Burning Book Club – The Consequences of Losing our Creative Class

(This is the second post inspired by reading the introduction of Scott Timberg’s Book-Burning-225x300“Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class.” Read all the book club entries)

In between the last post and this one, I’ve been reading a number of articles about how Amazon reviews are gamed – that authors will often purchase hundreds of fake 5-star user reviews to push their books up to the top of the Amazon search engines.

The result is that crappy books by people gaming the system push out legitimately good book – even books with good (real) reviews, just not hundreds of them. For people who want to find and read good books – never mind paying the authors, just finding out about the books in the first place – it is increasingly hard. A system like Amazon’s, that relies largely on the free market, claims to be a neutral arbiter but in fact supports the people who are gaming it rather than the artists struggling to do good work.

I can think of no better example of what Scott Timberg is talking about when he says that the “hollowing out” of the cultural structures has serious consequences.

Timberg isn’t referring specifically to artists here, though he includes them of course. When he refers to the “creative class,” he’s talking about people who support art and culture by serving as gatekeepers: people who help the “good” art distinguish itself from the bad. He’s talking about video clerks, radio DJs who do their own programming, arts journalists, and of course critics – among many others.

The idea of having “gatekeepers” has gotten a lot of bad press in the digital revolution, but the degree to which we need people to separate the wheat from the chafe has never been more clear: without gatekeepers who are not in it for the money, only the art with a publicity budget will ever be found amid the mass production that the digital revolution has unleashed. Sure we can all “vote” with our “likes” and our “tweets” – but these systems are not only easy to game, they exist specifically to be gamed. They drag all art appreciation down to the level of “American Idol,” which is great on its own terms but not really – not really – a serious way to evaluate music. As a result, the good work gets drowned out.

And let me be clear about this: a system that is agnostic about quality is actively against it. To say “our system of publicity shouldn’t care whether art is good or bad” is to dig good art’s grave. (more…)

How Not to Disappear at Burning Man

by Factoid

dustupFirst of all, walk/bike onto the open playa in the dark and rising wind to retrieve your art car.

Next, stop halfway out and just stand there (with the wind still rising) taking pictures of the Man like an idiot tourist because he looks cool in the dust storm…

… pausing only to close your mouth because there seems to be a lot of dust in it …

Continue past the Man — trudging on foot now because the air’s too thick to see through — and wonder at how Burners’ lights seem to suddenly pop up out of the dust just in time to avoid running into you. Notice that everyone else seems to be headed into camp in the opposite direction.

Ignore this. (more…)

Corporate Courting

The line in the sand has been getting more and more blurry over the years.

While there is no commerce on Playa, obviously we need to buy goods and services for our trips. As a community, we are still working out how corporations can work with Burners in a healthy way.

For example, many rental companies have had an “illicit affair” model in place where lying was a part of the process. “Don’t come back with hickies, lipstick on your collar, or dust in the engine…and whatever you do, don’t tell us you are taking it to Burning Man!”

But check out U-Haul’s olive branch offering to Burners renting trucks: A video showing how to cover logos (and honor the Decommodification Principle) without damaging the truck. Plus they share a list of clean up tips and local resources.

U Haul would have scored 100% except for the cutesy use of “Barter Supplies” as a header at the bottom instead of just “Supplies.” (Gifting is NOT Barter.)

Now, if this video is a part of a marketing push, I may change my tune. But for now I’m giving big dusty props to U-Haul for addressing the reality of the situation without pandering or exploiting the community.

NOTE: I am a 17 year Burner with a passion for the event, the principles and our community. Like the vast majority of writers in this space, I am not a representative of the BMORG. This is not an endorsement of U-Haul by myself and especially not by Burning Man. It is simply an (interesting to me) data point in the ever-evolving integration between the default world and Burning Man.

What’s Actually Going On with Dance Music at Burning Man

(Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby)

(Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby)

News — and supposition — has been flying recently regarding a number of policy announcements and statements coming out of BMHQ related to DJs and amplified music on playa. Dancetronauts being “banned”, Opulent Temple not being placed, the Deep-Playa Music Zone (DMZ), pre-publishing DJ lineups — it’s dizzying. And taken together, it could appear that Burning Man has it out for Electronic Dance Music (EDM)!! Yeah, no.

