Things Were So Quaint, Back In The Day

Just stumbled upon this story from 2003.  It’s the perfect example of how social engineering of Burners can start with a prank, and be passed off as ironic, and then quickly become the new normal. Timeshare slots in the Oasis, anyone?


Vacations > Western U.S. > Western U.S. Tours
Burning Man 2003
Travelocity and Burning Tours invites you to Burning Man 2003! Come experience the colorful sights, the amazing sounds, and interesting people that come to this grand festival in the Nevada desert every year!
Tour Highlights | Inclusions | Options | Lodging & Dining | Itinerary | Prices
 7 Days from $1400
Prices are per person and reflect land cost only. Price is based on tourist-class hotels and similar services.
TRIP CODE: BRCNV
LODGING: Air Conditioned Travelocity Oasis Camp

 TOUR HIGHLIGHTS
Experience the spectacles of the Burning Man festival! Join Travelocity for this week-long tour package that lets you experience the wonder and awe of Burning Man 2003 without the hassle. Take in the beauty of the Nevada sky and mountains while seeing the many eclectic art projects, interesting sounds, and incredibly dressed people that make up this fantastic “city in the desert.” Don’t worry about being in the desert, as Travelocity has it’s own air conditioned “theme camp” where you may sleep in the comfort of your own private living space. Breakfast and dinner are served daily.

 PACKAGE INCLUSIONS
The Burning Man 2003 package includes the following:
Fourteen meals (breakfast and dinner) and six nights accommodations at the Travelocity Theme Camp, located near the Burning Man festival’s Center Camp
Burning Man 2003 ticket included with the package
Travelocity Playa Safari shuttle for transportation from Reno to Burning Man and back after the event
Complementary daily supply of water and ice
Modern, air-conditioned tent with private sleeping areas and separate toilet facilities
Professional Burning Man host and guide
Front-row reserved seating for many popular events, including the burning of the Man
Free Travelocity/Burning Man “Trading Trinkets”
All service charges and tips, baggage-handling fees, and local taxes
Travel bag and wallet containing package documents and helpful information

 OPTIONAL INCLUSIONS
The following add-ons may be available at an additional cost:

Travel insurance
Accomodations at the Reno Atlantis Hotel and Casino
Sightseeing tour of Lake Tahoe

 LODGING & DINING
The following is a summary of the accommodations for this tour:

Accommodations are based on twin-shares.

The following is a summary of the dining plan for this tour:

Breakfast: Seven are included.
Lunch: On your own.
Dinner: Seven are included.

 ITINERARY
Day(s) Activities
1 Arrive Reno
2 Arrive Burning Man
3 – 6 Burning Man 2003 festival
7 Arrive Reno

PACKAGE PRICES
Please note: Prices below are listed per person based on double occupancy. Prices are for land cost only. Rates may vary and space is limited. Deposit and refund information.
Departure Dates          Land Only
August 26, 2003 
August 27, 2003 
   $1400

ADDITIONAL PRICING INFORMATION

Triple share reduction: $35
Single room supplement: $325
Child share reduction (5-11 years): $295

[Source: archive.org]


 

At the time, the publication of this site and the supporting email promoting it, caused quite a stir. Big enough to become a story in WIRED magazine, just like Popsicle Camp is now in Bloomberg.

From WIRED (emphasis ours):

Burners Sweat Over Package Prank

Daniel Terdiman Email 07.24.03

Everything’s included at Travelocity’s Burning Tours!

Burning Man participants are often borderline fundamentalist about the mores of their desert bacchanalia. Over the years, they have steadfastly insisted that organizers never consider opening the doors to anything corporate.

So last week, when a message advertising an all-inclusive package tour of Burning Man spread like some out-of-control virus among the desert fest’s regulars and their e-mail lists, a lot of people went ballistic.

Supposedly sponsored by Travelocity and an unknown outfit called Burning Tours, the package promised prepared meals, an air-conditioned tent, free “Travelocity/Burning Man ‘trading trinkets'” and front-row seating for the annual alternative art festival’s signature spectacle, the torching of the 50-foot wooden Man.

But for anyone calm enough to look at the promotion’s Web page for a moment, there was a clue that something was not quite right. Instead of a Travelocity.com address, it was Travelocity.burningtours.com. It was not an attack on Burning Man’s principles at all. It was a hoax.

