Mom’s First Burn

“No time to explain, Mom. Take my hand and follow me!”

My family has always been a big part of my Burn.

My brother went with me my first year in 1998, and for the next five.

My Grandpa was the first to call Burning Man my “congregation” and sent heirlooms with me (like his childhood bible) to burn each year.  I placed his ashes in the Temple in 2007.

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Hanging a tribute to Grandpa Caleb in ’08
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Photo by Julian Cash (supersnail.com) Pants by Grandma Shikles

My grandma sewed my first fur pants. (Including a matching fur bag, “because I had left over fabric,” she said.)

And when my grandma passed on, my mom became my go-to seamstress for my Playa creations.

I treasure the bonding experiences that my mom and I share each summer as we craft together in preparation for the Burn.

She helped me sew cushion covers for the Hugmobile, fur covers for my platform boots, and helped create the epic Octobike. (aka “Snuffleoctobike”).

"SnuffleOctobike"
“SnuffleOctobike”

Every couple years I half-heartedly asked if she would ever want to go to Burning Man.   Truthfully, I didn’t sell it very well – and she showed no interest.

But something happened this summer.

I showed my mom a video called “Charlie goes to Burning Man.” It showed a man 10 years older than her who gushed about his experience. Then I showed her photos including one of a man wearing a “Halcyon’s Dad” t-shirt. (It was NOT my dad. Just a beautiful white-haired man who painted his hair pink and donned a pink tutu..)

She said, “If I went, would I get a t-shirt?”

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Looking good, Pop!

Wait. What?! The door was cracked open and I quickly started on preparations to get my mom to the Burn.   (She had a friend that wanted to go badly -an old PTA mom that I grew up with. I realized that if I could make it easy for both of them, it just might happen. )

I had access to 2 tickets. A campmate had decided they did not need a Sani-hut that was reserved (A mobile bungalow with AC). And I figured that with minimal stress, no mechanical requirements, and zero lines, Mom & a friend could shuttle in from Reno on Monday and fly out of BRC on Thursday.

Mom (Susie) and Dee came to our last camp meeting in late August. They met campmates and asked lots of questions. “If you are serious,” I told them, “you should come to our last work party.” Susie and Dee showed up early wearing work gloves and spent half a day glue-gunning pink fur to the last of our camp couches. They were participating.

They were welcomed into Pink Heart completely.

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A magical moment with Mom and Dee. (And, yes, her shirt says, “Halcyon’s Mom.”)

It is hard to explain what sharing Burning Man with my mom was like.

My brother has a beautiful family and has given my mom 2 amazing grandsons.

I, on the other hand,  have given my mom a box of pink hair dye and a pink motorhome. Oh, she loves me dearly and is very proud of me. It’s just that, how can a non-Burner ever fully understand that part of your life?

Photo by Karl Baba. Bliss by BRC.

But I finally got to share my “baby” with her.

Introducing her to my camp and campmates was like inviting her to meet my secret half-brothers and sisters.
I may not be able to give her grandkids, but I can extend her family.

It was a feeling beyond words to be able to invite her “Home” to meet the larger community that I feel so deeply connected to. She quickly felt like they were her family, too.

And she got to see me on the Playa.  My highest self.  The way I help lead the camp. The way I gift and hug and love. She got to see the Playa through my eyes and it helped her see me in a way she never had before.

Mom had a brief stay, but she dove right in. She went on ice runs for our iced cucumber water bar. She served vegan ice cream. She shared wisdom with my campmates. Together we shared tears.

We cried together at the Man. We cried together at the Temple. We cried together quite a bit.

But the most emotional part was when she helped me co-lead my annual Pink Ride.   It is always a highlight for me, but this one was extra special. She rode a pink fur bike by my side as several hundred people dressed in pink rode behind us. All of us saying, “I love you!” to everyone we passed.

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The parade begins

We descended upon Center Camp and filled it with a glorious pink spiral of love. My Playa family and my mom mixed together in tear-flowing, heart-soaring bliss.

