby Kinetic IV » Wed Jan 25, 2006 1:49 pm

You might as well be talking to one of these. The ORG is going to do what the ORG wants to do and the participants can take a hike. As long as InHouse funnels those ticket sales simoleons into the treasury and the clique gets their center cafe sales, the ice sales, Lanceland gets to keep up their blatant advertising, volunteers show up for petty crap like taking down holiday decorations, etc, nothing’s going to change.

So why go at all? There’s still good people there that are not part of the corruption and they make it worth the time invested to go. And yes I said the C word. It’s corrupt. It’s starting to stink of wretched excess and people are waking up and noticing the stench.

Kinetic IV

Post by lazarus » Wed Jan 25, 2006 2:13 pm

actiongrl wrote:

I’m not prepared to make this yet another thread where I defend our allowing the media into the event as we have done for ten years. I’ve had the conversations face to face, on email, and on three different bulletin boards for months now, and while I appreciate that there are some who disagree, I am going to have to admit that I don’t think the response to savebrc.org has been so overwhelming as to say that Burning Man really needs to make significant changes to what has been a successfully applied media policy for most of its existence.

I have also spoken with hundreds of people who heard about Burning Man for the first time through the popular media and had a fantastic and transformative time there. The media are part of our experience at the event and working with them is my job, and I did it. If you want to know more about why we allow press at Burning Man, come over to Media Mecca like Chai and Da Bomb did and talk with us about it. Read the Afterburn report where we acknowledge the Discovery Times controversy and explain why we handled it the way we did. (That’s due out in the coming months, I just turned in my report.)

I’m basically saying I’m over it with the rehashing and the BBS discussion thereof, though. Frankly, I am increasingly disappointed in how human beings will speak so coarsely to one another online, and I’m really losing my taste for encouraging people to use these mediums when we address newcomers by calling them names… Would any one walk up to me and make that mouse ears comment in person? I doubt it, and if you did, I’d have every right to be indignant about it, and I would. When I have talked about this in person, I’ve found that many people who expressed outrage about the Discovery Times piece really didn’t understand much about our media process or how much media exposure we get. With a little more information, they generally understood our decision…maybe not all supported it, but they at least could understand why we work with the media like we do.

I think I’ve tried to address that with you guys several times, Chai.

My phone number is going to be sent to you via PM. Using our voices is really the only way i’m willing to discuss this further, because the fact is I’ve already said my piece online over and again, and I remain of my same opinion.

We’ve had successful conversations in real life, and I’m willing to hear you out and tell you anything you need to know too. If you feel the world needs to know the outcomes of our conversation, you can tell them about it, but I am not interested in participating in this forum about it.”

Then why don’t we stop beating around the proverbial bush and call BM what it really is. A business. And as a business, the bottom line or profit is the driving force or motive. It is a LLC, which means for profit with the protection to the individual corporate shareholders from most liablility lawsuits. Businesses, in order to survive, advertise. Hence the presence of non-journalistic media such as the DIscovery Times people. Org sells them the rights to gain additional profit. The problem comes the Org claims that it is not a business. That it is protecting your art by preventing unwanted use. But yet they sell those rights. Time for a fresh look at profit vs non-profit. Just my opinion.

lazarus

Post by actiongrl » Wed Jan 25, 2006 2:38 pm

I don’t consider a channel between Discovery Network and the New York Times “non-journalistic”. Most every legitimate news outlet I know of accepts advertising. It’s how the news gets told.

actiongrl

Post by capjbadger » Wed Jan 25, 2006 2:46 pm

I’ll have to agree with AG on this one. The news is paid for by ads. plain and simple. If anything, I’d say Discovery is more “journalistic” with their documentries than your typical news outlet (ABC, NBC, CBS, Etc.) with their hype and shock value news “services”.

capjbadger

Post by HughMungus » Wed Jan 25, 2006 3:12 pm

Burning Man is a private event to which you are invited. If you don’t like the paramaters, don’t go. If you have a problem with something, send an email and maybe even verify that it was received but then LET IT GO. I think BORG does listen to complaints and suggestions but it’s not a democracy. I don’t think it can be. Realizing this will relieve some of you of a lot of stress. It used to bug the hell out of me that they hand out out a ton of MOOP at the gate, that a lot of stupid “art” gets funded, and that “the man” gets bigger and more complex each year (money I think could be spent better elsewhere). But I’m not going to spend a lot of time bitching about it. I’ll post on here or send an email to whoever and then I just let it go because I know I’m a guest.

