(Kiss) (ASS) It’s A Big Farce

clown burning manIt occurred to me that this sign-stealing incident, publicized by its author on various Burning Man facebook groups, happened after BMOrg announced before the Burn that because sign theft was so prevalent, Burners should treat signs as art and decorate them to jazz up their neighborhoods.

The name of the sign stealing-tackling project? ASS

The name of the now-famous tackled sign stealing prankster? David KISS

Kiss-Ass. On K Street.

Get it? Surely that’s way too much of a coincidence to be totally unrelated. Project ASS, my ass.

or, perhaps, God is a Burner, and this is His way of responding to those premature rumors about His death that were posted at burningman.com

On 8/8/14 BMOrg spokeperson Will Chase said:

8thAndHeartSometimes, when the citizens of Black Rock City are confronted with a challenge, they turn it into an art project. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those times.

The street signs that adorn every corner of BRC are not only beautiful, they’re functional. Not only are they functional, they are critical to public safety. When that ambulance is looking to find YOU, they need to know what street they’re on. SO DON’T REMOVE STREET SIGNS!

Now, despite what we say, we know it’ll happen anyway. So let’s solve this with an art project! Here’s how …

Adopt a street corner in your neighborhood, and augment the street sign with aesthetically pleasing, informative signs of your own making!

We’re calling this the Adopt a Street Sign (ASS) project, because we’re 12-years old.

Radical Self-Expression, meet Communal Effort. BOOM. Make babies.

Of course, no-one could have anticipated that if you tell 70,000 anarchists “DON’T REMOVE STREET SIGNS”, that some of them would disobey.


another thief bragging on social media stole this

another thief bragging on social media stole this. Coming soon? Bike theft selfies

photo: david-kiss.com

photo: david-kiss.com

The cross-referencing aspiring DJ is happy to promote his upcoming gigs with Christ at david-kiss.com. I mean, really? Another coincidence? I would dismiss this as being not a real figure, except there is a David Kiss on our Facebook group trying to defend his sign-adopting actions by attacking us and dismissing the economic value of the sign.

The street prank has been publicly endorsed by “Founder” Peter Hirshberg as a “Cacophony-like prank” that I just didn’t get. It seems I’m far from the only one who doesn’t find theft from fellow Burners funny, whether it’s signs, bikes, or a beer from a cooler.

The self-publicization of this act by the prankster at this time is a convenient distraction away from the connection between plug-n-play camping and the non-profit Burning Man Project’s Board of Directors, some of whom appear to have financial interests in these types of camps. The story broke when Kiss published his Project ASS art piece antics on Facebook on Friday 9/5/14 at 2:02pm. The story about Jim Tananbaum broke on Facebook the night before, at 6:17pm in a smaller group and then was repeated at 7:37pm on the Burning Man unofficial group.

The choice of Star Star is interesting, since they seem to have had a lot to offer the Playa in comparison to others. There are rumors going on about an A-list hollywood actor being the money behind the camp, a gift to his campmates because he picked up the tab. I see nothing wrong with anything Star Star did in this story.

In a way, isn’t this whole “incident”  serving the purposes to promote star-star as the model for others to follow, and continue the discussion about Plug-n-Play camps which is proving so popular in the mainstream media? When we investigate this plug-n-play camp, we find performances being gifted and Burnerly behavior of discussion with the marauding vandal over Principles  – there are good guidelines in the story for how plug-n-players should behave when confronted with louts like this.

It promotes pranking and it promotes plug-n-play – while pretending to protest against it, it’s really just continuing the conversation about it. That’s the way it works with these pranks, irony or not, your attention is directed to a particular issue of the prankster’s choice. It encourages Burners to take out any frustrations they have with the governance of the city on each other, not BMOrg. It downplays the growing problem of theft as just another type of  art. Kiss’s actions and ASS’s purpose appear to be the same. Kiss-ASS united.

Where do you draw the line between prank, irony, satire, snark…and civilized behavior? BMOrg, it seems, is happy to say “stealing is going to happen, adopt your own, let’s turn it into art”.

For some time, I have been considering another potential motive behind the OMGSTEP and all the other seemingly bizarre decisions BMOrg makes with the ticketing and treatment of Veterans. Something more than just money.

