BURNILEAKS: Commodification Camp Employment Email

If you’ve had enough of all the Commodification Camp controversy, don’t bother reading this post. For those who still care

Thanks to Anonymous Burner for leaking this email that was sent to workers employed at this notorious Commodification Camp. I’ve removed some names and email addresses, but I think by now we all know which camp this is.

JT has apologized, and if he wasn’t still on the Board of Directors of Burning Man, I would probably let it go. Unfortunately, he is – and in his “apology”, he tried to downplay the commercial nature of his camp. If he’d just said “I did this, I fucked up, my bad, I’ve learned my lesson and it won’t happen again” – I think most of us would have found that acceptable. Instead he blamed his staff, his build crew, the camp next door, all the while trying to use the Ten Principles to convince us that everything his camp did was totally fine. He claims that because he failed to make a profit, we should believe that this 68-room hotel with 50 paid staff where 120 guests were charged $17,000 for rooms with porcelain toilets…was never intended to generate money.

Read this, and decide for yourself if this was a pure gift to the Playa, or a commodified VIP experience sold by a commercial enterprise. The email confirms some of the claims that were made earlier by Sherpagirl, including that there were 50 employees in this camp. What sort of “gift” requires 50 staff? How does this promote Radical Self Reliance and Decommodification? How did they know they could get 170 tickets, and all the Early Access passes required to create a camp like this?


 

Caravancicle Schematic for Staff

 

Subject: Burning Man Staff – Please Read by August 6
*Dear Villagers,*
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(*Following is a lengthy note that contains all of the relevant information you need to  prepare for our upcoming time together. There is a great deal of time sensitive information. Please read this in its entirety by the end of the day on August 6th….*)
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We are delighted that each of you has decided to join us for this year’s Burning Man extravaganza. It’s going to be an amazing and remarkable experience for all. We have the privilege of facilitating other people’s transformation and we take this responsibility seriously. it takes great intention, attention to detail, humility, joy, and a commitment to hard work. We have chosen each of you because you embody these values in your everyday life and you truly understand what a gift it is to be of service to others in this way.
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Please take a moment to read this email in its entirety as it contains important information about logistics and expectations.
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*Expectations*
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We have spent nearly an entire year putting all of the pieces of our puzzle together. From the initial creative design sessions to packing each of our fourteen shipping containers, we have worked hard to ensure success in every regard. Now it comes down to all of you – the beautiful, talented, incredible people who will bring the vision to life.While each of you is being hired to “work” this event, we expect much more from all of you. More than employees, we want you to think of yourself first and foremost as an inhabitant of the village we are a creating. This year’s Burning Man theme is the *Caravansary*.
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In the words of the Burning Man Org,”For countless centuries, travelers along the Silk Route crossed paths in caravansaries, a network of oases and sanctuaries that dotted the 4,000-mile road from Europe to East Asia. These bustling caravan stops offered more than just shelter from the desert wilderness; they were vital centers of cultural exchange, bringing together traders, pilgrims, monks, nomads, traveling entertainers, and wild-eyed adventurers from all points of the compass to share their stories around a common fire. Though fueled by mercantilism, their legacy to us is a grand commerce of ideas — a swirling exchange of languages, legends, technologies, philosophies and art that helped shape nearly every aspect of our modern world.”
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As the inhabitants of our village, we will embrace our guests as if they wandered in off of the long and dusty Silk Road. Our job is to welcome them, feed them, hydrate them, entertain them, share stories, listen to theirs, and to provide the highest form of hospitality possible. There is a distinct difference between getting someone a drink, and nourishing someone in body and spirit. We are here to do the latter. To read our guests’ body language and to anticipate what they need even before they need it. In this way we will help them to feel seen, heard, and cared for in every way.
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At the same time, it is Burning Man, and we are also here to help them engage with the ethos of the Burning Man experience. This means helping them to find a healthy level of self-reliance and active participation as a member a larger community. We’ll show them how to wash their own plates during meal time. We’ll instruct them on how to conserve water in our showers and toilets. We’ll invite them to participate in gifting to others on the Playa. Together we’ll find the perfect balance between service in the highest form and encouraging our guests to truly participate as a citizen of the Playa.Please begin thinking now about who you are going to be, what character you are going to play, and how you can truly embrace this creative, theatrical opportunity to truly invent yourself as an inhabitant of our shared world for eight days in the desert.
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*Work Schedule, Arrival and Departure Dates*
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We have two distinct crews this year – a *Build and Strike Crew* and an Event Crew. While a few of you are crossing over, most of you are on one or the other crew.If you are part of our *Build & Strike Crew*, we will begin building camp on *Monday, August 18th at 12 noon*. Please plan to arrive at that time. Build will take place until everything is done so be prepared to do whatever it takes. We have thoroughly planned and estimated how long it will take to do everything and we hope it will take no more than 12 hours of work per day. That said, our timeline is entirely weather dependent. For example, last year the weather was so bad we could not build anything almost three whole days. Please be prepared for such an eventuality.*If you are part of the Build crew, that means you are part of the Strike crew as well, *and you are expected to stay until camp is completely taken apart. Our goal is the end of the day on Tuesday, September 2nd. That means you will most likely begin your return trip to the Bay on WednesdaySeptember 3rd. That said, Strike is also dependent upon weather and other factors. Please be prepared for any eventuality.
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If you are part of our *Event Crew*, the event begins on *Sunday, August 24th*. Unless we have specifically discussed different timing with any of you, everyone is expected to arrive at camp by *3:00pm on Sunday, August 24*. The gates open at 10:00am which should give you all enough time to make it through the entry gate and to camp on time. Please plan to leave early enough Sunday morning or the night before to ensure you can make it to camp by our start time. Our event ends on *Monday, September 1st at 6pm*. You are expected to be present for work up until this time.

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Each of you on the *Event Crew* will be expected to work approximately ten (10) hours each day, divided into two (2) separate five (5) hour shifts. You will have a three (3) hour break between shifts. Ultimately each of you is expected to work as long as necessary to fully complete whatever needs to be done. As weather and other factors can quickly change plans on the Playa, please be mentally prepared to do whatever it takes.

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We are planning for each of you to get at least one full day off during the week. Please note that this cannot be guaranteed. If things go as planned, everyone will. If, on the other hand, Burning Man throws us some unexpected curveballs, you might not. Please be mentally prepared for this possibility. Your exact schedule for each day will be shared with you during orientation on Sunday night, August 24th.

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*Compensation and Employment Paperwork*

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Each of you will be compensated $180 of shift pay for each day worked. If you do indeed get a day off during the week, you will not be paid for that day. If you get a half day off, your pay will also be divided in half. There will be no tracking of hours or overtime provided. Each of you is required to complete a W9 form as well as an employee agreement and a waiver of liability to participate as a contractor for this event. Please complete the attached forms and return them to me no later than *FridayAugust 8th at 5pm.*