It’s what you make it.

HughMungus

Post by lazarus » Wed Jan 25, 2006 3:13 pm

I disagree. NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, FOX etc. Television news. Journalists. New York Times, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, etc. Print journalists. All others are pseudo journalists, hype mongers, paid for advertising for BM. But let’s get back to the point that BM is a business. A business that uses volunteers to increase the profit for the Org. You call it an Org, but it is a business that makes a profit. You want the illusion that it is an ephemeral event, which it is, however it is still a business. Change it to a 501c3 and it becomes a non-profit. Keep in mind I don’t mind buying a ticket, attending the event and having fun but when the Org claims a “halo about ones head” they should reflect same in their actions and words.

lazarus

Burning Man Org to Burners: We Own You

Imageby Whatsblem the Pro

People who don’t know what Burning Man is tend to assume that it’s just another festival; a place where consumers go to enjoy passive entertainment arranged by event promoters. Burning Man’s not like that, and it never has been.

What would we have, if the only work that got done out there on the playa was what the Org either paid for or did themselves? If there were no volunteers, no independent artists or laborers or engineers or architects or visionaries or weirdos or pranksters or sex deities or bartenders? Nobody out there just doing their thing?

Attendee participation is fundamental to Burning Man, and it is what provides us with 99% of the shade, art, diversions, exposed flesh, alcohol, and other critical resources to be found in Black Rock City. Even most of what the Org provides gets built, torn down, and cleaned-up after with volunteer labor, and all of it gets paid for with money we give them. Imagine if all those burners who put all that time and money and effort into being amazing on the playa – all the people who aren’t part of the Org or paid by them – were suddenly replaced in the middle of the burn by passive attendees looking to be entertained and vended to in exchange for their ticket purchase. There would be no Burning Man. There wouldn’t even be a festival; instead, we’d have a major tragedy in an artless, corpse-littered desert wilderness: Thirsting Man. Mummifying Man. What-the-Fuck-are-You-Doing-Here Man.

In short, it’s a huge mistake to give the Org too much credit for Burning Man. Burning Man co-founder John Law understood that; back in 2007, he wrote:

Burning Man, since it’s inception has depended upon the gratis efforts of many. Since my leaving active organizing of the event in 1996, it has become a huge business generating more than 8 million dollars a year. Some people are paid quite well for their efforts. If the organizing core of the event believes, as they say quite clearly in their literature that the BM concept is a true movement, and has an opportunity to really make a difference in peoples lives and ideas around community, the arts, etc., then they shouldn’t have a problem releasing the protected trademarks Burning Man, Black Rock City, etc to the public domain where ANYONE can then BE Burning Man. Doing this will not impede their ability to manage and organize the event, sell tickets, pay themselves, and any artists, vendors and tradesmen as they choose using ticket sales receipts.

The only thing that would change is that NO ONE would be able to capitalize on “Burning Man” by licensing the name or selling it or using it as an advertising pitch. There is no other reason to retain these legal ownership titles other than to capitalize on their brand value at some later date.

I was defrauded by Larry and Michael’s actions. I hope they choose to do the right thing and give Burning Man to the people.”

John Law

John Law

Of course they didn’t give Burning Man to the people. They settled with John Law on undisclosed terms instead, and they’ve been jealously guarding the brand they officially own ever since. . . and that eight million dollars? It’s now up to over thirty million.

Yes, I said “jealously guarded,” and there’s no hyperbole in that. . . if anything, it’s an understatement. In 2009, digital civil rights watchdog the Electronic Frontier Foundation slammed the Org for their ticketing terms and conditions, saying “It’s bad enough that some companies routinely trot out contracts prohibiting you from criticizing them, but it’s another thing altogether when they demand that you hand over your copyrights to any criticisms, so that they can use the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to censor your own expression off the Internet.”Electronic Frontier Foundation

Having recognized that the Org may very well have good intentions behind their terms and conditions, the EFF still notes that “the collateral damage to our free speech is unacceptable.”