A week later, when we both had returned to the default world, I told her, “That ride with you…it was one of the highlights of my entire life.”

We were both already crying when she said, “It was for me, too.”

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See my mom and me on the upper left? Check out the glorious pink swirl at minute 10:00 (click to play)

Burning Man Website Undergoing Magical Transformation

Burningman.com — time for an overhaul!
Burningman.com — time for an overhaul!

A hard working crew of writers and geeks at BMHQ have teamed up to build a brand spankin’ new website for Burning Man. This has been a long time coming and we’re soooo looking forward to sharing it with you.

As you know, earlier this year Burning Man became a non-profit. As part of our evolution from an organization dedicated solely to producing the annual event in the desert to a global network fostering Burning Man culture near and far, we are transitioning from burningman.com to burningman.org.

In order to make this grand leap, certain portions of the current site are going to be unavailable for short periods of time later this week. We know there are very important conversations happening in the community right now and we in no way want to stifle them.

We believe the blog will only need to be ‘pulled’ for several hours on Friday. If it were possible, we’d love to make the transition from burningman.com to burningman.org without disrupting current communication channels, but we’re working with a lot of moving bits and pieces and this is a necessary part of the process.

We also know there are lots of folks wondering about the theme for 2015 and the new process for applying for art grants. All of these details will be included on the new site, so we’re working fast and furiously to get it up and ready as soon as possible.

You can expect some parts of the current site to be unavailable at certain times later this week, and we look forward to sharing the new one with you very soon!

Tyler Durden Invented Burning Man

Perhaps you’ve still never heard of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man’s parent group.

Pardon the cliche, but for history’s sake, we’re going to have to talk about fight club.

Fight Club is a book written in 1996 and then turned into a movie released 15 years ago this fall (we won’t provide any spoilers if we can help it). Author Chuck Pahlaniuk confirmed at several book-release events last year the “Project Mayhem” group in Fight Club’s story is indeed the Cacophony Society in real life … a wackier bunch of people, without the men-only Iron John subplot or all the property destruction and violence. (Well, serious violence, anyway.)

“But Larry Harvey invented Burning Man,” you may be saying to yourself. No, he and his homeys Jerry and Dan brought the statue to a “Zone Trip” the Cacophony Society had already planned to take to the Black Rock Desert.

The rest of the event didn’t spring, Godlike, from one man’s mind, and materialize like so much ganja in Shiva’s dreadlocks. Cacophony built Black Rock City. It was a group whim — a hive-mind good time which snowballed and splintered, glittering, like breaking mirrorglass.

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

Even if you don’t know it, Burning Man is and will always be the Cacophony Society’s yearly extended-family check-in and show-and-tell. It’s a fight club convention where old-timers don’t make a big deal about showing up to tweak and observe the city they created. This product of new collectivist activity reads like a neotribal Kumbh Mela which embraces chaos as spirituality. The event requires, and has always required, a dark army of dirtbags to make it all go flash bang boom.

Burning Man’s blank slate started as an anarcho-cyberpunk paradise away from the squares, on the moon. A living, breathing Internet, this equalizing Paper Street Soap Company in the dust churned art, analog, digital, fire, lust, danger, meetings, and magic into a whirlwind of construction and yelling.

Each event the Cacophony Society produced — not just Burning Man — made participants giddy with self-determinism, amped like Fight Club’s newly-hardened space-monkey recruits in the story. As with the fictional Project Mayhem, the real Cacophony Society formed organically and functioned according the laws of attraction, not coercion.

On Cacophony outings, participants were just as likely to injure themselves as they were to reach epiphanies. Since it’s a leaderless mob, there’s nobody to sue. Even if random events bore anticlimactic or embarrassing results — which was rare — the resulting danger-high and esprit de corps still silently encouraged acolytes to leave the pale, imitative ghost of consumerism for real evolution and hyperreal connections.