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*Camp Location*

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We are happily located at 8:45 and Kandahar. Yes, this is the outer ring of the Playa. We are located on a circular promenade next to other amazing theme camps. Right next door to us is the Lost Hotel and the Playa-Famous Raw Bar. You are highly encouraged to spend time with them at the Raw Bar. It’s an awesome place to meet people and get to know the artists artisans who make the Playa such an incredible place.*Orientation and Training – Sunday, August 24, 5pm to Midnight. *We will work together upon your arrival on Sunday afternoon, from 6pm to midnight, to introduce you to every single element of camp. Attached to this email is a copy of our camp schematic that we have shared with the Burning Man organization as part of our Theme Camp application. This document provides a basic overview of the many amenities we’ll have at our
camp. Please show up ready to focus on Sunday night.
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*Tickets and Early Arrival Passes*
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For those of you who live within one hour of our office in [snip], please schedule a time to come by our office, Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm to pick up your ticket and your Early Arrival Pass if applicable (only *Build and Strike Crew* need early access passes). For those of you who live more than one hour away, please email me your mailing address *no later than Thursday, August 7th* so that we can mail your ticket and Early Arrival pass to you. Please note that *YOU MUST NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET*. We do not have any extra. Also, if you do need an Early Arrival Pass, you MUST have the actual Pass assigned to you on your person to get through the entry gate. Each Pass is specifically bar coded and entry will not be granted without one.
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*Transportation*
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For those of you departing from and returning to the Bay Area, we are happy to provide up to 2 mini-van or passenger van rental vehicles for you to use and share to carpool to and from the event. If you are willing to volunteer to be a driver, please let me know by *Friday, August 8th *so that we can plan to add you as a driver on the rental agreement. Depending on the number of you who want to utilize this option, there will be 1 or 2 vehicles departing from the Bay area on either the evening of SaturdayAugust 23rd or approximately 4am on Sunday, August 24th. The exact time of departure will be determined by those of you choosing this option. This vehicle(s) will return from the Playa to the Bay Area on Monday, September 1st or Tuesday, September 2nd. *Please note that vehicles may not be parked at camp*. You are welcome to drive up to camp to unload your personal items. Once you are done we’ll show you where to park your vehicle nearby.
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*Bikes*
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You are required to *provide your own bike for the event*. While we may have some extra bikes available for use at certain times, there is no guarantee that one will be available at any given time, so please plan accordingly. You are welcome to bring your bike to our office in [snip] before *August 11th* if you’d like us to transport the bike for you. Another option is to rent a bike on the Playa. They cost $150 for the week, plus a $150 deposit that is returned to you when you return the bike. As of yesterday they still have bikes available. *I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this option*. You can email [snip] to find out more and reserve your bike. Directions to our office are listed at the bottom of this email.
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*Drugs*
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Illicit drugs are prohibited on the Playa. This includes marijuana as it is not legal medically or otherwise in the State of Nevada. Burning Man is required by law to allow State of Nevada police personnel to patrol the Playa in search of drug offenders. Most of these personnel do this undercover, dressed as a typical Burner. Please be aware that absolutely anyone might be an undercover agent, even someone inviting you to participate in the illicit use of drugs. Even the smell of Marijuana is enough probably cause for an agent to search your body and/or your shelter so be smart!Illicit drugs are also prohibited in camp while working as a contract employee for us during this event. You are expected to show up for every shift sober, alert, and prepared to fully carry out what is expected of you. No exceptions.You are welcome to drink at our bar when you are not on a working shift. You are expected not to drink while on shift.
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*Sleeping Accommodations*

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We are providing a combination of cubes, hexayurts and playa huts for each of you to share. Each structure is double occupancy and will include either a cot with a foam mattress or a foam mattress on a frame. Each unit will also have a light, an air conditioner and an outlet for you to use to charge a personal electronic device. You cannot use a hairdryer with these outlets. *Please note that you must provide your own pillow, sheets, and blankets or sleeping bag. *Also, accommodations are tight. It’s the Playa. Look forward to getting to know your bunkmate 🙂

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*Mindfulness in Community*

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we are going to be living in close quarters amidst one of the most profound, disorienting, mind blowing environments on planet earth. there will be 120 camp guests, an ecclectic collection of some of the most interesting and influential people in the world and 50 crew members ranging from cooks and bartenders to musicians, belly dancers, filmmakers, acroyogis, bodyworkers, and artists of all forms. each one of us is a key player in a small, contained ecosystem. each of our behaviors will greatly affect others. embraced one way, this experience invites you to reimagine yourself anew and to choose which character with which spirit you choose to bring to the rest of the group. the more intentional you are,  the more likely you can positively impact and co-create the experience with others around you.

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*Food and Drink*

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We will feed all of you three awesome meals a day as well as an incredible assortment of snacks and other delights. You will all eat the same food as our camp members. You are also welcome to eat and drink at our bar and to generally enjoy all of our delicious, organic food and drink. Within reason, you are welcome to invite friends and family to come by camp for a drink or a bar snack. We’ll keep you informed throughout the event as to our inventory supply. Should we face any shortages we will have to limit the amount of guests we invite to eat or drink. Please note that breakfast, lunch and dinner are for camp members and staff *ONLY*. Guests may not be invited to share actual meals.

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If you have any food allergies, please notify us immediately so that we may do our best to accommodate your needs. In addition, if you have specific”treats” or “food needs” that you enjoy and need to have around, please
prepare in advance and bring this food for yourself. If you are so inclined, bring yummy treats to share with other staff as well. While we’ll provide amply for you, it never hurts to have a bit more of anything on the Playa.

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*Personal Items*

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Please provide your own costumes, goggles, dust masks, head lamps, water bottles, mugs, and anything else you need to be a full citizen of the Playa. Please take a moment to review the Burning Man Survival Guide to
make sure you are 100% prepared for your time with us.  You can find it here – http://survival.burningman.comIn addition to what you’ll find on the Survival Guide, the following are
also very helpful items to have on the Playa:
– Hydration pack
– Cup w/ a carabiner
– Neti pot (kitchen can provide the salt)
– Utility belt
Silk underwear for cold nights
– alarm clock
– Supplements (Vit.C, B Complex, 5-HTP, etc.)
– Sunscreen
– Skeleton of a ancient Siberian snow leopard
– The preceding bullet was a joke. We’re just checking to make sure you
have read all of this information.
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*Headshot and Bio*
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So that we may include you in the camp program, please send me a 2″ x 2″ digital image of you and a short bio, 30 words or less, *by Friday, August 8th*. Sorry for the short notice on this, but we’ve got a lot going on :).
Please include your real name, meaning the name you go by every day, and your Playa name if you have one.
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*Attached Documents*
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We have attached a number of documents for you to complete and review. Please make sure to return all necessary paperwork by the dates noted above.
+   w9 Form
+  employment agreement & emergency contact form
+  Participant Agreement, Release of Liability, and Assumption of Risk
+  Camp schematic – placement
+  Camp Invitation (this is the invitation sent to prospective camp
members. it will give you a good sense of the experience we intend to
cultivate)
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*Thank You!*
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That’s all for now! Thanks so much for being part of this experience with us. We are delighted that each and every one of you is joining us and we look forward to sharing this special journey with you.With love, respect, appreciation, and excited anticipation for what’s to come,
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[snip]
“Experience is not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens
to you.” – Aldous Huxley
Where did they park all the cars?

Where did they park all the cars?

Radical Sherpa Reliance

A look inside BMP Director Chip Conley’s ultra-luxury “top of the pyramid” camp, Maslowtopia. It’s based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and being the highest version of yourself you can be.

Looks like regular food safety violations going on amongst the multiple workers in their gourmet kitchen. All that money, and no-one could afford gloves?

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, gave some insight into who Chip’s guests were:

My camp, called Maslowtopia and organized by famed hotelier Chip Conley (author of Peak), gathered a motley crew of around 100 all-stars from around the world, including incredible artists, organic chefs, and wise Fortune-100 co-founders…

One of those all-stars was an A-list entrepreneur and former top-tier investment banker. Trained at Harvard as a lawyer and forged into the consummate dealmaker, she had literally built economies from scratch

Hexayurt creator (and legendary Burner) Vinay Gupta tweeted a photo of the camp from the air:

image: Vijay Gupta/Twitpic

image: Vinay Gupta/Twitpic

Chip says he put the camp on for his 50th birthday in 2010, so presumably it was a gift and he doesn’t think he “lost money” on it like Jim Tananbaum says he did on Caravancicle.

The extensive credits at the end of the video certainly suggest a large contingent of paid help. Is it Radical Self Reliance if you hire an event production company, catering firm, a team of sherpas to build your camp for you, and a videographer to professionally record the experience? Is it Decommodification if the companies involved promote their Participation in their subsequent online marketing?

 

maslow cartoon

BMOrg Hath Spoken

image: Roadside Pictures/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Roadside Pictures/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Finally, more than a quarter of a year after the last week-long Burning Man event ended, BMOrg has given some official answers to the many concerns raised by the community in the wake of Caravansary. They gave us a double whammy:

Turnkey/Plug-n-Play Camping in BRC (written by “Burning Man”, probably several authors)

Equality, Inequity, Iniquity: Concierge Culture (written by Larry Harvey)

These posts only went on the “Voices of Burning Man” – their official blog. They weren’t posted to the 817,000 people on their Facebook page.

I recommend you read both posts in their entirety, because this article is going to be discussing the aspects of them that are relevant to the 115,000 Burners.Me readers. I’m going to talk about the concerns they addressed, directly or indirectly; and the ones they pretended don’t exist.

If you were expecting me to say “everything is wonderful now, BMOrg are so amazing for listening to us, let’s hug it out and party up!”…you should stop reading now, because you’re at the wrong blog. If we got the transparency we’d been promised, or got answers to most of the questions raised as “Community Concerns” here and at burningman.com .org, then I might be able to say that. But we didn’t, so I can’t – blame me for whining, rather than them for ignoring and misdirecting, if that is your wont.