Precisely because vast numbers of “Burners” are tightly connected through e-mail lists, bulletin boards, websites and real-world gatherings, the Burning Man community is a juicy target for hoaxes. For example, a fake CNN.com story raised serious hackles on April Fools’ Day 2002. That one announced that the event’s organizers had sold its marketing and promoting rights to MTV.

Who were the instigators of the pranks? Burners themselves. Who else could better exploit the wired nature of their community, preying on its passionate adherence to anti-commercialism and radical self-reliance?

Specifically, the guilty party in the Travelocity gag was Dale Ghent, a 26-year-old Internet engineer from suburban Washington, D.C., who had seen the MTV ruse. He downloaded a Travelocity package tour page, did a quick mock-up of the Burning Tours package and, posing as a first-time Burner named Alan Douglas, posted a message to the New York Burners regional e-mail list asking if he should buy the tour.

“You sit there and you watch the e-mail, and the time elapsing and the people starting to read it and replying, ‘No, no, you can’t do this. It’s not the Burning Man spirit,'” Ghent laughs. “The general level of outrage was pretty satisfying, I have to say.”

Indeed, even veteran Burners were taken by the realistic representation of the Web page. A Seattle Burner known as Abdullah posted a message to one list with a link to the Burning Tours page, asking, “What the everlasting almighty FUCK?”

“My initial reaction was asinine knee-jerk reflex. I know how to read a URL and should have realized that this wasn’t in the Travelocity domain,” said Abdullah. “But I didn’t pay attention, and had one of those berserker moments. It was pure rage.”

At Burning Man headquarters, however, even as e-mails and instant messages started flowing in, the mood was relaxed. They’d been through this before and they love good art.

“The first thing to do when one of these hoaxes come around is usually to smile because they’re funny,” says Burning Man senior staffer Andie Grace. “The whole purpose of it is to prank people. So I don’t want to run around being the one who killed the joke.”

cartoon-going-fungalBut Grace says she was fascinated watching the viral spread of the hoax across the countless Burning Man regional and department e-mail lists, many of which share members.

“There is overlap,” she explains. “A friend sends it to a friend in Seattle, who puts it on their regional list, and then someone e-mails it to their friend in St. Louis.”

As one e-mail list discovered it was a hoax, other lists were just beginning to see the original message. The word that everything was okay, that Burning Man’s purity was safe, was always one step behind. In fact, even though most Burners now know the Burning Tours offer was a gag, some are still hearing about it for the first time, Grace said.

Meanwhile, Ghent started hearing from people about his work. “I think overall, people had good humor about it,” he said. “I got private e-mails saying, great hoax, good job,” he says. “I think once people realized it was a hoax, they got a grin on their face.

And as for Abdullah?

“It obviously took a lot of time and skill to do this,” he says. “It reminded me that I’m not quite as clever as I think I am sometimes…. To the author of the Travelocity spoof: Nice one, mate.”

[Original: http://archive.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2003/07/59740]

We’ve moved along the spectrum of turnkey camping from irony to stark reality. Today, $1400 looks cheap for a Commodification Camp. And “look at how much fun the tech billionaires are having out West!” is the new marketing slogan for Wall Street and the City of London.

It’s amazing to look back and see how things have changed. Progress? Evolution? Or devolution?

evolution of a djI guess I am still with the 2003 Burners, who see this as an attack on Burning Man’s principles. The Ten Principles were not even encoded as such, that happened the year after this ironic scandal. Clearly, Radical Self Reliance, Leave No Trace, and an environment away from the Default world capitalist model of labor organization were part of the core values of Burning Man much earlier than the Tin Principles.

Were the Principles actually specifically crafted in response to this meme? It was supposedly created by a New York Regional contact. BMOrg admitted they were promoting it via their regionals email lists and carefully watching “for amusement”? Perhaps the Founders actually liked the idea of selling tour packages, so they wanted to create some fine print that would allow this to really happen in the future.  As I’ve noted before, there’s nothing in the Principles about ethics, and they are carefully worded to only discourage transactions taking place on the Playa, rather than completely ban commerce itself. There have been quite a few posts from the official Burning Man blog over the last couple of years trying to clarify this point for us.