What if this is all a prank to them? One big farce? With us as the patsies, set up in the petri dish for their amusement? “Let’s come up with a new rule, and see how they respond! It’s art! It’s pranking! We never said don’t be evil, in fact we launched this thing with Hellco and bought souls with contracts!” The more shit they can put on the community to make their burn worse, the more complaining there is about it on social media, the more suffering they can create – the more amusing it is to the Creators with the Power To Make Suffering. They sit in First Camp and network with 1%ers who paid $650 for tickets on the sly, who flew in on private planes and scooted over on Segways. They laugh at the unconnected Burners who spent the year in the STEP queue hoping for a chance to go, only to have tickets yanked out from the queue at the last minute for no apparent reason. They laugh at the Burnier-Than-Thous who refuse to buy tickets on the aftermarket and lecture others about it, out of some misguided sense of loyalty. “Ha ha, look at these Burners on Facebook trying to stop scalping, when we the borg are sending out emails trying to sell tickets above face value! In the name of charity, of course.”

In 2014 it was Sherpa Camps, for 2015 it looks like the next target may be Sound Camps – who according to BRC Weekly are going to be banned from posting DJ lineups.


The Legend of Giant the Jack-Killer

by Whatsblem the Pro

Chicken John Rinaldi -- PHOTO: Chris Stewart

Chicken John Rinaldi — PHOTO: Chris Stewart

People talk a lot about translating their Burning Man experiences to their lives outside Black Rock City, but given the breathtaking diversity of what people take away from Burning Man, that can mean a lot of things; some interpretations are fairly accurate reflections of a large percentage of burner viewpoints; some seem way over the top or even downright silly, like when people get the notion that burners should never, ever sell anything to each other, ever, for any reason. Burner diversity means that if we want to get at our commonalities, we have to take a broad view of things.

Not much is universally applicable to burners; we might get close, though, by saying that burners tend to do the things they do in an active/aggressive manner rather than a passive one. Feeling small and alone and powerless is for other people; we know we are giants, and we behave accordingly, for better or worse.

Civic pride is one of the more obvious manifestations of that oh-so-zesty active/aggressive attitude toward daily life that year-round burners have in common, and last Wednesday night a sleepy little coastal hamlet called San Francisco, California got a lovely example of it, albeit from a man who would surely curl his lip at me if I called him a burner.

John Rinaldi never needed Burning Man to unlock his creativity or his dynamic nature; he is more of an originator of burner culture than any kind of convert. His own civic pride seems to know no bounds; he even ran for mayor of San Francisco once upon a time, and unleashed a zombie flash mob on the debate proceedings as part of his campaign.

When Chicken John heard that corporate chain Jack Spade was moving into his neighborhood, displacing local small businesses and threatening to further infect his demesnes with that dreadful sameness one sees in strip malls all over the country (and the world), he didn’t sit and cry about it, and he didn’t start making plans to move elsewhere. . . he got off his ass and did something about it.

Long story short: Jack Spade will not be opening a store in John Rinaldi’s neighborhood.

How did one man manage to stand off a billion-dollar corporation bent on invading the Mission District? By his own admission, he didn’t, not really, not all by himself. . . but he did rally a tremendous amount of support, and managed to put some formidable pressure on Jack Spade. I’ll let John speak for himself on all that:

The representative from Jack Spade that was at the hearing on Wednesday night was standing around afterwards chatting. Someone handed her this flyer:

And she said: “Yeah. I think we are going to pull out.” With no irony, she said “pull out.” The comedy here is amazing.

Yesterday morning, the CEO from the parent company that owns Jack Spade wrote a letter saying they surrender. We won the hearing, and thus we were in a power position to annoy the shit out of them for six months or more. Meanwhile, that $12,000 a month rent is really starting to add up. . . all the calls and letters and e-mail were probably clogging up their days as well. In the end, we’ll never know if it was this flyer that pushed them over the top. . . but I’m going to say it was because it’s funny.

Tonight our activism is a victory lap, but don’t think for a second that we are done fighting chain stores. There are two pieces of legislation that the Board of Supervisors will be voting on November 25th. There is legislation to be re-worded. . . and there are safeguards that need to be put in place to protect us from carpetbagging interlopers.