Whether or not the community’s concerns get addressed, Burning Man will go on, and we can all have a good time there. Hey, it’s just a rave – who cares? “If you don’t like it, start your own”.

coyote pete sunsetFor those who do care, because they think there’s something special about this event – it’s more than just a festival, more than just a big drug- and sex- fuelled party, more than a corporate networking event – please read on. I care about this unique culture that we’ve all been creating together, and that’s why I’m taking the time to write this.

While it is nice that finally they have acknowledged some of our concerns, these posts raise as many questions as they answer.

Summary

As predicted, BMOrg have tried to downplay everything: “it was less than 1% of 1250 camps”. They make a big fuss about “policy changes”, but in the end the only real change is promising to end the practice of selling invite-only Donation tickets which we caught them at red-handed. Commodification Camps will have to have an interactive component, but they did this year too. Burning Man’s Board of Directors have nothing to do with the Burning Man event, so what they get up to at the event is nothing to do with BMOrg. Sherpas don’t even get a mention, they’re a non-issue. So are workers’ and artists’ rights. 58 Burner theme camps applied for placement and didn’t get it; 12 Commodification Camps got prime placement near the Plaza areas. Because none of them actually made a profit, it’s no big deal. BMOrg held on to 5,700 tickets all through the year, on top of the 61,000 official tickets. The Ten Principles are not rules, they’re just an “ethos”. On to the Carnival of Smoke and Mirrors now, Burners, they listened and they made a policy change so we can all be happy now.

Introduction

They are still trying to use language to re-define and diminish the issues.

The term “turnkey” has been used to describe camps with paid teams that set up infrastructure before other camp members arrive. This general definition could be applied to many camps, including many well-known, beloved and highly participatory theme camps.

[so why persist in using it? The community is calling them Commodification Camps, because this definition clearly explains the problem – Ed.]

Turnkey is a category that includes a variety of camps along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are camps that offer major contributions to the playa and depend on infrastructural support to do their work and provide their offering on the playa (the Temple Camp, for example); these camps have a team that provides support services, enabling their fellow campmates to focus on giving in ways that benefit the wider BRC community.

On the other end of the spectrum are “plug and play” or “concierge camps” (A.K.A. hotel camps, resort camps, commodification camps), where vacation-type experiences are sold in package deals at exclusive prices, often with no expectation or commitment by campers to contribute to the larger community. It is this latter type of camp we are addressing here

Why not just call them Commodification Camps? At least they acknowledged (once, in passing) that some people call them that. However, their response of saying “they’re all turnkey camps but some people call them concierge camps, so we’re going to talk about rich people and their luxury lifestyle, which exists in the Default world too”…is answering the wrong questions. If BMOrg really thinks this is what the community’s concerns are, they need to go to a listening workshop. Other than a few “Radical Revolutionaries” on *.burningman.com advocating vandalism, violence, class warfare, and communism, most Burners couldn’t care less how much money someone has. The whole point about this party is what you bring to the middle of nowhere to give to others, not what you do in the Default world. No Burner should be “Burnier-Than-Thou”, and no camp should be closed off to Burners.

It is the idea behind the Commodification Camps that is the problem: turning something free, based on Gifting by the whole community, into something packaged up and sold to profit a few. Burning Man is supposed to be based on principles such as Radical Self-Reliance, Participation, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, and particularly, 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.

Decommodification was presented to us as a core Principle that Burners live by. It wasn’t supposed to be a for-profit LLC, extracting cash from “Burning Man” which has “fully transitioned to a non-profit” – except, it seems, for the annual event called “Burning Man”.

Being a member of the Burning Man Project Board does not grant any authority to make decisions about, or influence the operations of, the Burning Man event.

Say what?


 

BMOrg’s Questions

In their post of November 11, “Turnkey Camps – Moving Towards Effective Solutions“, BMOrg told us they were listening, and posed the following questions as their summary:

Is the Burning Man organization profiting off turnkey camps?
How did turnkey camps get all their tickets?
Do turnkey camps get preferential treatment?
Were people buying blocks of tickets through the Burning Man Project donation ticket program in the days before the event? If so, why?
Are turnkey camps undermining the practice of Decommodification and Self-Reliance?
What is going to happen to the turnkey camps going forward? Is there accountability for poor behavior?

Since they didn’t bother to directly answer these in their “FAQ”, let me do it now.

Is the Burning Man organization profiting off turnkey camps?

No – not any more than they profit off any other camp. If any Burning Man Project Directors were trying to, they didn’t end up making any profit, so it doesn’t count. Anyway, Burning Man Project Directors have nothing to do with the Burning Man event.

How did turnkey camps get all their tickets?

As well as through methods available to “rank and file” Burners, it was via Invite-only Donation tickets above face value, and buying them from scalpers. They would have us believe that not a single ticket went to any Commodification Camp in the Directed group sale (aka World’s Biggest Guest List).

Concierge camps purchased tickets through all of the same avenues available to other participants and other large camps, including the early Pre-Sale, the main Individual Sale and on the secondary market. A few of these camps also purchased tickets through the Burning Man Project’s Donation Ticket Program

Invitations were sent to participants who had previously contributed to Burning Man Project, or who had expressed interest in doing so, including some in plug and play and concierge camps

 

Do turnkey camps get preferential treatment?

Officially, no. Pretty much every camp is a turnkey camp. They all said they would have interactive elements, and pick up their MOOP. Commodification Camps get no preferential treatment whatsoever, other than special access to tickets, placement in large, dedicated areas in K street, early access passes, and a lifting of the requirement to be packed up by Tuesday. Sure, they can leave tons of MOOP – but this will be noted by the Placement team when next year comes around.

Were people buying blocks of tickets through the Burning Man Project donation ticket program in the days before the event? If so, why?

Yes – technically, not in the last 3 weeks before the event. To raise money for BMP.

Are turnkey camps undermining the practice of Decommodification and Self-Reliance?

Yes. No big deal, the Principles aren’t rules.

What is going to happen to the turnkey camps going forward? Is there accountability for poor behavior?

Nothing. Poor behavior by a camp in the previous year and a bad MOOP score will be considered by the volunteer placement team in the future.


 

These answers are far from satisfactory. And the questions themselves left a lot to be desired, as they did not really address the community’s concerns.

The Community’s Questions

Earlier in the year, Halcyon chimed in on the Burning Blog. He got slammed for defending Plug-n-Plays, and to his credit took time to understand the issues, then posted again. He listened to all of us, and his swift response showed that he listened. In the comments during the controversy, he made a good attempt at summarizing the community’s questions:

...a clear break down of the issues at hand would be really helpful if anyone has it. (Not every argument – just the issues.)

Here is my first attempt. Please correct me. Are these the issues fueling Burner frustration?

***

1) Isolation / exclusivity of safari-style camps (wristband areas)

2) Use of paid labor of ticket holders during the event. (Some people working as gifts to community while others are working to make money)

3) Camp organizers running turnkey camps for profit. (Commodification of the Burning Man experience)

4) Unfair attainment of tickets by wealthy donors. (blocks of $650 tickets offered “discreetly” – while others use STEP)

5) Unfair placement of turnkey camps (Inadequate interactivity while others do not get placed)

6) Board member connections to above practices

I think that’s not a bad summary. You could add:

7) Silence from BMOrg on all of the above

8) Lack of transparency (promised since March).

I think this is a better description of the community’s actual concerns, rather than just the ones BMOrg cherry-picked to address. So how did they do with these questions?

1) Isolation / exclusivity of safari-style camps (wristband areas)

ACKNOWLEDGED, BUT NOT ADDRESSED. Commodification Camps can continue to be exclusive, even though it is “frowned upon” by BMOrg.

2) Use of paid labor of ticket holders during the event. (Some people working as gifts to community while others are working to make money)

NOT ACKNOWLEDGED OR ADDRESSED

3) Camp organizers running turnkey camps for profit. (Commodification of the Burning Man experience)

DENIED. They acknowledged (a) that there were Commodifcation Camps – 12 of them – but none of them made a profit. Therefore (b) no-one created a camp to make money. This is a logical fallacy known as a non-sequitur – (b) does not follow (a). “Attempted murder” is a crime, even though no actual murder occurred.

4) Unfair attainment of tickets by wealthy donors. (blocks of $650 tickets offered “discreetly” – while others use STEP)

ACKNOWLEDGED. They sold 1200 invitation-only Donation Tickets for above face value.

Invitations were sent to participants who had previously contributed to Burning Man Project, or who had expressed interest in doing so, including some in plug and play and concierge camps

They’ve cancelled this program for next year, though they still haven’t announced how the ticketing will be handled in 2015, or if there will be any price increases.

