The principle of Decommodification that so many burners hold dear takes yet another brutal pounding this week as Australian chartbusting singer-songwriter-actress Missy Higgins releases her new music video. . . ‘We Ride,’ also known as the theme from the film Spark: A Burning Man Story. The single, along with the rest of the Spark soundtrack, is now available on iTunes.
The film, featuring footage shot at Burning Man 2011 – in other words, images of thousands of unconsenting, uncompensated burners and the art they built and transported to the Black Rock Desert at their own expense – would be forbidden by the Decommodification rule, if not for the fact that the people who forbid you from doing things like making commercial films at Burning Man happen to have a large financial stake in this one.
If you or I attempted to release a documentary shot at Burning Man, and followed it up with a soundtrack and a single by one of Australia’s top musical acts, the corporation that runs Burning Man would initiate legal proceedings against us in the name of protecting the culture from commercial exploitation. The fact that they have no problem with that kind of profiteering as long as they themselves have a financial stake in it and get a cut of the money should tell us something: that, once again, they’re not at all interested in protecting us or our culture, and care only about making money and protecting their monopoly on exploiting us and our creativity.
If the culture, the event, and burners as a group need to be protected from predators with commercial interests, then there should be no exceptions.
When challenged on what some consider their money-grubbing hypocrisy, the Org typically has one of two general responses, depending on the nature of the complaint: either they take the stance that Burning Man is a culture in an attempt to justify the exploitation of so many hard-working volunteers, uncompensated artists, and other unpaid participants, or they take the stance that Burning Man is a business entity in an attempt to justify their iron grip on the trademarks associated with it.
How long will we allow them to have their cake and eat it too? If Burning Man is a culture, then everyone who participates in and contributes to that culture should share ownership of the trademarks, and either be equally allowed to profit from them, or equally forbidden from doing so. . . no exceptions! If Burning Man is a business, on the other hand, then there shouldn’t be a single volunteer putting in a single minute of unpaid work on it. So which is it?
It may be worth noting while watching this film that the general consensus among old school burners seems to be that it sanitizes quite a lot of the dark side of Burning Man, and functions a little too heavy-handedly as pro-Org propaganda, and not an accurate reflection of reality.
What else should we have expected? Caveat emptor. . . and caveat possessorum, too.
[update from BurnersXXX] – note the “ignite.me” in the video credits, that seemed like an independent site to me at first, but now it appears to be yet another sales and propaganda channel for BMOrg. It was launched in December 2012 and the movie premiered at SXSW in Austin in March 2013…
Is it a coincidence? A deliberate reorganization? A quiet rebellion? Recent days have seen a spate of high-level firings, resignations, and even a strike taking place in the often insular world of the Burning Man organization.
Palmer ‘Gameshow‘ Parker, DPW’s Dispatch Manager for many years, was invited to attend Burning Man for free again in 2013, but his contract was not renewed. Gameshow has now been replaced by another long-time Dispatch worker. Those in the know were tight-lipped about it at the subsequent manager’s meeting, and simply cited “a Human Resources issue,” while other sources cited an alleged dissatisfaction with Gameshow’s ability and/or willingness to integrate DPW Dispatch with EMS personnel and their system. Gameshow himself has declined to make any official comment on the Org’s decision.
Quinn Yarbrough, sometimes known as “Ghost Dancer,” was asked to resign less than a week ago after some ten years as the DPW Ranch Manager, according to sources close to him. Of course, in the corporate HR world of professional candy-coating and face-saving, “asked to resign” is just a euphemism for being fired without having to tell your next employer that you were fired.
Quinn was reportedly escorted around the ranch – his only home for the last ten years – as he gathered his belongings, like some kind of suspected thief. This is not to say that Quinn is suspected of being a thief; it’s a not-uncommon feature of big-boy corporate culture that fired employees are shepherded around by security guards and formally shown the door. What this says about the Org, about their goals, and about how very far they’ve strayed from a Cacophony Society Zone Trip is much more interesting than anything it might imply about Quinn Yarbrough, who is unfortunately unavailable for comment at this time. His Facebook page, however, gives us a public statement notable for its civilized tone; Quinn is often said to be rather a deep person, and his serene stance in the face of what must be a massive life change would seem to support that opinion of him:
“Where as word spreads like wildfire let me just say this much for now. I love you all and have nothing ill to say about anyone, it’s simply time and appropriate for our collective evolution for me to step onto a new path. Much love and gratitude for the many many memories – blessings to the Burning Man Community.”