Now, not only do BMP’s Directors run multi-million dollar camps like this, massive ones with more than 50 sherpas; but they actually go to burningman.org to blame their staff for wrongdoing while they lecture us about how their VIP wristband camps are shining examples of the Ten Principles in action.

A big farce. It provides laughs for more than a decade, while they slowly introduce it into our society and sell $17,000 hotel rooms to the A-List – then laugh at us when we protest. “Oh, those Burners! They’re always the same. Blah blah blah, people have been saying that for 20 years and we keep raising prices and they keep buying tickets. Go make an amusing street theater protest to entertain us with, rubes!”

The Occidental Oasis "ironic" timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire's Row

The Occidental Oasis “ironic” timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire’s Row

Black Rock Acres p3

The 1%? All A Board

The Burning Man Project is now the 100% shareholder of Black Rock City, LLC, which puts on the Burning Man event. A Board of Directors of 18 people is responsible for the Burning Man Project. Founder Will Roger is the Chairman.

sherpa kegSherpaGate and all the attention from the New York Times and Bloomberg has highlighted Burning Man’s place on the world stage as a playground for rich people. In the past, how much money you had was never an issue at Burning Man. Nobody cared, because money did not exist in this environment. Tickets were based on Burners splitting the costs of the permit and the infrastructure for putting on the party – like a mega-version of camp dues. The art was more about amusement and light-hearted entertainment, than impressing and out-doing.

Now, ticket prices increase almost every year, new taxes get invented like the vehicle pass, directors run Commodification Camps, there are 85 registered vendors, there’s a gas station for art cars, camps get daily fresh food deliveries from beeping trucks, and a whole eco-system of businesses has popped up renting yurts, containers and RVs to Burners.

Why is Burning Man morphing from an anarchists wet dream to shark-jumping Defaultification?

Why does the Board seem to think there’s nothing wrong with directors trying to make a few bucks on the side?

doctor-yes: I have a friend who was in that camp, and I didn’t realize it until after we got back from the Burn this year He had a great time, but he also stayed with Jim’s camp in 2013 – his first time on the playa, and he was only there for 3 days. He’s comfortable but not wealthy enough to afford the cost, and I believe it was gifted enough to him both years. So the only experience he’s ever had at Burning Man is in these highly-catered camps. He spoke highly of the Mistresses of Merriment his first year, for instance, which made me cringe internally, but I didn’t draw a line between the two until post-Burn this year.

The problem to me is that the camp appeared to do nothing to acculturate newcomers, instead allowing them to be pampered and experience BM from behind the velvet rope. I don’t think it’s even about what some of the guests themselves expect. My friend, for instance, had no idea what to expect. This was just how Burning Man was from his experience.

After I gently talked to him about it, I discovered he’d had no idea it was potentially controversial. He only discovered it after the fact. He’s an older guy (65+) but is constantly going to concerts of all kinds, music festivals, etc, and is very cool to hang out with. Not the kind of douchebag you might think exclusively inhabits these camps.

That’s just one person of course, and I haven’t tried to press him too much for details to avoid embarrassing him further, but I just wonder how much blame we can put on the participants in the camp (and whatever expectations they had) vs. the organizers of it, who framed the entire event for birgins in the camp through the lens they chose.

  • HotterRod: “The problem to me is that the camp appeared to do nothing to acculturate newcomers”

Larry Harvey admits that he didn’t do anything to acculturate external members of the Project Board, so I guess Tananbaum just paid the cluelessness forward.

Burners may also be interested in this site: tananburn.me

Bloomberg On SherpaGate and Burners.Me [Update]

lear jet bm 2014

The sorry saga of the Sherpa and the Popsicle Camp has made it to Wall Street. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has published a lengthy article on the whole affair, titled Occupy Burning Man: Class Warfare Comes To The Desert Festival. Yes, we’re in it..the lone voice speaking out against this Class Warfare being at Burning Man. Larry Harvey’s shifted from “rich people are straw men”, to seeing Burning Man as an educational tool for the 1%…and apparently this was the thinking behind Caravancicle. Now they are promoting all types of ironic theatrical pranks being planned for the event by Burners as our response, like Commodification Camps are now some sort of art theme in the Carnival. Burners will jump to create another bingo item for the amusement of the safari selfie sherpas crowd. Have they read some of the comments on groups like Sherpa Liberation Front? Maybe the online feedback gets filtered before it is handed up the pyramid to the board.