This writer was a beat reporter in that hurricane of activity in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s Bay Area. We saw the Fight Club movie on a new-rental VHS one day around the turn of the century, then picked our jaw up off the floor and called Cacophonist John Law to ask: “Did you or Danger Ranger just secretly write a movie?”

…In that phone call, Law assured us he had never heard of Fight Club either, but sure enough, Chuck Pahlaniuk had heard of and observed him … and Danger Ranger, Reverend Al, “Chad Mulligan,” and all the other men and women leading Cacophonistic voyages into the unknown abandoned corners of this devolving nation.

Chuck Pahlaniuk had quantified our fuck-you-it’s-magical experiences into a fantasy (starring Brad Pitt, hubba) where hard-(self-)packed Cacohpony-style punks push themselves over comfort’s edge and into a weirdly-more-adult realm where neither gods nor men hold sway in telling them what to do or how to live.

“Burning Man is the logical extension of punk rock” -co-founder John Law

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

NO, NOT HIPPIES

“But Burning Man was invented by hippies who followed L. Ron Harvey from the beach to the desert, like Moses,” you may be insisting to yourself. /SLAP. No. Stop falling for monotheistic patriarchal narratives we’ve all been carefully conditioned to follow our entire lives. Harvey did and does his big part, sure, but no.

If the real story of Project Mayhem had a subtitle, it would be Revenge of the Nerds.

In the ‘80s, Reagan-hating geeks in San Francisco, who found the hippies so tiresome, entertained themselves by inventing alternate, darker, and surreal-er things to do as a group. Out of the ashes of the Suicide Club arose the more inclusive Cacophony Society — West Coast daredevils who seeded club chapters in faraway cities and culture-jammed their way to slyly changing humanity with irreverent clown-chimerae.

Oh, how this small and peculiar group butterfly-effected the world.

Ask the Yes Men, Cacophonists who use tactics they learned from the Cacophony Society (and the Cockettes) to demand corporate accountability. See the Yes Men’s new documentary, if you didn’t see them keynote-speak at Chicken’s Castro Theater book opening gala for Tales of the SF Cacophony Society (a.k.a. the people’s history book of Burning Man and other cultural juggernauts).

Ask art superstar Shepard Fairey whom he counts as his primary and overwhelming inspiration for the street-art revolution he helped engender while Banksy was in art school: The Billboard Liberation Front, another Cacophony offshoot, starring essentially the same rather-be-anonymous catalysts who conceived of Burning Man as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard of flash mobs? Well, not only did the Cacophony Society perfect the idea of spontaneous gatherings to perform ridiculous tasks, troll humanity in some fashion, and then disperse before the authorities closed in … the first flash mob was Santarchy, a Cacophony Society Christmastime blitz whose website and 1998 documentary started a worldwide fuck-Santa-Claus sendup of our culture’s mindless holiday spending. Chuck Pahlaniuk, Fight Club’s author, has written about his experiences with Portland chapter Cacophony’s Santacon in Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories.

“But Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere invented flashmobs,” you may be saying to yourself. No, actually, Charlie’s idea for Improv Everywhere came to him after witnessing a horde of New York City Santarchists come HO-ing around the streetcorner.

This type of crowd movement and leaderless organization — Santarchy never announced its parade routes — eventually loaned itself to Occupy, Anonymous, and the modern protest movement. We’ve said before, during the height of Occupy, organizers called the Burning Man office continuously, asking questions about how to set up their own Temporary Autonomous Zones.

Not that dressing up as Santa Claus or building Mad Max cities from scratch in the desert is all the Cacophony Society did. In fact, Cacophony had been growing exponentially, all over the world, with local chapters conceptualizing their own ideas for brain-scrambling mayhem, long before before Burning Man sucked some of the air out of the surrealist moshpits developing across America and redirecting the whirlwind to a once-a-year desert thing.