The door remains open for this type of thing to re-emerge under a different name. Will Chase, commenting on this blog a couple of weeks ago, said “Actually, charitable donation tickets are tickets that Burning Man donates to charities for their fundraising raffles, etc.” So it appears that VIP Donation tickets might be gone, but Charitable Donation tickets remain.

What remains unsaid, is blocks of tickets being sold by BMOrg insiders – possibly on the secondary market.

5) Unfair placement of turnkey camps (Inadequate interactivity while others do not get placed)

DENIED. They said there were 58 Burner camps who applied for placement and didn’t get it. This is supposedly fair. “Thousands” of Burners camp without getting placement – this used to be tens of thousands. BMOrg claim that all the Commodification Camps that got special placement were “committed to providing interactive experiences”, and they were placed deliberately around the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock plazas to create community.

6) Board member connections to above practices.

DENIED. The Board of Directors of the Burning Man Project have nothing to do with Burning Man. Involvement of any BoD in any Commodification Camps was not acknowledged. It appears that directors can break the rules at Burning Man, and act outside the Principles, without consequence.

Being a member of the Burning Man Project Board does not grant any authority to make decisions about, or influence the operations of, the Burning Man event. This also applies to resources at the event.

7) Silence from BMOrg on all of the above

Despite their posts, most of the concerns remain unacknowledged and unaddressed. They have spoken, but mostly to deny all of the above.

8) Lack of transparency (promised since March).

IGNORED. The promised transparency is still “coming soon”. It is now 9 months since Larry Harvey promised us a “clean, well lighted suite of rooms” for both Black Rock City, LLC and BMP. Which we took to mean Profit and Loss statements and Balance Sheets – regular accounts, not the Afterburn reports which omit revenues and profits. The final deadline for filing IRS Form 990 for corporations that requested two time extensions was November 15, so this is overdue for the Burning Man Project 2013. It may be 2016 before we see anything for 2014.

 

Burners.Me Concerns

Here are some of the issues that still concern me.

Scalping

They denied that any tickets were taken out of the STEP queue. However, they stopped short of telling us exactly how many tickets were sold via STEP. We just have to take their word for this, since there is no audit, no transparency.

What they did acknowledge was that they added another 2500 tickets to be sold via STEP. They also added 2000 tickets to the last-minute OMG sale, and they sold 1200 Donation tickets. So this is 5,700 tickets that they sold IN ADDITION to the 61,000 tickets they “officially” had.

Why keep nearly 10% of the tickets in reserve until about a month before the event? It seems a little shady to me: artificially creating scarcity. The main effect of this was to keep ticket prices high on the secondary market all through the year, which was no doubt useful to justify the above face value asking price of the Donation tickets. Their permit specified their population for 5 years, so it’s not like they didn’t know they had these tickets to sell. $780,000 for 1200 Donation Tickets, plus $1,710,000 for 4500 tickets at $380 – this is an extra $2.5 million that they kept “up their sleeves”. If the event could break even with 61,000 tickets, then this is pure profit.

I know that certain BMOrg insiders get access to blocks of tickets they can sell. Do any of these get sold above face value? Other than illegally recording someone in a “sting”, this is impossible to prove. We’ll probably never know. Even BMOrg may not know. Their creation of extra scarcity sure helps this hypothetical scenario, which would be a way to award bonuses without actually paying out any extra cash.

 

Sherpas

2014 caravancicle adMany Burners were dismayed to hear about the acceptance of paid employees in camps, which was highlighted by the New York Times before the event, and by whistle-blowers afterwards. The sherpas take tickets away from participating Burners. Other big concerns for many Burners were the slave-like working conditions imposed on these employees – including “if you quit, we’ll dump you in the desert” – and Commodification Camps putting up “help wanted” ads at the event hiring people for cash.

The impression you would get from BMOrg’s post is sherpas don’t exist. Perhaps it creates a sticky situation for BMOrg, who rely heavily on free volunteer labor to produce the event. If they acknowledge that there are many people out there getting paid, they bring to the attention of thousands of volunteers that they’re not. There was no mention of worker’s rights, which were demanded by some DPW volunteers, or a more fair treatment of artists.

 

Special Access to Tickets

They have finally admitted that they sold tickets to VIPs above face value – 1200 of them. They insist that none of these tickets were sold after August 1, which conflicts with reports from our sources. How did they work out who got a VIP invitation? That has still not been adequately explained.

Invitations were sent to participants who had previously contributed to Burning Man Project, or who had expressed interest in doing so, including some in plug and play and concierge camps. Other well-established theme camps also purchased Donation Tickets to cover a shortfall in tickets for their build crews and campmates.

What was the breakdown between existing donors, Commodification Camps, and Guest List theme camps?

 

Board Involvement

Their argument is that the Board of Directors of the Burning Man Project have nothing to do with the Burning Man event. This seems absurd, and is possibly necessary due to the self-dealing laws which prevent non-profit directors making profits off the tax-exempt organizations they volunteer for. Following this logic, the directors of Decommodification, LLC should also have nothing to do with the Burning Man event – even though, according to their lawsuit, they are DBA (doing business as) Burning Man.

Being a member of the Burning Man Project Board does not grant any authority to make decisions about, or influence the operations of, the Burning Man event.

If the Burning Man Project exists to promote the values of Burning Man around the world, shouldn’t it be important for its Directors to promote the values AT BURNING MAN?

Selective Rule Enforcement

2 of BMOrg’s Board of Directors are now working for AirBnB. AirBnB had listings at Burning Man this year. AirBnB’s “ironic” Burning Man advertisement is still up.

BoD Jim Tananbaum was behind Caravancicle. If such camps are completely against BM, how was he allowed to get away with it?

BoD Chip Conley made a video at Burning Man to promote his Fest300 business. DJ Sander van Doorn got shut down by BMOrg’s IP team for making a video of his trip this year. Meanwhile, Conley’s Fest300 commercial is still up. The video shows multiple violations of drone safety rules. Both videos are great, but that’s not the point. Why was Sander’s video bad, but Chip’s is fine? The same rules should apply to all Burners, whether they volunteer for the Board, Gate, DPW, or on the decks at a sound camp.

 

image: Sid Penance/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Sid Penance/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Disabled Vehicles

In 2014, we heard of the rumor, but can find no evidence internally that any camp received handicapped stickers for non-disabled golf carts or other conveyances

A very interesting choice of words. Could camps have non-decorated utility golf carts or “other conveyances”, that weren’t for handicapped people? This statement certainly allows for that – as long as they didn’t display a handicapped sticker, it seems like it was fine. If they had a handicapped person and received a sticker, it doesn’t seem like there was much enforcement about who was actually using the vehicle.

The information leaked to us by Burners is different. If you have any further knowledge or photos, please share.

 

Does the Board even care?

We gathered information internally and externally, and held a roundtable discussion with the Burning Man Project Board of Directors.

We then held a series of internal meetings with participation from three of Burning Man’s founders, event operations leadership, and the key teams poised to address this issue directly (Placement, Community Services, Ticketing and Communications).

What about the other 3 Founders? Is there some sort of internal politics going on behind the scenes? Or have they retired already, and just can’t be bothered with it all any more?

It took time to respond because we were determined not just to say “this is what happened” but also to say “this is what we plan to do about it.”

So what do they plan to do about it?

Cancel the Donation tickets. That’s about the extent of their policy changes. Although Commodification Camps will be required to have a strong interactive component, that was their policy already.

bringing a VIP lifestyle experience — with velvet ropes and wristbands — introduces an element of exclusivity into a culture that values inclusion, and those that opt in to these kinds of camps miss out on the transformative power of the event.

OK. So what will they do about that? Nada. Those camps are “missing out” and showing “bad manners”, but otherwise, no problem to be addressed, no policies to be changed.

What is the Burning Man organization doing to stop this?
Each year, we encounter a handful of companies advertising luxury, all-expenses paid package tours of Burning Man. When they make use of the Burning Man name or logo, our intellectual property team works to curtail promotional efforts by forcing any reference to ‘Burning Man’ to be removed.

billionaires-row-250So as long as Caravancicle doesn’t advertise, no problem. If Billboard wants to write a story promoting VIP festival packages on “Billionaire’s Row”, well, nothing BMOrg can do about it.

Meanwhile, artists still cannot in any way use Burning Man to market their art or fund-raise.

