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.
Let me back up a moment and say that I’ve been working for Burning Man for 11 years now, including five years as the Web Team Project Manager and as Minister of Propaganda with the Communications Department for the last six. On playa, I give tours of Burning Man to people who’ve never seen Black Rock City before as part of the eXternal Relations Team (XRT) and I’m part of the new Burning Man Docents team, helping to acculturate folks.
So where was I? Right, here we are…
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.
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. Here are some facts to keep in mind:
- 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.
- The percentage of virgins has been steady for the past few years, between 35% and 40% of the total population.
- 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).
- 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.)
- 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!!”)
- 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.
- The “tech elite” have always been at Burning Man. Hell, they’re practically what made Burning Man possible.
- Burning Man will always change and evolve.
- It is in the media’s interest to generate and stir up conflict and scandal and paint black and white pictures, because money.
It’s part my job to keep my finger on the pulse of the community in Black Rock City. Here’s my book report for 2014: despite a sensationalist New York Times article that was inflammatory and inaccurate but had legs, Burning Man was happening in all its diverse glory. From the solo hippy in his camper van with a hot plate to lavish camps with catered food and grand performances and everywhere in between, people were participating, making art, making connections, doing their talks and workshops and parties and unicorn rampages, and generally being absolutely incredible. And it’s seriously hard to make the argument that Burning Man’s going to shit and the virgins are screwing it all up when we had the CLEANEST CITY EVER this year.
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.
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.