A movement is building to re-localize Cacophony, and of course the Burning Man Regionals Network — Burning Man’s intricate web of worldwide reps and offshoot DIY happenings — represents a friendlier continuance of Project Mayhem. Cacophony is a way of life now — a way Generation X throws events; a way the Unplugged do things. You decide your level of involvement.

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EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES ON THE FRINGE OF LEGALITY

John Alloway’s Into the Zone documentary provides the most complete cinematic picture of the Suicide Club’s and Cacophony Society’s infiltration into the modern-day mainstream sideshow, and leaves no doubt that for realsies it’s Project Mayhem’s real-life inspiration. A work of art in itself, this zany and sometimes frighteningly intense movie tries to cram it all in, but there’s more story there than will ever fit.

As with the California punk scenes before it, Cacophony in San Francisco embraced mystery and surrealism, while the Los Angeles chapter, also wacky as heck, gravitated towards more … hardcore activities. Then Portland happened, and other chapters began to spring up in American cities, and then the San Francisco chapter revitalized itself with a new round of inspired catalysts (er, Tylers) and a fresh wave of activity called Cacophony 2.0.

Those of us who landed in San Francisco during the Cacophony 2.0 years can only watch Alloway’s doc and feel the FOMOS at having arrived in the city of Cacophony’s birth ten years too late.

Brunches in junkyards, pie fights on the Golden Gate Bridge, man-woman boxing matches, picketing the Academy Awards dressed as clowns, passing off terrible art in hoity-toity galleries … each chapter in each city ran tentacles of sovereignty through the sewers, gaining confidence and inspiration enough to organize more and more secret events. The deed was done: Punk had won. Cacophony spread like oil in water.

Byron-Bay-Cacophony_Into_the_Zone_preview

SO SECRET STILL, NOBODY EVEN KNOWS IT’S REAL

Black Rock City in modern times can be overwhelming for those of us who have been coming to Burning Man since the late ‘90s. Like neighborhoods in the Mission and Oakland, gentrified in the new century from punk scrapathons to modern hipster overpriceries, our company picnic has not been completely mowed down by yuppies but … it just seems more crowded now than it ever was. Poor-to-middle-class artists still make up much of Burning Man’s population, but the arrival of more and more n00bs has caused a slow dissolution of the “no spectators” rule.

People have broken the first and second rule of fight club.

Meanwhile, neither Burners nor journalists seem to understand the direct-ness of the Fight Club connection; even a random sampling of BRC-DPW interviewees proved to this writer that hardly anyone seems to know the name Cacophony Society.

Which means at least *we* didn’t talk about fight club. But because of rules 1 and 2, only ravers and hippies jump in front of most documentary cameras out in the desert, so the public’s perception remains skewed toward believing Burning Man is all shiny happy naked hot people, electronic dancers on drugs, and three or four billionaires in turnkey camps. The dark side of the event’s roots stay underground, and the silent majority obeying rules 1 and 2 enjoy Burning Man unmolested by a need to quantify or memorialize it.

“I thought it would be a bunch of feather-leather California festival people like me,” one newbie told us after her first Burning Man this year, “but it was mostly … punks. Non-showy pirate punks, who were just figuring out how to live life on the fringes.”

We see what we want to see. Any Fight Club fan will tell you it isn’t just a book and movie, but an ethos. Many will be overjoyed to discover it’s our ethos.

The Cacophony Society’s motto is “We are the e.coli in your primordial soup.” Recruitment is explained thusly: “You may already be a member.”

photo by Summer Burkes
sorry but … if you build it, they will come

LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, CACOPHONY HAS FRACTALIZED

Phenomena exist which are Things now, which weren’t Things before. A million leaderless groups of Makers have brought forth their own variations of new Cacophony-derived or Burning Man-derived art forms. There only used to be one or two of each Thing — the original Things.