If Burning Man stops businesses from selling things in BRC, how can it allow for-profit theme camps that package and sell experiences in our gift economy?
Burning Man does not condone this activity. Commodification camps are not only in direct conflict with our culture, they are also not allowed by the terms of our permit.

BMOrg were clearly aware of the 12 Commodification Camps that they placed. They even gave one of the organizers a seat on their Board. They also gave those camps access to the invite-only Donation ticket program, that regular Burners didn’t get the chance to participate in.

You can find a list of the 45 permitted vendors in 2014 here. It doesn’t seem like all 12 Commodification Camps were on the list. The idea that because they didn’t end up making profits, it doesn’t matter, is not what the BLM Permit says.

Will tickets still be “packaged up” for Commodification Camps, which are now disguised as “turnkey camps on a spectrum”, and sold directly (and discreetly) under a different name than “Donation Tickets”? Some say this is the 800-lb gorilla that is still in the room. If they are, it is unlikely to be easy for us to track, unless the promised transparency somehow manifests.

Larry Harvey said “This issue of equality almost amounts to a straw man”.

Yeah it does. Equality, or lack thereof, is not the issue for the majority of Burners. Commodification, exclusivity, and Selective Rule Enforcement are the issues people have been complaining about.

It is as if these camps have been allowed to parade past the Main Sale ticket queue and insert themselves at the head of the line.

Yes. Not only is that how it seems – BMOrg have now acknowledged, that’s exactly what happened.

What I think these camps are really guilty of is being gauche. This is not so much about morals, it is more about manners, and we’re convinced bad manners can be mended.

Actually, it’s about Principles. Those who espouse them, should also be seen to be living by them, not flouting them. Can this be mended? Only if the leaders feel it’s important. Larry says:

these principles are in no way commandments. They represent an ethos that arose from the lived experience of a community; this means these values need to be internalized, they should become a kind of second nature, not a set of literal and unyielding rules that are imposed upon us

The Tin Principles. They’re not rules. They’re an ethos. Burn on.


 

The Community’s Response

Lest you think that we are an isolated voice in the wilderness, “being mean” because we have a “grudge against BMOrg” – here are some of the Burner community’s responses to these posts, completely independent of this site. There’s starting to be a lot of messengers to shoot.

  • We listened, but we really didn’t. We refuse to take responsibility for any of it. What you all saw at the event didn’t happen. Move on please.

  • What about hiring employees (Sherpas) to set-up/take-down the Commodification Camps and service guests?

    Doesn’t look like y’all are addressing that at all here.

    FYI: For the _vast_ majority of objectors, this was never about rich people bringing their luxurious lifestyles to the playa.

  • I can believe some of this, but not all of it. The Board of Directors information presented is definitely incomplete and I think this is a large enough topic that it deserves its own post. How is it even remotely legal for someone on a non-profit board to be profiteering from that non-profit?

  • So the question of did the commodification camps that were so horrible on K street get early entry and tickets from the distributed group sale has been completely ignored. This was a question I really wanted answered and seems like since we will be pissed about the answer you are just going to pretend it wasn’t asked?

  • When will Jim Tananbaum and his direct involvement with Caravancicle be addressed by the Organization? Not just sidestepped and alluded to? His name needs to be addressed by the Org. Saying his actions don’t effect the BM Project? How can someone be responsible for “spreading burning man culture around the world” when they setup a camp at the actual Burning Man event that blatantly disregards the majority of the 10 principles?

  • Just (co)modify the theme to smoke and mirrors… Because that’s what this blog/event is all about!

  • Pay for experience camps are totally against our principles..but are not going to be excluded… Huh? This communication seems to be a lot of heat, but no light.

  • It’s nice to see this information, some of which is actually new and informative. But even with months to prepare, it’s not especially satisfying.

    I don’t see any policy changes that address exclusivity–apparently, as long as a camp acts “neighborly” by not actively annoying the neighbors, they can have all the security guards, velvet ropes, and wristbands they want. Such camps are hardly radically inclusive.

    I also find the board of directors response completely inadequate. Very specific allegations were made and simply ignored.

    There’s also no mention of penalties. If a camp lies about its intentions and violates policies (new and old), what happens? Does the camp and its attendees get ejected? Apparently not. Bad camps can re-form with new names each year, and even flagrant violators can return with none the wiser. At least if they and their guests got ejected, they’d suffer some, and the guests might not inclined to take that route again.

    When will Jim Tananbaum and his direct involvement with Caravancicle be addressed by the Organization? Not just sidestepped and alluded to? His name needs to be addressed by the Org. Saying his actions don’t effect the BM Project? How can someone be responsible for “spreading burning man culture around the world” when they setup a camp at the actual Burning Man event that blatantly disregards the majority of the 10 principles?

    Burning Man Board Member Jim Tananbaum’s plug and play camp is a grievous violation of what the community stands for. The idea that you could be making money at burning man, while also on the board, is an inherent conflict of interest.

    There are no transparent records of how much the burning man organization makes, or what the board members make, just how much they spend – keeping the most important facts in the dark.

    Larry undoubtably loves this arrangement. Pretty understandable why you would make a long text post trying to lull the reader to sleep while you simultaneously try to justify the transgressions.

    LEMUR says:

    December 3, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Too little, too late, too out of touch and not nearly mindful enough, Larry.

    This post of yours, while great that you finally spoke, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the damage that has been done.

    Speak wild eyed about the great glorious Five Year plan… and miss the meat of the issue.

    Sad burner says:

    December 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    True the 10 Principles are not the 10 Commandments, however, We The People of BRC insist that the powers that be respect and honor our community ethos when they are chumming with the same people compromising/ruining/gentrifying our communities outside of BRC. We are fearful the same thing is happening on the playa and not only under watchful eye of the org but with the orgs assistance! Allowing a board member to sell VIP packaged experiences and saving tickets for the wealthy is shameful to this community.

    We are not asking the org to create and enforce more rules, we are asking you to honor the 10 Principles and this thing you created long ago. We’re asking you to respect the community that helped make BM what it is by not favoring the people who have more money. This will ruin BM and the people that actually care about it will stop going. Please don’t be a 10 Principle Flip Flopper because the cool rich kids are now buying into all this. Imagine the MOOP!!

    I don’t really care if someone wants to build an RV fort and guard the entrances. It makes them look really, really ridiculous…but hey, it’s a free playa.

    I care about ticket-holding individuals brought to Burning Man as employees who have to do whatever an on-playa boss commands, or else their lodging, pay, and survival supplies will be withheld. A lot of work happens at Burning Man, but it seems that few grasp the significance of totally commodifying a person out there. It’s not the same as splitting up camp duty shifts, and it’s bringing in the exact money/power dynamic that most of us are trying to escape for a week.

BMOrg Continues to Cover for Commodification Camps

Will Chase has added to the chorus of Commodification Camp justifications we’ve been hearing from BMOrg, with a post saying “what’s all the fuss about? Nothing to see here, move along”:

Virgins and Turnkey Camps Are Ruining Burning Man.

The content of the post is nothing like its title; quite the opposite. He is “Minister of Propaganda”, after all.

We’ve been hearing and reading a lot about Turnkey Camps over the past couple months (haven’t we all?) and I have to say, I’m a little confused by people’s apparent willingness to make or buy into blanket statements and generalizations about Turnkey Camps, virgins, who should be allowed into Black Rock City, etc.

Did some people do bad things? Sure. Are some people “doing it wrong”? Yep. Will it destroy Burning Man? Nope. Are we learning from this year what we can do better in the future? Absolutely. We are bigger than this, and our community can — as it always has — figure it out, adapt and self-regulate. There’s no question in my mind.

2014 sep 3 caravancicle aerial

Wednesday after the Burn. Caravancicle and Lost Hotel still have all their stuff there, regular Burners had to be packed up and gone

Self-regulate? Where the fuck does he think all the regulations come from? Certainly not from the community. It’s not the community saying “hey, you’re rich, cool, how many tickets do you need?  You can leave MOOP, you can exclude Burners from your camps, you don’t have to gift anything. Line up for 8 hours because we can’t mail tickets internationally. Pay royalties to the new LLC called Decommodification. Get insurance for your own art projects, because $30 million’s not enough to cover it. Your art car is public transport that belongs to the whole city”.

As for “blanket statements and generalizations”, that seems to be what we’re getting from BMOrg, not the other way around. The questions I’m seeing from the community have been pretty frikking specific. BMOrg’s definition of “Turnkey camps” is about as general as you can get.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not apologizing for Turnkey Camps and virgins who may have mis-stepped … nor are we sweeping anything under the carpet.