We wanted to take a moment to clear up the misconceptions so we’re all on the same page. We don’t like to announce a “what” without a “why” so everybody understands what’s behind the decisions. So let’s do it. (more…)

Video: 15 Years of National Conservation Lands

We’re so fortunate to be able to hold our event in the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. The U.S. Government designates some of the country’s most scenic, culturally rich, scientifically important and yet least known public lands as National Conservation Lands. We are proud to build Black Rock City in one of these areas, and we’re equally committed to respecting and protecting this special place.

2015 marks the 15th year of the NCL system, and our partners at the Bureau of Land Management made this video to celebrate:

From the BLM:

This year marks an important milestone for the BLM’s National Conservation Lands – America’s newest conservation system is 15 years old. Today, these National Conservation Lands include 874 federally recognized areas and more than 30 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert.

We invite you to celebrate with us, and VISIT, SHARE, and SUPPORT your National Conservation Lands throughout the year.

Tips & Tricks #18 “Being Shy at Burning Man”

This is a video reply to an email question I was sent:

“I’m heading home for my third burn this year and I am wondering what advice you’d give me… I don’t know if shy is the right word but it’s the word I’m going to use. I’m shy. And one of the ways this affects me in BRC is that I don’t feel like walking into camps. Even camps I know are there for everyone, I just feel like I’m an outsider, or like I don’t belong or am intruding on everyone’s happy time together. So let’s say I came by Pink Heart and saw you and wanted to come over and say hi. I’d feel like I would be interrupting whatever conversation you were having or I’d stand there awkwardly not wanting to bother you but wanting to say hi and I just don’t know how to not feel like I’m bothering people or like I’m a random stranger and not one of them. Or even just going in to the camp and… just hanging out or flopping on a couch or whatnot. It all feels so… I’m not sure. Like I shouldn’t because I’m not part of something/the camp/the friendships.
Thoughts?”
-Willow

The gist of my response:

(more…)

Barron Scott LevKoff’s Mystical Midway

This year the Man will be surrounded by a most exquisite clever Midway, a Carnival of Mirrors where participants can turn the surfaces reflecting themselves inside out if they dare, and by participating they may very well discover the multifarious circus of our ordinary life and create new personas. The Midway beckons to us to discover new perspectives and bring them out into the world at the conclusion of our week in Black Rock City.

Our Midway is going to be populated with mind-bending and playful attractions, and I was most fortunate to meet one of this year’s artists, Barron Scott LevKoff aka The Professor, who will be bringing his Mystical Midway to that space around the Man this year.

Barron Scott LevKoff Talking with Scott you get a feeling of how whimsical yet intentional he is. A self described dandy with a very sharp and developed mind highly attuned to the creative force, he is a font of brilliance and ideas flow from him in rapid succession; ideas that range from casual mentions of conscious evolution, social theater, the Human Potential Movement, Wisdom Sharing Networks and Cosplay, to his use of carnivalesque motley fools, hobos, devils , angels and roaming puppetry to provide tools for the creator culture that he cares very deeply about.

He’s spent time sharing the Beauty Engine Social Design he and Polly Superstar created in the early 2000’s. He told me about his work with Polly on another venture, Mission Control, where they tested out, in his words, the “language for creative collaboration” and the “commonalities of social dynamics, social techniques and methods that are similar among creative communities.” Mission Control worked with thousands of people, some of them digerati, and provided inspiration for social networks that came into being including the Abundance League that became Shareable.

Edwardian Ball  Mystic MidwayHe and I sat down for tapas and sangria in the Mission and Scott shared with me his experience of the last 25 years as a performer. Barron Scott LevKoff has had a hand in creating or participating in some of the more surreal ongoing events in the San Francisco Bay Area including Anon Salon, The Edwardian Ball, Mission Control, The Renaissance Faire at Black Point Forest, Club Ritual, Soookeasy, Master Mondos Cabare’, Lost Horizons Box Trucks, Kinky Salon and the Lagunitas Beer Circus to name a few, with his most recent foray being his Mystic Midway.