Which Things? These Things:

Freakbikes. Interactive machine art. Punk rock circuses. Multimedia, mobile rave installations. Fire-spinning. Pyrotechnic choreography. Art cars. Theme camps. Urban games. Free schools. Drones-as-art. Makerspaces. Maker Faires. Power tool drag races. Junkyard wars. Robot combat. Actual fight clubs.

History will show Generation X’s legacy to be a vast and random collective pastime of repurposing consumer waste into DIY art and interactive playtoys for anti-commercial purposes. Calling this tendency “Project Mayhem” is dumb, so because of rules 1 and 2, there’s still no real name for what all we do with all our spare time, but maybe the Maker movement, or … yes, Cacophony.

Whether during Urban Iditarod runs or Billboard Liberations, many of us picked up techniques for reclaiming public space. See, along with inventing the Internet, hip-hop, and punk rock, Generation X has been doing Things, but — and this is an important distinction, Boomers — for lulz, not recognition. Don’t buy things; do things.

Cacophony isn’t just a loosely-gathered conceptual group buried in the sands of time, but a living, evolving, amorphous punk form of salvation. We all know the two real perks of life in Black Rock City or on any other Cacophonous outing: catching DIY fever, and witnessing (fuck you it’s) magic.

The organizing of a group for a common goal is the high, not the ego which festers when clawing one’s way to the top. This is why in Project Mayhem we have no names.

Fight_Club_quote_things_we_dont_need

THE INTERNET WAS BUILT ON CACOPHONY AND WEED

Fight Club’s theme of self-determinism led Anonymous to call for hackers to leak it all, in an event called ‘Project Mayhem 2012,’ shortly before Edward Snowden revealed the Skeksis behind our double-government curtains, and whistles started blowing all over the place. Tyler the literary character, in computerland, is the Man we burn: An empty benevolent-dictator figure encouraging us to be free; Big Brother’s non-evil twin.

To borrow a phrase from 4chan, Cacophonists were tards. They were nerds. They lived in the Bay Area and geeked on electronics and junk robotics. Some of them went into computers in Silicon Valley; some of them still don’t have email. Heck, the first major-media Burning Man story came from Wired.

We would wager it’s immeasurable, but we have no idea how much of the Internet we use today was invented at Burning Man or by Cacophony Society members in Silicon Valley making social and intellectual connections. Urban adventurers and computer wizards both crave surreal, democratic chaos-play that disallows spectators and strives not to negatively interfere with anyone else’s experience.

Cacophony Society members in analog were the IRL trolls who sprang up at the time of the Internet’s invention. Those who take themselves seriously are easily offended; goading heavily egoed people, after all, results in high comedy most of the time.

On the Internet now, and in the dust out there, if you lose your temper, you lose. Your facts better be able to support your argument because everything else will break or blow downwind. An environment in which egos are kept in check prevents hero worship or rule by cult of personality, and fosters discussion about the essence of things.

“Information should be free” battle cries and Cacophony ideas are currently enlightening humanity. Leaderless organization has paved the way for open-source governance, which looms on the horizon, threatening war pigs in marble halls of power with its unhackability. The hundredth monkey is washing the coconut; that’s what matters. Still — with origin stories as cool as this one, it bears telling.

Brad-Pitt-as-Tyler-Durden-in-Fight-Club

TOWARD A MORE CACOPHONOUS AMERICA

Cacophonists were and are not joiners, nor is Cacophony a political movement. Most of the world’s Cacophonists at this point aren’t aware they’re Cacophonists. However, Cacophony inspires a certain fever: Patriotic-slash-earth-loving renegades, infected with kinetic energy, become determined to change the world through forward motion and manipulation of available materials.

Whether people now know the name or not, they’re doing Cacophony everywhere. A literal explosion of DIY has enveloped this country. Cable news viewing is down 17-21%, hopefully because people are outside living life, repurposing junk, devolving, and making things.

Cacophony felt like — feels like — reclaiming America itself. Because it is. All public space can’t be corporate space. Some of it must remain, well, public. We must think of excuses to talk to each other and interact in non-transactional, non-consumer settings.