The Org’s defense to this is that their over-reaching and draconian measures are necessary to protect Black Rock City culture. Some would say that by ‘protect’ they must mean “reserve it for their own exploitation.” The most charitable interpretation I can make of the Org’s response to the EFF is something like “we don’t trust burners to do it themselves, and we lack the imagination to come up with a solution that isn’t a massive violation of peoples’ rights all year long, everywhere.”

The corporation that runs Burning Man is slated to become a non-profit, but this has not yet happened, and it won’t necessarily make things better, or curtail the ability of board members to skim off massive paydays for themselves. For now, the Org is still a non-transparent, for-profit corporate entity whose board members primarily serve their own interests behind closed doors. With most of their operating costs paid for out of the pockets and sweat glands of volunteers, they control tens of millions of dollars per year in ticket revenue alone. . . yet they seem to have zero respect for the people who not only give them that ticket revenue, but also literally build and painstakingly strike the event that makes it possible for them to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of tickets in the first place.

Zero respect doesn’t mean zero interest. Off-playa, the Org seems all too eager to establish and maintain a Disney-like control over every aspect of burner culture they can get their hands on, a process that effectively quashes the very freedom and can-do DIY attitude that burners thrive on and that the Org themselves love to trumpet as their greatest triumphs.

Given the amount of lip service that the Org gives to the idea of spreading the culture as widely as possible, it seems both hypocritical and graspingly self-serving to exert the kind of stranglehold that they do on ‘their’ trademark. That kind of control freakism is par for the course, though. Regionals must adhere to a strict set of policies and rules set by the Org, just to be ‘officially’ recognized as nothing more than organized groups of burners. Try to organize anything bigger than a living room sleepover while self-identifying as Burning Man enthusiasts, and you’re asking for unwelcome attention from the vultures in the Org’s legal department and their mania for protecting the Burning Man brand from the very people who give that brand its value.

The Org even has an official set of rules for online communities, and they are both dismayingly extensive and incredibly oppressive. Rudeness, vulgarity, being disrespectful, being snide, being overly-critical of the Org, or even wandering off-topic are just a small part of what is explicitly forbidden.

“They want burner-oriented Facebook groups to enforce all those rules for them. So naturally, nobody wants their group to be official,” says Michael Watkiss, an administrator of and participant in several such groups. “The official rules are just way too strict.”

The words of John Law echo in our ears: “There is no other reason to retain these legal ownership titles other than to capitalize on their brand value at some later date.” The Org’s death grip on the Burning Man trademark is a visible sign of their preparation of new revenue streams – at the culture’s expense – in order to maintain and increase the personal income of board members in the face of their imminent reconfiguration as a non-profit organization.

There are a surprising number of Burning Man groups and pages on Facebook, most of them unofficial, created and administered by volunteer burners. They range from the Org’s own heavily-moderated Facebook page to various Regional or special-interest groups, including one called “Burning Man Sucks.”

Photo by Michael Macor

Photo by Michael Macor

The administrators of these groups are, of course, unpaid volunteer burners. To one degree or another, they strive to keep their groups lively, useful, and relevant. One thing plagues them all: advertising. People show up in their groups and post ads, aka ‘spam.’

The largest Burning Man group on Facebook, with some 28,000 members, has this problem all the time. “We have to be constantly on the watch for spam,” says Watkiss. “We’re a decommodification zone, no advertising allowed. The only exceptions are for events and fundraising that directly benefit either recognized Regionals, or art projects that are destined for the playa.”

It’s easy enough for the admins to just delete the totally unrelated marketing blather that washes up in our online communities, but some of it isn’t totally unrelated, and is posted by burners themselves. Somewhere between the exceptions made by Watkiss’ group and the realm of outright corporate spam, there lies a grey zone of burner-oriented advertising by and for individual burners. Deleting a corporate sales pitch for diet lard, the latest model of Pootmobile, or low easy payments on plutonium siding for houses is trivial; deleting a fellow burner’s post in which he’s trying to sell the yurts he builds can cause friction.

“It’s often cut-and-dried,” says Watkiss, “but the grey areas are very, very grey indeed. That can really generate a lot of anger.”