His involvement in the San Francisco Alternative scene is somewhat epic.

I asked him to tell me about his Mystical Midway that will grace Black Rock City this year and the description poured out of him …

“The Mystic Midway is a trans-media STORYWORLD based on the characters and attractions you might find in a strange, mystical carnival: “The Hat of Many Closets”, “Mister Nobody’s Swamp Shack”, “The Mirror Maze”, the “Haunted Castle” and characters such as Lady Fortuna, Mister Nobody, the Blue Mystic, Professor Grimaldi, The Snakeoil Salesman and others. Each of these characters and attractions has a corresponding card that illustrates a specific area of inquiry attributed to each. Our Mystic Midway ensemble of performers brings these characters to life and we have also created a Cosplay guide crafted specifically as an invitation for anyone to create their own Midway persona and join the Midway!

Mystic Midway“We also bring the Mystic Midway to life through fantastical sets, props, banners, wagons, flying airships and more. We host Tea Party ‘socials’ where the community comes together and we go into the Midway, almost like a role-playing game. (The ‘HOME GAME’) We go on storytelling adventures of discovery and inquiry, prompted by encounters with the MM attractions and characters. It’s a collaborative, ‘gameful’ style of group storytelling. For example, something like “Fear” might come up in an adventure and we know that it’s time to bring out ‘Mr.Nobody’, a gleeful skeleton figure who eats fear. So the goal in that moment is to name and release the fear to Mr.Nobody, so it’s a bit like a shamanic story telling game. It’s all about identifying the scripts inside us that rule our actions on the ‘mythic stage’ of our lives.

“What’s ruling us, what’s holding us back, what’s keeping us from sharing the magic within us, but feel scared to give it a name or form?”

Scott is a true believer and he’s up to something much larger than entertainment. About the Mystical Midway’s immersive environment he continued, “There’s almost no separation between participant, audience, spectator, performers. It really is immersive social theater. People can jump in with whatever they’re comfortable with. The first time they come, they kind of sit on the periphery, and say, ok I kind of see what this is about. Next time they come and they have a persona and they’re offering their gifts. Maybe I’ll do readings, or I’m more of a clowny person, or I have fairy wings and horns or whatever. You know what I mean?”

Our nice waiter brought us some bread and butter and as Scott and I conversed, I began to realize that there is a deeper level to this sort of play and creative culture. He’s not just creating an immersive experience that will no doubt delight participants on the playa this year.  I took in this phenomenon of a man across the table from me, wearing a black and white striped hat, spectacles and who sported a well groomed handlebar mustache. We discussed the language of creative culture, how he is producing events, creative community and Improv Theater  and I realized I was in the presence of a visionary. We discussed what a crazy journey these last 25 years have been for him and before that, his childhood of “hippie parents, raised in communes, in boats and vans. My mom was a psychic channel and I was raised around all these different intentional communities. So as a kid I got to see all these intentional ways of coming together so I was primed my whole life for alternate ways of living.” He then brought up his interest in magic and alchemy.

It was then that he leaned in, suddenly somewhat serious, and as he spoke he brought his visage forward and upward and I could see his brown eyes and that slyly mustachioed mouth as he flashed an upward smile and I thought — he’s up to something. Oh he’s up to something.

Barron Scott“I see society as a sculpture; it’s created intentionally by people. And a lot of people don’t see that our society has been crafted by capitalists and industrialists and consumerists towards people like you. You NEED THINGS. Medicine men knew this. Like, oh I’ve got something you need. This is a shiny thing and it’s awesome if you have this thing. You need these sneakers to be more desirable. You need this makeup or you need this clothing, you know what I mean right? And these are scripts that are running in society and so many people think, oh that’s the way it is, that’s the way life is.

“Burning Man is a place where people can look at the scripts and be like, wait a minute, does that serve me? Does this way of being serve me? Does the way of connecting and relating to other people, does this actually have value to me? So I want to create the permissions and give people the tools to examine, do these scripts serve them anymore.