Also, when the world is rotting with unwanted consumer goods around you, it feels amazing to dig bikes or electronic parts out of the dumpster, and make contraptions and stage events with your friends that blow people’s minds. This too is Cacophony.

It’s apocalypse training.

Fight_Club_Warning_Tyler

IF IT’S YOUR FIRST NIGHT, YOU HAVE TO FIGHT

So who is Tyler Durden IRL, then? Probably an amalgam of a few primary catalysts, and a dozen more. He’s not one person. He’s you. The point of the book / movie is we can all beat ourselves up sufficiently to build strength, snap out of consumerism’s hypnosis, Be Now Here, and devolve into our higher selves.

Tyler is who we can all become when we remember we’re adult humans who don’t need anyone to cut our meat for us. Cacophonists would rather char that meat with a flamethrower, flirt with death and immortality, arrange a grand picnic in some stylishly-decorated abandoned insane asylum, and generally treat life as a sacred series of blessed events occurring outside of time.

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THE PRIMORDIAL SOUP IS BOILING

Truly it doesn’t matter where Burning Man history comes from, not to thousands of Burners, nor to hundreds of thousands of Occupiers, millions of artist-makers, and legions of Fight Club fans who don’t even know how their Things are connected to Cacophony, or even what the hell the Cacophony Society was, or how it birthed Burning Man. The example has been made to follow, and then fictionalized in Project Mayhem and Tyler Durden; we are inspired by Tyler and the Man to do stuff.

A new collaborative society is mulching under leaves of detritus. Scaling back to devolution is the logical answer to consumerism. Cacophony is the weed eating at the cancer of modern America’s impossible model of permanent growth.

Whether you’re an old flashmobbing punk from since before it was called that, or a makerspace founder from since before it was called that, or you’re a new raver at the company picnic about to get jumped in to project mayhem, the lessons of Cacophony — and Burning Man — are the same as the morals of Fight Club’s story. With no spoilers, here they are:

Resist and revolt against modern society’s efforts to infantilize and domesticate you.

Don’t forget you’re a sovereign individual and master of your own destiny.

Have the guts to act worthy of yourself; paint with your own brush.

-and-

Spend time instead of money, then watch how fast an interactive community blooms around you, spreading like a bizarro gospel.

from http://www.themainstjournal.net/search/label/In%20Tyler%20We%20Trust

Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.

Why am I making fun of Burners (including you, yes you, personally) and an issue you’re really passionate about?

The Joker (Ceasar Romero)This is a response to the feedback on my list “12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Before I answer the headline, let me clear three things up:

1)      I don’t speak for Burning Man, I’m not part of the Org, I’m not on their payroll, and they had no idea that this post was coming. They don’t edit my stuff and there’s no approval process, so: they found out I’d written this when you did. Nothing I say represents them, or is a statement of what they believe on any issue.

2)      Do I care about the problems caused by commodification camps? Absolutely. In fact, one of my first posts for this blog called for the creation of “Art Vikings” to stop plug-n-play camps. I wrote:

Camp Art Vikings will send our Viking scouts across the playa to find package tour camps and paid labor.  Then we will send our war parties, on Art Longboats, across the dust to Art Raid them.  We will take their meat and their women and their best alcohol, deliver them to a random camp, and celebrate together.

So I’m probably more radical on this issue than you are.

 

3)      Do I think the ORG should be more transparent. Yes. Stop. End quote.

 

So why am I making fun of terribly sincere burners with a legitimate grip whose issue I basically agree with?

Because people are demanding that the Org come up with an immediate solution to what is at heart an intractable societal problem: the gentrification caused by income inequality.  (more…)

12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Dollar sign (reflective_metallic)[Note:   I have responded to the comments below with a new post, which can be found here.  Also a reminder that I do not, and never have, spoken for the Org.]

I am as shocked as anyone that rich people came to Burning Man and behaved like rich people.