Oh, you’re not? Could’ve fooled me. I guess you think you have nothing to apologize for – it’s “your” event, after all.

Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  1. Burning Man has always had virgins. It’s how this thing keeps going and growing. In fact, in the early years Black Rock City was sometimes more than 50% virgins, since the event doubled in size from year to year.
  2. The percentage of virgins has been steady for the past few years, between 35% and 40% of the total population.
  3. Not all virgins are clueless twits. Some won’t know what they’re doing, and some will (but we’ll attempt acculturate all of them).
  4. Some of those virgins are never going to “get it”. Most will. (I had no clue what I was doing in 2001, and I’d like to think I turned out OK in the end. Heh.)
  5. Every single year of Burning Man’s existence, people have lamented how it’s all going to pot because [insert reason here] and virgins are doing it wrong. And it hasn’t. (The #1 most common thing I hear from virgins is “I didn’t understand what it was about, how could I possibly have? But now I get it! I’m a Burner!!”)
  6. Turnkey Camps are not all the same. There’s a broad spectrum from “doing it fine” to “doing it horribly”. The percentage in the latter group is small. Very small.
  7. The “tech elite” have always been at Burning Man. Hell, they’re practically what made Burning Man possible.
  8. Burning Man will always change and evolve.
  9. It is in the media’s interest to generate and stir up conflict and scandal and paint black and white pictures, because money.

Talk about trying to change the subject, to dodge the difficult questions. “We’re not trying to sweep anything under the carpet, we just want you all to talk about something else. Because we’re listening. No really, we are! Here’s a list of 9 reasons why your concerns are wrong”

What difference does listening make, in a do-ocracy? Actions speak louder than words. All we’re seeing is words: words that make it seem like actually, BMOrg are not listening.

2014 caravancicle ad

Real ad, offering cash for sherpas on the Playa.

Turnkey camps are a “broad spectrum”, because that’s the way BMOrg is trying to define them. Commodification Camps are not a spectrum – they’re more like a cancer. An alien parasite, leeching off our culture. Contributing nothing to our city. By saying “most camps are turnkey camps, and there are only a tiny number of bad ones”, BMOrg pave the way for as many Commodification Camps as they can sell. It’s a spectrum – “oh, you had one of the bad ones? Not to worry, DPW will pick up that MOOP for you. Better luck next year. We’ll try to acculturate you and socially engineer you so you can move further up the spectrum to where we want you”.

By heavily promoting Burning Man to the mainstream media – from Town and Country to Vogue to the New York Times – BMOrg make tourists want to come. By favoring Virgins in the ever-changing ticketing system, they make it harder for Burners to go. By diverting tickets sold back to STEP in good faith by Burners, and instead selling them in secret for $650 to Commodification Campers, they make a mockery of Burner values – robbing good-hearted Burners of profits that they could be earning from scalping, by telling us it’s “against Burning Man”. By promoting celebrities and politicians, who have “special needs” that somehow prevent them from Self-Reliance, they make Black Rock City more like Any Town, USA.

The community is upset about Commodification Camps “because money”. He got that right. But no-one is objecting to the profits made by the New York Times. I doubt their Burning Man sherpa story was even a drop in their giant ocean of cash. No, we’re upset “because money” – because people are MAKING MONEY from our spectacle which was FREELY GIVEN.

It seems like, in all their listening, BMOrg have totally missed the part where we said we don’t want to be bingo items for safari campers. That’s not why we bring all our art and music and energy and love – why we PAY BMOrg to “let us” bring it. We do that for fun, and to give to each other: not so that a select few can then commercially exploit it, and tell us we’re not invited.

MOOP #fail

MOOP #fail

The community is not upset about Virgins. We’re upset about how experienced Burners can’t get tickets, and long-time camps can’t get placement; meanwhile, Commodification Camps mysteriously get all the tickets they want. We’re upset because we have to pick up after ourselves, while Commodification Camps leave entire blocks worth of MOOP for DPW to collect. We’re upset about selective rule enforcement: one set of rules for insiders, and one for Burners. We’re upset because volunteers slave their guts out for no pay, while tickets that could go to worthy Burners get diverted to paid employees to be the Self-Reliance that Commodification Campers are too lazy to learn for themselves.

We’re upset because BMOrg keeps telling us they’re listening, and keeps writing these posts that show they’re really not.

Let’s re-cap, shall we:

Radical Self Reliance and Rich People at Burning Man – 72 comments, lots of questions from Burners, few answers

How Turnkey Camps Get Placed – 50 comments in a single day, lots of questions from Burners, no answers

Virgins and Turnkey Camps Are Destroying Burning Man – 9 “talking points”, lots of trying to change the topic of discussion, no answers

A Rich Man Dreams of Paradise – 67 comments, no answers

Will says:

It’s part my job to keep my finger on the pulse of the community in Black Rock City.

If so, then maybe you should read all the comments above. That’s your community speaking, right there. What comes out the most? What question does the community want answered, more than any other?

HOW DID THESE CAMPS GET SO MANY TICKETS?

Four different posts on the topic at burningman.com, and still this basic question is ignored like it doesn’t even exist.

despite a sensationalist New York Times article that was inflammatory and inaccurate but had legs, Burning Man was happening in all its diverse glory.

photo: John Curley

Will Crawl, 2014 photo: John Curley

That’s what you think we’re upset about? A single article in the New York Times? Way to have your finger on the pulse, dude.

We firmly believe everybody deserves the opportunity to have a transformational experience, ESPECIALLY the people who may not ‘get it’ right away … they probably need it more than anybody. Is that risky? Possibly, but our culture is so rich that I challenge a newcomer to NOT be impacted by it. And, as our culture gets stronger, it’s harder for a minority element to contaminate it. Think of it like this: if our culture was a thin soup, one carrot could change the whole flavor. But if you toss a carrot into a rich stew like ours, it’s hardly noticeable … but it becomes part of the mix.

The minority element contaminating the culture, appears to be a small group of decision-makers who encourage this commercial exploitation of Burning Man. And guess what: they’re NOT making the culture stronger. I’m listening to the community too, and that’s not what I’m hearing – AT ALL. Quite the opposite, in fact. BMOrg boast that they’re pleased they’ve jumped the shark, but most Burners don’t feel that’s a positive thing for our culture.

I wonder if BMOrg really are getting lots of emails and feedback forms from Burners saying “Commodification Camps are great, there should be more of them” – and somehow, that message just isn’t making it through to social media? Is there some “we love Sherpas, we love MOOP” group on Facebook that I’m not a member of?

caravancicle interaction guide 1

Caravancicle “Interaction Guide”

No-one is denying that virgins should be able to have a transformational experience. Why should Burners be squeezed out, to make room for Commodification Campers who are exploiting the Playa – and all of our free Gifting – for their own financial gain? Why should these camps be allowed to turn Burners away because they don’t have wristbands?

It’s our job to figure out how to get more people to experience Burning Man without compromising our principles in the process (INCLUDING radical inclusion). This is all of our work. And as the event grows in popularity, we’re going to have to work harder. But don’t panic, this stew is really, really good.

Waffle. What will be done? That’s what the community wants to be told, not “you’re all doing it wrong, but we’re doing it great”. And, guess what: it’s not your job to get more people to experience Burning Man. It’s your job to get the permit, and provide the basic infrastructure for the event, so WE can bring our party out there. That’s why we pay you $400 per ticket, of which $13 goes to art and $57 goes to Mysterious Other. We understand it costs money to rent the port-a-potties and pay the cops and build The Man. We didn’t give you that money so you could sell higher-priced tickets to tourists and film us to sell it in YouTube videos and the iTunes store. We’re not paying you to do the job of inviting a bunch of strangers who don’t care about our values and don’t want to learn, who think they’re better than all that. Who come to SEE the spectacle, not BE the spectacle.

If it’s so important to the Burning Man Project to acculturate Virgins and spread its message around the world, then let them do that for the whole rest of the year when we’re NOT putting our party on together, sharing our hospitality and camaraderie out on the inhospitable Playa. Let them divert Virgins to the Regionals, instead of squeezing out long-time Burners. Why kick us out of Black Rock City, to make room for strangers who care nothing for our unique culture and want to exclude us at our own event?