“That’s why we embrace the term SOCIAL THEATER. You know because the Midway is a place of heightened social interaction, where everything is a mirror. Every character on the Midway is a mirror, a card, the story cards of the Midway that everything is based on, that I’ve been developing, I’m taking all my observations of creative culture they’re all in the story cards. Everything’s a mirror, hey take a look at this. What has value to you what are you pulling yourself to?

“How does insight serve you? Are you just a mental, intellectual person or do you have insight and intuition, so everything is inquiry. Hey what do you think about this, what do you think about this, no truths, just inquiry. Just questions. It’s all questions.

“It’s a crazy experiment. And I need a Christmas miracle to pull this off.”

The Mystical Midway, Carnival of Mythic Possibility has an ongoing IndieGOGO campaign to get them to Burning Man.

Go there. Contribute and read on.

Our sangria arrived, we toasted a cheers and I took a plunge into the fascinating world of Barron Scott LevKoff also known as “The Professor”.

(more…)

BRC Fire Department Says: Don’t Be Like These Bozos

by Penny Stone

(Photo by aip2000)

(Photo by aip2000)

The list of things you can do at Burning Man is as long as your imagination — it’s an experience of a lifetime. And nothing sucks more than having your Burn cut short.

I’m Penny Stone, Fire Chief of your Burning Man Volunteer Fire Department. We are 100 firefighters strong, from all over the world, and probably one of the most eclectic fire departments you’ll ever hopefully never have to call. While we specialize in fire, we also have rescue and hazmat teams.

I’ve got some tips to keep you safe and keep your Burn rolling. Here goes…

Baffling Your Generator

I was riding through the Black Rock City streets last year when I saw smoke billowing out of the back of a pickup truck. Turns out a participant had wrapped his generator (in the truck bed) with a foam mattress to decrease the noise — and then he put a plastic dog kennel over it to hold everything in place.

I dragged the smoking mess onto the playa and extinguished it. The owner came out of his tent, smiled and said “I was just trying to make it less noisy.”

There are plenty of ways to baffle your generator safely, like this for example.

Make sure generators have proper clearance from flammable objects (ahem, including foam mattresses).

Overfilling Your RV’s Propane Tanks

Let’s say you rent an RV. The RV propane tank you filled in a cooler place is now at a higher altitude and temperature, and that propane you’re smelling is it off-gassing. You know what propane smells like? You’ll want to in case it happens to you.

Tell the person filling your propane tank that you’re going to Burning Man (or at least “the desert”). A gas leak detector would be a good idea, too.

Electrical Sanity in Your RV

True story: In 2012, Black Rock Volunteer Fire Department responded to an RV that these guys had bought, the electrical system for which wasn’t designed for the demand they put on it. The electrical lines under the floorboards overheated and started a fire that engulfed the RV. Fortunately, everyone got out in time.

Make sure a qualified electrician and mechanic inspects your RV before purchasing. AND MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A WORKING FIRE EXTINGUISHER OR TWO!!!

Fire in Your Camp

fireexBurn barrels and flame effects are wonderful to chill around at night. But remember they need adequate clearance, and they must always be attended! It only takes a stray spark to set your neighborhood on fire, quickly.

Designate someone as the Pulse of Fire in your camp. Pay attention to wind speed, wind direction and the height of your flame, and make sure you don’t overload your burn barrel (it happens a lot).

AND MAKE SURE THERE IS A FIRE EXTINGUISHER IN A VISIBLE AND ACCESSIBLE PLACE AND ALL YOUR CAMPMATES KNOW WHERE IT IS. A 4×4” post painted red and placed in a five gallon bucket with sand or cement makes a great place to mount an extinguisher.

Questions? We’re Here to Help!

If you have questions about how to set up a fire plan for your camp or village please feel free to contact us at fuel here: fuel (at) burningman.org. We can help with questions on fire safety, fuel storage and dispensing, fires in camp and flame effects. We’re here to make your burn FABULOUS. Besides, WE BURN MORE THAN YOU.

Download a handy, printable fuel safety document (PDF – 3MB)