So even though we won, and Jack Spade is not opening in the Mission, the Jack Off is ON!!!! Come. Or cum. Or whatever. And know that anything is possible. You can bend the will of a billion dollar company by threatening them with a circle jerk everyone knows you can’t deliver on. If that is true, and we have proven that today, what else is true that we thought impossible?

Forty-eight people in sailor suits forever changed the direction of the Mission district by altering the path of a chain store worth over a billion dollars.

All you ever really need to do anything is a plan. No matter how stupid, insipid or impossible that plan might be. Now, this action wasn’t really the reason why Jack Spade “pulled out.” It was many little things, a few big things and this action came at the right time as the straw that broke the camel’s back. There was all the letters you guys wrote. There was the bombing of their Facebook page. There was the phone calls. There was the comments section of the articles. The bad press. There was the VCMA doing the appeals of their building permits. There was the members of the Latino Community that spoke out at the hearing, and Calle Biente Quatro. There was the letters from Supervisors, assemblymen and legislators. There was the people who showed up to City Hall and spoke. There were the merchants who put “no Jack Spade” signs in their windows. There was the t-shirt company that made shirts for free: Ape Do Good. Arin Fishkin graphic design. The Make Out Room for letting us have a benefit there (that paid for the appeal filings). There was the plea to action for the Mission Merchants Association (a cabal of landlords) that got the conversation going. And a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting and even some stuff I probably don’t even know about.

The point is that we committed. We committed to do whatever it took to get it done. This is paramount. We stuck together and stuck it out.

What can you commit to that will make things better, in your home, your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world?

Why We Prank

by Whatsblem the Pro

In the wee hours of the morning on April 1st, while it was still dark out, my housemate and I were taping garbage bags to the frame of someone else’s bedroom door and filling the space between the bags and the door with balloons. When we’d stuffed enough balloons into the gap to bury a person opening the door from inside the room in inflated rubber, we high-fived and went to bed wreathed in smiles. Many of the balloons were long sausage-like cylinders; some had been twisted into more explicitly suggestive shapes and decorated or written on with a Sharpie; they bore slogans like “Your Magic Friend While He’s Away,” and “ASS-2-ASS! ASS-2-ASS!

Around dawn, a tiny hullabaloo of confusion, cursing, laughter, and savage balloon-popping took place in the hall outside my door. I woke up long enough to have a good haw-haw, and went back to bed to finish sleeping.

By the time the morning had progressed to a fit hour for decent people, my co-conspirator and I were the only ones home, and retribution was in full effect. I got out of bed first; there were notes taped to the walls over the kitchen and bathroom sinks: “LANDLORD CALLED, WATER OFF UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.” I turned the taps; nothing. I knew the landlord would call my landline in the event of a real outage, so of course I simply turned them on at the wall and did my business. . . and since my accomplice – still new in our house – had no idea, I turned the toilet and sink off again after using them, and played dumb when she got up. Fifteen minutes later she was fleeing to a friend’s place to use the bathroom.

The next day, like a Third World child stepping on an unexploded land mine long after the war has ended, she dipped a spoon into a container marked ‘SUGAR,’ and stirred a heaping helping of salt into her coffee.

Some people decry pranks as unnecessary, disrespectful cruelties, but pranks among friends – especially friends who live together harmoniously – are often sources of bonding and group history-building. They serve as test of and testimony to our confidence in each other as intimates, and give us something to laugh about together weeks, months, and years later.

There’s a similar phenomenon to be found in the way Australians are prone to casually referring to their nearest and dearest as ‘cunts,’ a practice which never fails to horrify uninitiated Septics (aka Americans), who typically wither or bristle at the drop of the dreaded ‘C’ word. The first time I got the C-bomb dropped on me by an Aussie, he was smiling warmly and handing me a free beer with a “welcome home” twinkle in his eye, and I still stopped jaw-slung in my tracks, thinking did he really just call me a cunt? Once I got over the initial shock, though, I realized that I was being welcomed into the fold and hailed as a brother. It was only up to me to pass the test by not being offended. Not a prank per se, but a cultural marker that acts a lot like one.