To me it’s quite simple. Radical Inclusion doesn’t extend to people who shit on all the other Principles. Fuck them – it’s They who should be excluded, not we Burners who don’t have the right wristbands for their $2 million camps. If you don’t want to be a Burner, fine, no problem: we don’t want you. It would be easy to sell 70,000 tickets to people – even 40% Virgins – who want to Gift, Include, be Self-Reliant, Participate, make a Communal Effort, and Leave No Trace. Why should it be “bring them in anyway, maybe they’ll get it, maybe they’ll want us to re-educate them so we can move them along the turnkey spectrum?” What about all the people who really do get it, but can’t get tickets? What about all the Burners waiting all year in STEP, hoping that their chance will come up, so they can start planning and preparing for their Burn?

What is it that makes these Commodification Campers so special? Money? Prestige? Power? Why do we need them at all? What about all of us, over nearly 30 years now, who HAVE put in the effort, the blood, sweat and tears? What about OUR feelings? What about OUR city?

Read Will’s full post here.

If you’re not sure what a “Commodification Camp” is, here’s just some of our other coverage on the topic:

Commodification Camp Concerns

Commodification Camps and the Tin Principles

Plug-n-Play Goes All The Way To The Top of the Pyramid

Comfortably Commodified

$2 Million Camps: Gentrification of Burning Man

 

 

caravancicle tshirt

Commodification Camp Concerns

Last night a couple of dozen interested Burners participated in the “Turnkey/Plug-n-Play Forum” discussion. It was organized by Travis Puglisi, who makes a (modest) living working on camps, art projects, or as a vendor at Burning Man, Coachella, the Joshua Tree music festival and others. BMOrg were invited to participate, but declined. I guess they’re too busy engaging the community in conversation about Turnkey camps to actually want to talk to anyone.

Kudos to Travis for making a genuine effort to connect with the community by asking: if he wants to make a living from festivals like Burning Man, then what is acceptable behavior, and what is detrimental to our values? [Travis later commented that he doesn’t actually care about this, even if the community thinks it’s wrong he’s still fine with treating BM as a commercial gig]. It’s more than BMOrg are doing: they are just defining Turnkey as any camp where some camp members arrive early to set up the infrastructure, whether paid or unpaid. By this definition, almost every camp is a Turnkey camp, so there’s nothing they can do about the problem. That’s why at Burners.Me we like “Commodification Camps”, because it highlights the main issue in reference to the 10 Principles: Commodification.

2014 psyclone medallionIn the past Travis has been one of the organizers of Play)A(Skool. He quit “declined collaboration” when they wanted to bring 80 RVs, considering that model to be unsustainable. This year he worked for camp Psyclone, ultra-wealthy Burners who were mostly from New York. Psyclone, located at 6:30 & A, scored a clean green on the MOOP map – except for a single red dot, which they have not yet received any explanation about. The camp conceived of and fabricated their own art, they make their own food (it’s not catered), sort their own trash and take aluminum to Recycle Camp.

This year the camp consisted of 17 RVs, 10 hexayurts, 2 tents, 6 yurt-like structures, and 3 inflatable prototype shelters. Travis was careful not to name anyone from the camp, but I’m guessing the latter were Clearchannel CEO and Billionaire Burner Bob Pittman’s Dhomes:

pittman dhome

Pittman (L) in front of one of his Spider Dhomes. Photo: Nellie Bowles

Inside the inflatable party pad. Photo: Nellie Bowles

Inside the inflatable party pad. Photo: Nellie Bowles

Pittman plans to bring 200 Dhomes next year, renting them for $5-10k per week. Read all about it in Re/Code. Travis demurred pled ignorance on answering how much Psyclone’s camp dues were for 2014.

Here’s some coverage of Psyclone from last year, from Modern Luxury:

…the anti-establishment art and music festival has really grown up. This year, the call of the Playa—the festival’s name for the stretch of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that’s now its home—drew a crowd of bigwig burners, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, Sean Combs [P.Diddy], MTV founder Bob Pittman and two intrepid members of the Hamptons social set, who recalled the event for us.

Burning Man is a not-for-profit weeklong festival…

Remember when you were a kid at Disney World and were totally awestruck? When you’re a “virgin burner” you feel like it’s Christmas morning every morning of the festival. Burning Man is a big hippie commune where the ideals of the ’70s are vibrantly alive, if only for a week. No money, no red-velvet ropes; everything is shared and all are invited everywhere.

Burning Man teaches radical self-reliance with its “Bring what you need or find what you need, but give more than you receive” message. At the core of its values is the principle of taking care of the Playa. The worst thing you can do at Burning Man is to be irresponsible with your MOOP

This year, our 60-person camp was called PsyClone, and it was just about the coolest place I’ve ever been. I got to meet entrepreneurs, famous actors, people who work in politics, fellow doctors (I’m a psychiatrist) and amazing artists, all in one tented campsite. At about a quarter of an acre, the camp was very small, consisting of RVs and tents in the back and a central area for socializing, plus sofas, a refrigerator, a homemade shower and a barbecue. At the front of the camp, major pieces of art were set up to attract visitors.

2014 psycloneEach camp applies for space from the Burning Man administrators about six months ahead of time. The event organizers decide your location depending on how you plan to contribute and how clean you left your space the previous year. To attend Burning Man, you don’t need an official camp—you can just show up and pitch a tent—but know that you’ll likely be in a less-desirable location.

…There truly is no place like home.

– See more at Modern Luxury 

Last night’s meeting went for a couple of hours, and although some good points were made from different sides of the Commodification Camp debate, it was ultimately inconclusive. Some of the issues raised are worthy of further consideration and discussion by the community.

 

What Makes A Commodification Camp?

Is it employing workers, making a profit, or the level of camp dues provided? Or is it selling hotel rooms and services to “Safari tourists”? To me, it’s a Commodification Camp if its members don’t have to build anything, work any shifts, or pack anything up; they simply fly in and fly out without putting in any Communal Effort and Gift with their checkbook, if at all. You can’t call it Inclusion or Participation if it happens in a wristband-only VIP area.

The difference between Burning Man and many other events is that this city is built on the backs of volunteers. Those running for-profit camps, are therefore lining their pockets with the blood, sweat, and tears of the rest of us, for whom Burning Man has always been a labor of love. Why should everyone work for free, pay to be there, and pay to bring art and gifts – while a select few charge thousands or tens of thousands per head for hotels and pay slave labor wages for others to wait on them and clean up their mess?

Light sculptures at Psyclone

Light sculptures at Psyclone

Psyclone had 6 paid workers managing the build, logistics, operations, and tear-down. There was one person on shift at the camp at all times, not so much to be a sherpa but to help camp members with requests like organizing a group to move heavy objects. The lowest paid was making $150 a day, and the highest paid made $350 per day. Travis himself earned $13,450 for working May through September on the camp – hardly a fortune. Nevada minimum wage is $8.25 per hour; assuming Travis worked 40 hours per week for 20 weeks, for him that works out to $16.81 per hour. No-one could accuse him of trying to get rich off Burning Man – this is slightly above what he could get at McDonald’s. It is, though, significantly more than what most DPW workers earn.

Most DPW and Gate workers are volunteers. They get a free or discounted ticket, and food from the commissary – except once Burning Man actually starts. Then, they are expected to fend for themselves. This is pretty impractical, it’s not like people who are living on the Playa for a month can pop out to Whole Foods to stock up on supplies. BMOrg spends $1.4 million a year on food, so it seems a little stingy that their workers have to starve once the event is underway – while First Camp dine on fresh produce brought in every day.

There are about 400 DPW workers. If they were all paid minimum wage for an average of 4 weeks at 40 hours per week, that would be $528,000 – $7.76 per ticket. This is about the same as what BMOrg charge as a ticket processing fee, and less than what they charge to mail tickets or hold them at Will Call. It’s about the same as what BMOrg spend on travel and costumes for themselves every year.

 

 

Camp Costs Are Increasing

Once Burning Man was sold out, and became the latest “bucket list” destination, the vendors increased their fees massively. A camp that provided a generator, kitchen trailer, and A/C unit, supporting 15 RVs, used to cost $5000 per head. The generator rental and drainage with United for this camp used to cost $7900 2 years ago, now it is $33,000. This means the camp costs are now $7000 per head. Renting a C-class RV for the week used to cost $3500, now it’s $5500. BMOrg implemented a Vendor Approval Process which was used by vendors as an excuse for massive price hikes.

Even camps that don’t make a profit, where everyone chips in to cover expenses, are faced with increasing costs due to supply and demand. Only a small number of vendors are allowed; the lack of competition means vendors can price gouge. One suggestion was that vendors should have to open their books and disclose their profit margins to the community – this would be a good idea for The Burning Man Project too.