Recently, a small group of volunteer administrators like Michael Watkiss put their heads together over an improved solution to the spam problem that wouldn’t shut out individual burners from making contact with each other and buying and selling things. “A guy from one of the Regional groups told us that his people opened a second Facebook group strictly for buying and selling things to each other,” Watkiss explains. “It seemed like a great idea, so we talked about starting one for burners all over the world to use. It keeps the buying and selling out of the main groups, but gives it a place to happen where we can still guard against people from outside the culture trying to market random junk to us. Decommodification is wonderful in its place, but it shouldn’t mean that burners are forbidden from ever having any commerce with each other, anywhere. This way the burners on Facebook get their burner swapmeet if they want it, without polluting the main groups with commerce.”

The charter of the new group, dubbed “Burning Man Classifieds,” reads as follows:

This group is given to the burner community as a place to freely post any appropriate advertisements we wish. Funding an art project? Tell us about it. Need a new roommate, or a job, or a car, or a rideshare, or some exotic materials for your art? Try us. Want to sell something? Give us your best pitch. You can even beg here, if you think your cause is good enough to garner donations. You can even look for a date! What you can’t post: MLM pyramid schemes/scams, obvious attempts to market to us from outside our community, and blatant trolling. Everything else is fair game; the admins will use their best judgment in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

PLEASE THINK BEFORE YOU POST. This is a worldwide group of people. If you post an ad looking for a room to rent, for instance, then we need to know where you are. Not the intersection, the city and State (or Province, etc.). Try not to make extra work for the volunteer administrators, or we might assume you’re a troll.

If you administer a Burning Man related group and would like to help us out, get in touch with one of our admins so we can add you to the team.

Just a week after the new group’s inception, the Org seems to have taken notice in a big way. “Apparently, they’ve been sending thinly-veiled legal threats to one of the administrators,” says Michael Watkiss. “They don’t want the group to use the phrase ‘Burning Man’ because they say it violates their trademark.”

Trademark infringement is not so simple, though. In most cases of alleged infringement, the acid test is consumer confusion. If the defendant isn’t selling a product that consumers might think came from a different manufacturer because of the trademark, then generally speaking, no infringement has occurred. There are also protections for non-commercial use of trademarks, and for parodies.

Michael Watkiss: “I don’t understand why the Org would think they have a leg to stand on. Nobody owns the group, and nobody is making money by running the group. It’s just a place for burners to have a funky little swap meet with each other. The group itself is not a commercial enterprise, and nobody is going to confuse a Facebook group with a giant week-long arts festival in the desert. The idea that there’s some kind of trademark infringement going on that requires their legal team to swoop in is just silly.”

Holle had to change his plates from BURN BRC to BRC LUV

Holle had to change his plates from BURN BRC to BRC LUV

According to Watkiss, the Org’s legal team suggested that a name change to “Burner Classifieds” would be sufficient to call off the dogs. . . but sadly, most people – including the State – still think ‘burner’ means someone who smokes a lot of pot. “It makes it harder for our tribe – burners – to find Burning Man communities that aren’t controlled by the Org, and encourages both dilution and demonization of our communities by making outsiders think we’re all about drugs.”

Watkiss’ complaint seems to hold water.

“I ordered ‘BURNBRC’ license plates from the State of Nevada for my pickup truck,” burner Jawsh ‘Sparrow’ Holle told me. “They printed the registration that way on the spot, but then the State sent me a letter saying they wouldn’t issue the plates because the word ‘burn’ was drug-related, and I had to change my request. I asked for ‘BRC LUV’ instead.”

Trademark law protects people using phrases that can’t be adequately expressed with an alternate phrase, especially for non-commercial uses, and particularly when there’s no consumer confusion likely. The Org’s attempts to exert total control over the term “Burning Man” aren’t just contrary to everything they say about fostering community and culture, they’re also unsupported by trademark law.

“It’s all been very politely worded,” points out Watkiss, “but the implicit threat in these messages from the Org is very clear. It’s the iron hand in the velvet glove. If they can’t be in complete control, the Org wants to marginalize us. . . and we’re burners!”

Mutant Gas Alert!

Image

by Whatsblem the Pro

In news that will surely upset those who fondly imagine Larry Harvey as Moses handing the Ten Principles down to the Chosen, the Org is testing the waters to see if a Black Rock City gas station might be a workable idea.