Psychologists have been studying pranks for some time, usually in the very negative light of malice, bigotry, and exclusion, but anthropologists have found that practical jokes are far more commonly an effort to bring a person into a group rather than drive or keep them out. The kind of frat-boy hazing that sociologist Erving Goffman characterized as ceremonial degradation turns out to be an integral part of rituals in human cultures throughout the globe, serving to temper the initiate’s sense of success at gaining entrée in a splash of cold humility. Being duped and brought low even for a moment can prompt a powerful self-reflection and a new alertness to the world; this may in fact be the looked-for metamorphosis that the hazing is meant to induce in the neophyte.

In other words, the difference between what goes on during Rush Week on Fraternity Row, and what goes on in the course of ten thousand other prankish social gluing rites all over the globe, is mainly a matter of form and not function. The dangerously drunk college boy getting paddled and peed on is being ushered into a society and acknowledged as having a place there in a more aggressive, juvenile, irresponsible, and homoerotic manner than a newlywed couple getting a shivaree, but the idea is the same. . . and in both cases the victims are being put through a positive metamorphic process that draws them closer to the culture administering it, rather than simply being embarrassed, inconvenienced, victimized, and/or degraded for its own sake.Image

Dr. Jonathan Wynn, a cultural sociologist and lecturer at Smith College, says these kinds of induction-into-the-culture pranks help elevate the victim even as they seemingly demean and degrade. “You gain status by being picked on in some ways. It can be a kind of flattery, if you’re being brought in.” According to Wynn, the vast majority of ritualistic pranks played on newcomers are sending a message – that the pranksters like you and want to recognize you as one of them – and are demanding a response in the form of good-natured acceptance.

Hazing rituals have another effect that they share with one-on-one pranks – and outright scams – that have nothing to do with being welcomed into a new circle of people; they can trigger a feedback and correction mechanism for the victim’s own defense instincts. The shock and embarrassment of being the patsy leads to a self-evaluation and adjustment of our vigilance against the depredations of others; it may heighten our paranoia, but paradoxically, being duped can also prompt us to be less vigilant than before.

“As humans, we develop this notion of fairness as a part of our self-concept, and of course it’s extremely important in exchange relationships,” says consumer psychologist Kathleen D. Vohs, co-author of Feeling Duped: Emotional, Motivational, and Cognitive Aspects of Being Exploited by Others.

Take off my pants too, get a free cup of coffee

Take off my pants too, get a free cup of coffee

“Being duped holds up this mirror to people,” says Dr. Vohs, “and may in fact show them where they are on the scale” between total obliviousness and hyper-vigilance, thus helping them to form a more realistic view of themselves and adjust their defense mechanisms to be more effective in exchange relationships.

The mirror Dr. Vohs refers to is something psychologists call “counterfactual thinking,” in which the duped victim goes over and over the events that led to them being duped, playing the scenario out in their heads in different ways in an attempt to figure out where they went wrong. The intense self-examination often leads to better perspective and even full-blown epiphanies that improve the victim’s skill at dealing with others and successfully distinguishing good information from bad information, and good deals from not-so-good deals.

“There appears to be stable individual differences in the motivation (called sugrophobia) to avoid being a sucker,” says Dr. Vohs. “High sugrophobes will be vigilant and skeptical of potential deals. Low sugrophobes may not even realize in some instances that they were duped. The aversive reaction to feeling duped stimulates counterfactual ruminations that may intensify sugrophobia but also aids in extracting useful lessons.”

Other researchers have offered evidence that the insights gleaned from counterfactual thinking can have a major positive impact on behavior that enhances our social interactions.

Now consider Burning Man. In the absence of commerce, in an environment of abundance in which everything (or nearly everything) is given freely, the motivations for duping others become less obvious. With no money or trade goods in play, decommodification allows us the luxury – or possibly creates the dire hazard – of pranking and being pranked with only our bodies, our preconceptions, our ingrained habits, and our personal pride at stake.

Transformative experience, anyone? Just let go. Black Rock City is a place where you can willingly suspend your disbelief and judiciously allow yourself to be delightfully misdirected, bamboozled, flim-flammed, monkey-talked, and played in a thousand different ways. Be alert for the lessons you might learn thereby. . . and pass them on to others.

Hey, what’s that on your shirt?