There’s only one explanation:  it’s a conspiracy, and it goes all the way to the top!  Yes!  The only way people with money could have possibly used that money to try and game the system is if Burning Man was directly involved!  In on it!  We all know it, but you don’t the half of it!

Here are the 5 biggest, most shocking, examples, of plug-and-play malfeasance – and the Burning Man organization’s complicity in it!

  • A group of prominent venture capitalists paid Larry Harvey $6 million to write them an extra-fun 11th principle that no-one else has.

What is it?  I don’t know!  You don’t know!  But it’s got to be amazing, and we’re not living by it!  Only they are!

  • The compound prepared for the Walton family, which owns Wall-Mart, actually paid its greeters

They brought out a bunch of senior citizens to tell everyone on the playa to have-a-nice-day!  They even hugged people!  And then were paid minimum wage!

  • Haliburton’s massive camp art project was really a derrick testing for oil under Black Rock City.

Sure it shot out flames, had a DJ, and Friday night’s Gushing Oil Party was awesome, but that’s not the point!

  • Billionaire Amazon.com owner Jeff Bezos’ theme camp never even came out in physical form, and instead was available only on Kindle.

Anyone who went is now under the terms and conditions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act!  On the plus side, there was no MOOP.

  • Warren Buffett slipped Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell $10 million to move Burning Man to Omaha, and fix it so nobody noticed.

That giant sculpture with the funky lights that everybody loved?  That was really the Nebraska statehouse.  We were so used!

(more…)

Burning Cake (A Cautionary Tale)

My experiences for the last 17 years at Burning Man have been so amazing and transformative that I have a hard time seeing any shifts in the event as a real threat. “Bring on P.Diddy and the Turnkey Camps!” I said.   I still believe that.  But I also am able to understand the current fear more clearly now than I once did.  

Like everyone, I am eagerly awaiting the official response to the recent controversies.   I do *not* think Burning Man is doomed.  Quite the contrary.  I have faith we will figure this out and thrive.

Once we get a handle on the current challenges and correct the course, the magic will shine as bright as ever.

The fable below is fictional.  Take it with a grain of dust.

 

Once upon a time there was food enthusiast who hosted a fantastic baked goods potluck.

He invited 10 adventurous cooks he knew and they started gathering each month to share delights.

Their culinary skills were varied…but they all sure loved food.

The spreads were AMAZING!

People went WAY over-the-top.

Exotic ingredients, rare fruits, fine wines.

For some participants it became almost a game: who could produce the most fantastic dessert?

MC Escher Cakes, Donut Macramé, Ghost Orchid Truffles.

Not all the dishes were so insane.  The host baked the same modest (but delicious) raspberry drizzle brownies every month.

There was no animosity between  Jenny who brought an intricate ‘Bacon Coliseum” 8 layer cake and Tony who brought a simple angel food cake.  It was even cool that Edward purchased and brought a pre-made dragon fruit tart from his local bakery.  The point was that everyone contributed towards the experience.

Very quickly, the event grew.  People started bringing their culinary-minded friends.

Occasionally people would misunderstand and show up without a dish.   They quickly felt uncomfortable and usually offered to help with dishes or something…then made sure they brought something awesome the next time.

Word started to spread of this amazing potluck with the life size Miley Cirus-sized peanut brittle and wasabi saffron pudding.

The host started asking everyone to chip in $5 to pay for table rentals and a next day maid service. Some of the original participants thought that was uncool.  But most people had no problem paying a little (on top of whatever they were already spending to create their own dishes) for this unbelievable food extravaganza.

Many of the average chefs got inspired to study the baking arts.  The desserts got better and better. And attendees started to bring more and more friends.

Until the host’s villa was filled to capacity.

So the host implemented a system: To reserve your space  at the potluck, you paypal in your cleaning fee in advance and received an entrance ticket in exchange. (The fee had been raised to $10)

He gave away the tickets by way of a lottery – with some spots reserved for the OG cake masters who made the event what it was.  The lottery was…well, that is a tale for a different day.