In contrast, Otto von Danger, whose calamitously controversial leadership on Burn Wall Street our very own Burnersxxx wrote about back in September 2012, posted the following comment on his Facebook page just today (presented here unedited):
“After 6 years of Militey service the government discarded me as they do many others and now after 13 years Burning Man has done the same.They invented some bullshit and fired me last night.So I’m trying to fix it but as it stands I will not be going to Burning Man anymore and Shwing is canceled.FrogBat will go on of course.”
In response to queries, Otto gave the following explanation (also unedited):
“it’s true…they said I pulled a knife on one of the Burn Wall street crew…which is obviously not true.I think that would have got me arrested.Again I’m trying to fix this but as it stands Burning Man is done with me.”
When asked why the Org would do something like that, Otto’s response was that the recently-released film SPARK: A BURNING MAN STORYportrayed him in too flattering a light, and that the Org hates successful people like himself:
“probably because I looked good in Spark is my guess…they don’t like success unless it’s thiers.”
People who have drunk a little too deeply of the Org’s kool-aid frequently chide us here at Burners.me for being too critical of their sacred icons, but in this case we have to speak up in defense of dear Uncle Larry and the other false gods of the Org-worshippers for a change: the idea that they get rid of people for being successful and appearing in films in a good light is even more absurd than the idea that Otto von Danger is successful by any objective definition of the word. Otto is clearly selling a flavor of kool-aid all his own, and his stated reasons for being dismissed are very possibly not a clear or accurate reflection of reality. Given the personality clashes and accusations of rank incompetence, volunteer abuse, mishandling of funds, and even sexual assault that were leveled at him (and his right-hand man, Jonathan ‘Fester’ Cooksey) in the weak aftermath of the Burn Wall Street project, the Org very likely had more than one excellent reason to give Otto the old heave-ho, regardless of any overarching plan to purge their ranks.
Meanwhile, during a Q and A with one of the directors after a screening of SPARK: A BURNING MAN STORY in Reno, a woman in the audience asked “why was Burn Wall Street romanticized?”
Apparently, the director’s goal was to show projects from beginning to end. . . but the darker aspects of Burn Wall Street depicted in earlier edits of SPARK: A BURNING MAN STORY were deemed much too negative in comparison with the other elements of the film, and thus a great deal of ugliness connected with the project and with Otto personally was simply left on the cutting room floor in the interests of a more upbeat end product.
Otto made another interesting and not entirely accurate or true comment:
“they also fired alot of other good people this year including the entire Man base crew.”
Which brings us to the Man Base crew.
As nearly as we can gather, Otto’s assertion that the entire Man Base crew is being replaced is still just speculation, although certainly a possibility. The meat of the story so far seems to be that a dispute between the Org and Travis Ludy, who has been managing the crew that builds the Man Base for years, has escalated into a strike that may very well result in the entire Man Base crew being replaced, and the size of the 2013 Man Base scaled down dramatically to make up for lost time and the lack of an experienced crew.
Ludy was paid $8000 to build the Man Base in 2012. The Org reportedly tried to cut his pay in half for 2013, and Ludy declined in favor of holding out for the whole nut. When they tried to give his job to someone on his crew instead, that person turned the job down. . . and news of the attempt to cut Ludy out over money – possibly exacerbated by other crew members being let go recently – led to the entire crew rebelling and going on strike.
We’re told that a meeting was held just today to try to settle the dispute. . . so let’s see how the balloon goes up, or how the cookie crumbles. Will the Org really scuttle the entire Man Base crew, and is it really all over a paltry four thousand dollars, or is there a welter and web of politics and personal agenda and independent problems between the Org and individuals, all coming to a head at once?
More importantly, is there some kind of a deliberate reorganization going on, and if so, what are the intentions driving it?