 

Principles vs Laws

MOOP #fail

MOOP #fail

Back in the day, Burning Man had 2 immutable laws. “No Commerce” – you couldn’t buy or sell anything on the Playa; and “Leave No Trace” – you have to pick up after yourself. Violate either law, and you could be kicked out of the event. Since the Principles were introduced in 2004 as “guidelines”, the rules are now more rubbery. So we get multi-million dollar camps like Caravancicle/Lost Hotel leaving vast swathes of yellow and red on the MOOP map, and every year sees “commerce creep” with the introduction of a new money-making item – merchandise in 2013, gasoline in 2014.

Burning Man’s Chief Philosophy Officer, Larry Harvey, has spearheaded their “10 Principles” series of blog posts – 21 so far. The mere fact that they have to devote so many words to trying to explain these things, suggests that perhaps there are a better set of community credos we could come up with. I mean, “thou shalt not kill” is pretty frikkin’ clear. “Decommodification”, on the other hand, gets pretty confusing when the owners create a company called Decommodification, LLC to earn royalties from the event – potentially $1 million a year or more.

Here’s what Larry Harvey says about the Principles:

they utterly lack the imperative mood; they are not commands or requests—they do not give permission or withhold it. For example, Leaving No Trace is not a commandment. Although it speaks of what we value, it does not demand allegiance

…the Ten Principles employ the language of prosody. The principle of Participation states, ”We make the world real through actions that open the heart.” Such language often has the property of meaning many things at once, and this is because it is not produced by following a linear series of logical propositions. Instead of explaining, as if unfolding the planes of a box, poetic language does the opposite.

So the Principles aren’t commandments, mean many things at once, aren’t logical, and are deliberately designed to obscure, not explain. BMOrg can use whatever poetic language they like: Commodification of our culture for money is against Burning Man.

It seems that million-dollar camps are getting preferential placement, as many tickets as they want, and a blind eye turned to blatant violations of the 10 Principles. More than anything, I think this is the problem with Commodification Camps that upsets the community the most. If we’re going to have rules, they should apply to everyone equally.

 

Radical Inclusion Means Preferring Virgins and Shafting Burners

Back in the day, it was rare to meet a first-timer at Burning Man. There was a community of mostly hard-core Burners, people who went out there every year, spending all year planning what they were going to bring next time so they can give even more. These days, 40% are Virgins, and only 29% have been more than twice.

The problem with this unquenchable thirst for fresh meat is Burners who have been contributing for years no longer feel welcome. It’s hard for them to get tickets, and every year it will get harder.

If the population cap stays the same, and we continue with the ratio of 40% virgins, every year it becomes more difficult for people who’ve been to Burning Man before to return home.

virgins and non virgins

“% Non-Virgins” is calculated by comparing the number of non-virgins to the total number of Burners to date. A non-virgin means “been once or more”, as opposed to Veteran which we define as 3 or more Burns.

A city that truly valued the Communal Effort made by its citizens, would see the % Virgins decreasing every year. It should be a challenge to go to Burning Man if you’re not a Burner, and Burners who’ve put in the hours should have more chance to get a ticket than someone who has contributed a total of 0 to the community.

 

 

Self-Reliance Doesn’t Apply To The Wealthy

Some wealthy people will only come to Burning Man if they can be coddled. Driving their own RV from Reno is too much of a hassle for them, taking their own trash out is too much trouble, they need to pay someone else to do that so they can just fly in and out – or they’re not going to bother coming. I ask you: so what? Do we really need people who aren’t interested in Self-Reliance? How is that making the party better for Burners? There are plenty of rich people there who help set up or clean up their camps, pick up after themselves, and contribute to art projects. Why do we need those who don’t?

Some argue that it is so good for the world for the cash-rich and time-poor to experience Burning Man, that we should overlook all of the Principles for the sake of “Rule #1”: Radical Inclusion. A camp producer gave the example of a CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation who was inspired by Burning Man to donate money to arts programs for schools. Their camp spent $180,000 on donations to Burning Man art projects last year, and $230,000 this year. To put this in perspective, BMOrg themselves spent $800,000 – so just one camp can fund a third as much art as BMOrg who rake in $30 million annually. To make sure that money actually goes to the artists, this particular camp facilitated direct donations, rather than going through Burning Man Arts who absorb most of the money donated to them in overhead.

I can see that it might be beneficial for the world if powerful people have a transformational experience at Burning Man, and I believe that can happen. How many, though, just have a great time and then go back to their normal lives? 50%? 90%? P.Diddy – the world’s richest rapper – went last year for the first time, and had a life changing experience.

How did that help the world? Well, it inspired him to make a Burning Man-themed Fiat commercial.

 

need lsdIf they don’t experience Self Reliance, Leave No Trace, Gifting, Communal Effort, Participation, or Civic Responsibility, then how was it a transformational Burning Man experience? This is like saying “acid is great because people can get deep insights”. Maybe some do, but does that mean anyone can just ignore all the Principles and rules, because it is so important to the world for them to take acid?

The more staff that Commodification Camps hire, the fewer Burners get to go. They get replaced with minimum wage workers who barely get to leave their camp and whose very survival is threatened if they want to quit. Self-reliance means 1 Burner, 1 ticket; Radical Wealth Reliance means the tourists also need tickets for the sherpas who contribute to their burn, but not ours.

Here’s an idea: why doesn’t BMOrg throw “Radical Inclusion” events off-Playa? They can invite all the underage children, politicians, frat boys, and trailer park tourists they want – all 7 billion people in the Default World. Removing the need for Radical Self Reliance will make it possible to acculturate a much wider audience. They can use these “Rely On Others, Gift Nothing, MOOP away, Express Conformity” Commodifcation events to educate the masses. Maybe some of them will then want to become Burners and come out to the Playa to pitch in and create Black Rock City with the rest of us. BMOrg could take some of the profits made from commodifiying Burner culture and blending it with the Default world, and invest that into more art at Burning Man. I think most Burners are OK with the owners making a profit from the event (although they tell us it’s a non-profit), but not OK with less art every year.

 

The Bottom Line

If a camp gets placement, it should have a public, interactive component. Each camp needs to gift something to everyone: all Burners should be welcome at any camp at Burning Man. I would rather burn with 70,000 Burners than 20,000 Burners and 50,000 tourists, no matter how rich or famous they are. If they can’t go without being coddled, then maybe we don’t want them – let Burners who get the Principles and make a Communal Effort take those spots. Making Burning Man into the Default world does not make it better, it makes it lamer.

What’s the point of Burning Man, anyway? Fun? Profit? Brainwashing? Building a corporate brand?

Dennis Kucinich lectures the IDEATEs

Former Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich lectures the village Ideates

Is Burning Man something provided by BMOrg for the purpose of acculturating strangers; or is it something Burners provide to each other by bringing the art, music, costumes, food, and drink? In the former scenario, experienced Burners just get in the way. Dennis Kucinich couldn’t even be fucked putting a pair of cargo pants on, but he had no problem giving media interviews and political speeches out there. How did that help make the world a better place?  At least Grover wore some kind of pouffy bandanna and a blinky light…and he’s been milking that in the press ever since.

I’ll leave you with a comment Mortician made at burningman.com, which I think is an excellent expression of the Commodification Camp problem:

Participants (and I am using that term loosely) who live in walled off camps, who do not interact – or negatively interact- with their neighbors, who have roped off VIP areas and private art cars which exist only to exclude, who use the Playa as a networking opportunity, a private nightclub or rave, a chance to package and sell the efforts of others, or a questionable employment backdrop within their camp create a negative experience for everyone around them.

I don’t personally think it matters one bit how much money someone has as to whether they can create positive or negative experiences for the community. I also don’t believe that everyone who comes has to participate in every single aspect of their camps to be a positive contributor. Its fine if a camp, say, has some people come early to set up and another group sticks around at the end to strike. The question in my mind is not related to someones net worth or how many rebar stakes they have pounded. It is completely about whether someone is coming to actively be a part of the city and open to interaction, or whether they are coming to violate the community by co-opting others contributions, treat those same contributors with active rejection, derision, and exclusion from behind velvet ropes and wristbands, and do everything possible to separate themselves from the general community via handlers, sherpas, and walls.

If the more egregious PnP camps need that much hand holding and separation from the general community, why don’t they just either go down to Vegas for their long clubbing weekend where the entire town exists to cater to that need level, or come out to the playa and set up their camp at some other time when there is no one else out they need to keep out?

 2014 laser harp psyclone tp drum wall psyclone tp psyclone front tp