Yesterday, the following e-mail was sent out to registered Mutant Vehicle owners:

Greetings BRC licensed vehicle owners.

To best support the Burning Man community in ways that make sense, we are researching the possibility of having fuel available for BRC licensed vehicles on playa this year. To fully research this, we need some information from you on your potential fuel needs. We only need you to fill out the survey if you are planning on bringing your vehicle to be licensed by the BRC DMV on playa in 2013.

In brief, we are looking at the possibility of a system where you would prepay for credit that you would then use on playa via some sort of token or card to fill your Mutant Vehicle or Disabled permitted vehicle. This would not be for other vehicles at the event. No money would be exchanged on playa. You would possibly be able to add more credit to the system if you run out on playa, and we are also researching options on how to handle unused funds. The exact process is still pending. Prices would be comparable to or possibly less than fuel in Gerlach.

Please fill out the following survey on the link below so we can assess fuel needs. We recommend you fill out the survey using a full computer and not a smart phone or tablet.

Respondents were asked to provide their names, e-mail addresses, names of vehicles, and an estimate of how many gallons of fuel they expect to use on the playa. A space for additional comments was also provided.

It’s silly to decry this as a potential violation of the principle of decommodification. . . or is it?

In one sense, it definitely is silly. The decommodification of the playa began as a utilitarian thing, not some holy-joe attempt at purifying our spirits by freeing us from the evil bonds of Mammon. I’ve written about sacred cows and the origins of on-playa decommodification before; if it lacks a profit motive, this idea of providing a gas station for Mutant Vehicle owners only conflicts with the decommodification principle if you’re some kind of trash-eating zealot who is so allergic to capitalism that touching a dollar bill would make you break out in open sores.

On the other hand, if there’s a profit motive here, then what we’re looking at is the Org testing the waters for the establishment of future revenue streams. With Burning Man going non-profit, the founders and other Org players who have been raking in millions of dollars from ticket sales each year will soon see the primary source of their great wealth turn to dust and ashes. . . and money is known to be a powerfully addictive substance.

We should all recognize that a gas station would be a useful, handy thing to provide for Mutant Vehicle owners that would reduce waste and fuel transport inefficiencies. However, we should also be aware that BRC already has a gas station, run by DPW. Traditionally, if you want to gas up your art car there, you pay in beer. Lots of beer. It’s possible that the Org is simply trying to stem that flow. We should also recognize, however, that with all the money pouring into their coffers and all the expense and labor of building and operating a Mutant Vehicle, it might be reasonable to expect the Org to provide MV drivers with gasoline for free, or at least at cost.

Now let’s look at that e-mail again:

Prices would be comparable to or possibly less than fuel in Gerlach.

Well there’s the rub right there. If fuel prices at an on-playa gas station are comparable to retail prices in Gerlach, then someone’s going to be turning a profit on this. If the prices are less than retail in Gerlach, how much less will they be? If it’s higher than at-cost, we again must wonder who’s raking it in.

Who's pumping you?

Who’s pumping you?

Given that the Org has profited so mightily on an event that has been mainly dreamed up and built by volunteer labor and paying attendees, it seems par for the course but still a bit of a slap in the face on several levels to watch them cynically size us up for further fleecing, if in fact that’s what they’re doing. . . and make no mistake: whether or not this is an example of a fleecing in the offing, we can be sure that now that the Org is going non-profit, ancillary businesses controlled by insiders will be popping up like mushrooms on a cow pat. It’s going to be George Bush’s great-grandfather selling rifle straps and stocks to the army all over again. To deny this is to deny that the people running the Org are greedy in proportion with the wealth they’ve already attained, and that would be giving them credit where none is due; they are, after all, human beings, with all the ethical frailty being human implies.

Oh, and speaking of credit:

You would possibly be able to add more credit to the system if you run out on playa, and we are also researching options on how to handle unused funds.

I’ll bet. At this point, it’s hard to say what this gas station idea truly portends. . . but we do know from long experience that basic accounting is extremely difficult for the Org, even though they find advanced game theory so easy.

All levity aside, let’s hope Mutant Vehicle owners benefit from this without funneling more undeserved wealth into the hands of people who are already undeservedly wealthy.