[Update: 2/6/15 8:47pm] Bloomberg TV delves further into this story.

From Bloomberg.com

The Billionaires at Burning Man

Move over, Google Bus. There’s a new symbolic fight over tech money, class, and privilege

by Felix Gillette

For his 50th birthday, Jim Tananbaum, chief executive officer of Foresite Capital, threw himself an extravagant party at Burning Man, the annual sybaritic arts festival and all-hours rave that attracts 60,000-plus to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada over the week before Labor Day. Tananbaum’s bash went so well, he decided to host an even more elaborate one the following year. In 2014 he’d invite up to 120 people to join him at a camp that would make the Burning Man experience feel something like staying at a pop-up W Hotel. To fund his grand venture, he’d charge $16,500 per head…

The mission of the new organization is to propagate the Burning Man culture throughout the world, in part by launching a series of smaller, regional festivals. In theory, the beefed-up board will use its far-reaching professional connections to help accelerate the global spread. “It’s not a thoughtless amassing of rich folks,” says Harvey of the expanded board. “But if you want to change the world, you’d better get some people who have real muscular power.”

Outtrim points out that for years there have been wealthy people at Burning Man. In the past it wasn’t in people’s faces. “What’s really been an issue with the Caravancicle camp,” Outtrim says, “is the involvement of someone from the Burning Man Project’s board of directors.

Historically, he adds, Burning Man was “a great leveler”—nobody in Black Rock City cared who you were. The prevalence of costumes allowed the rich and famous to mingle with the masses. “For a lot of captains of industry and the celebrities, it was a chance for them to go and be a normal person at the party like anybody else,” says Outtrim. “But bringing in servants is where it’s become a bit of a problem. It’s pushing buttons related to class war in San Francisco.”

Lillie liked the idea of using Burning Man as a crucible to re-educate the 1 Percent. She signed on to work as a bartender and server. Her pay would be a flat rate of $180 per day…The only employees who appeared to be enjoying themselves, Lillie wrote, were the attractive models, a posse dubbed the “mistresses of merriment,” who had traveled from L.A. ostensibly to flirt with and help entertain the male guests. During the telephone interview, Lillie concedes that she never saw any harassment of workers take place. But she says the introduction of paid laborers like her into the libertine atmosphere of Burning Man created an awkward dynamic. “It was like a bunch of old, married men expecting a freaky sex party at Burning Man. The girls were all kind of looked at as though we were going to be a part of that.”

…For his part, Harvey, who personally invited Grover Norquist last year, continues to see the arrival of the ultrawealthy as a good thing for Burning Man. “I want to convince people that it isn’t as if the 1 Percent represents an evil bacillus that like Ebola will sweep through our city,” he says. “That’s not possible. Much of the anger is because of a feeling of impotency. The whole issue of the 1 Percent has been a matter of public discourse for some time now, and nothing has changed. People are frustrated. … My mission is to reform the 1 Percent.”

Read the full article here.

Invoking ebola here seems to be the ultimate use of the straw man rhetorical diversion tactic. People want to be convinced that the Board are going to uphold the Tin Principles, instead of coming up with new ways to run ever-more lavish and high dollar Commodification Camps with Exclusive wrist-band only Gifting. That’s the issue Larry, not Ebola.

I must commend Sherpa Beth Lillie for everything she has done for the community in being the whistleblower on this story, as well as thanks to all the other sources who have also come forward. And we should thank the OS “Original Sherpa” Tyler Hanson, who first raised the alarm about ridiculous gentrification replacing radical self-reliance in the New York Times the week before the last Burning Man. Perhaps from now on the Commodification Camps will fund more (and better) art, or culturally indoctrinate their wealthy clients more thoroughly. Free the sherpas!

Will some fresh LSD Billionaire Burgins arrive as a result of this article, lining up for Larry & Co to re-educate them with a life-changing experience, and pulling out their checkbooks to donate to the Burning Man Project’s global colonizing mission? Stay tuned.