Not soon after the first lottery, a long time attendee brought a respected food writer from the local paper. The writer did not bring a dish.

Most attendees were fine with this.  It was an honor to have the writer there and who knows, maybe she would be inspired by what they were doing and bring something special to the next potluck. And, in fact, thanks to an article and the writers introductions, several attendees got hired at restaurants and booked to make dishes for fancy events.

The gathering was special to all who attended.  It felt like their potluck was the center of the dessert universe.  The event became an important part of attendees lives and identities.

Unbeknownst to the other attendees, one old timer, Beatrice, made an announcement at her Ladies League meeting.  “For $100 I will bring you to the most amazing tasting party in the world.  Don’t worry about baking anything, I’ll make something and you can just come with me. “  Quite a few people in the League took her up on the offer.  Beatrice paid the hostess an extra cleaning fee, but otherwise did not share the funds with anyone else in the potluck group.

At first nobody noticed.  Or didn’t care.  It wasn’t that a big deal that some of the attendees were not contributing in the same way.   They seem like good people and maybe attending would inspire them to create a dish next time.  Many of them were the type that might hire an attendee to cater a private tea party, in fact.

But as word spread of this new wave of “tourist” attendees, the original attendees started to feel taken advantage of.  They felt like suckers. What was once a joyful experience of sharing their talents now felt, well, commodified. Why would they go to the store, buy all the ingredients with their own money, and invest all their labor just so Beatrice could make a buck off of them?

A number of the original attendees dropped out.  More and more bakers started to look for ways to get compensated.  But still, the waiting list to attend grew and grew.

What many considered the final blow was when people found out that the host was reserving spots for Beatrices’s League friends.  While everyone else stressed and struggled to get in, the non-contributing newbie’s were able to buy their way in via Beatrice.  Apparently they pledged big chunks of cash towards the host’s ever-growing “cleaning fund” established back in the day.

It was even discovered that Beatrice went so far as to bring a thermos of gourmet coffee to the potluck but only shared it with her League friends who had paid her.

The joy of gifting had become corrupted.  The magic faded.

Attendees started to use the potluck as a way to advertise their catering businesses.  Or would “partner with” (aka sell their spots) to retail bakeries.  The food was still delicious, but things were different.  It wasn’t fueled by mutual respect and a desire to share. It felt more like a trade show.  Attendees started to question the return on their investment and rarely contributed out of their own pocket unless they could justify the promotional value.

The potluck is still going, but the original experience is long dead. People still gather once a month to sample yummy treats and most enjoy it.  You may still hear someone say, that was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

But you rarely hear anymore, “That potluck changed my life.”

 

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” T.S. Eliot

 

 

Turnkey Camps: Moving Towards Effective Solutions

bm_logoWe are aware that many of you are waiting for a response to a number of questions concerning theme camps, turnkey camps, placement of camps, access to tickets, decommodification and a potential erosion of our culture.

These are some of the questions members of our community have raised:

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?

The importance of these questions requires collaboration and input from a wide variety of people including staff, theme camp leaders, artists, Regional Network leaders, turnkey camp producers, and participants. We are still gathering information and identifying the most effective solutions.

We assure you we are listening and discussing real reforms.

Burning Man Lives

This continues to be a tough year of post-Playa bumps and bruises. (And I don’t mean the black and blue Xmas toenails.)  Amidst all the controversy I was asked, “Is Burning Man dead?”  

NOTE:  I am a 17 year Burning Man Participant and Theme Camp organizer.  I do not speak as an official rep of the Burning Man Organization.

Burning Man's Death has been greatly exaggerated

P.S. Yes, that is my 71 year old mom on the right of the screen, enjoying her first-ever Playa visit.  Her experience was amazing and has made our relationship even closer.  But that, too, is a topic for another post.  Long Live Burning Man.