Burning Man’s Culture gets spit on by scarcity: what do we do after we’ve run out of tickets?

Worse things have happened to people than not getting tickets.

Has someone hit you up for tickets yet?

Man … this is brutal.

I’ve been getting slammed with requests all day even though my relationship with Burning Man is so small that, if you were to look at Burning Man’s organizational chart, you’d need an electron microscope to see my name.  Which would be misspelled.  For people who are actually on the inside, I’ve been told, it’s been a flood of biblical proportions – one that might go on for 40 days and 40 nights.

Meanwhile the scalpers have sharpened their scalpels:  Burning Man tickets have been selling for north of $800 on eBay.  It’s as if Jerry Garcia had come back to play one more concert, with Justin Bieber.  Admit it:  you’d feel terrible about shelling out $800 bucks to see that, but you would.

Some of the people left out of the dust are newbies who planned for everything but the gate.  They bought their airfare, they got the time off work … but just never got around to buying a ticket.  Some are old Burning Man hands who ignored the warning signs:  months of rumors, a special note in Jack Rabbit Speaks, and constant questioning from friends about whether they’re in or out this year.  Either way, their disappointment is understandable but the reaction seems outsized:  things sell out, right?

Maybe.  But on the other hand, why wouldn’t people assume that they can get in?  Burning Man is founded on the notion that there’s a place for everybody:  it’s the kind of event where people just show up.  It grew from a rag-tag party where all 100 people knew each other to a 50,000 person happening because people just kept showing up unannounced.  Hell, a small legion of assholes showed up every year at the gate without a ticket, food, or water, under the assumption that the most hostile environment in the world will provide.  And it did.

That’s just the way it works:  you show up and if you run out of something you know the people at the next camp will let you use theirs.  Or there will be a theme camp giving it away.  Or a naked hula hooper will want you to have it.  For over a decade now Burning Man has been a culture of abundance.  The Man never runs out.

What we’re seeing now may be 21st century Burning Man’s first serious encounter with a culture of scarcity.

That sucks.

It’s surprising that a culture so focused on sustainability issues wouldn’t have already been bracing for this:  scarcity is *the* problem that the sustainability movement is trying to solve.  If there’s no scarcity, there’s no need for sustainability.  It’s only when you have limited resources, limited energy, limited … space … that you ask “how do we best preserve this?”

If this isn’t a one-time thing … if this is part of a trend … then Burning Man can no longer be the place where a San Franciscan in a tuxedo goes out for drinks in the city with friends, gets in their van, passes out, and wakes up at Burning Man the next day.  (Yes, this really happened).  That time is passed.

The reaction to the closed gate is so severe, in part, because a closed gate is incompatible with our understanding of what Burning Man is … a place of abundance for all.

Much in the same way that, about 15 years ago, Burning Man had to incorporate to address the fact that there were too many people and too little organization, Burning Man must now develop a response to the fact that there are too many people and too much demand.

Reaching the attendance limit for ticket sales is not an existential threat to Burning Man, but it is an existential crisis.  It forces both the organization and its attendees to ask:  who are we, and what do we value?

Does Burning Man become an organization with a closed gate – or does it become something else?

Right now I don’t get the impression that it knows.  All options are … theoretically … on the table.  What do we do?

My advice, for what it’s worth:  believe in abundance.

This doesn’t mean going out to the desert without a ticket or a plan.  That’s crazy.  The bad kind of crazy.  IT’S A DESERT!  NATURE WANTS TO KILL YOU!  HONESTLY NOW, PEOPLE!

But it does mean that we work to transcend today’s limit.

We can’t throw open the gates and let more people in this year, but we can work to prepare for this eventuality next year.  Does Burning Man need a second site?  Does it need to purchase its own, bigger, site in the desert?  Does it hold participatory events in its San Francisco offices for Burners who can’t get on-site this year?

Burning Man doesn’t owe people who can’t get tickets anything.  Let’s be clear on that.  And then let’s do something about it anyway.

Think of it as gifting taken to the next level:   we encourage people to be self-reliant enough to bring water, but many of us give it to them if they don’t have it.  We encourage people to bring costumes, but many of us give away costumes to people who don’t have them.  People should still be self-reliant and buy tickets.  But let’s ask ourselves:  How do we give a burn to people who can’t get one?

A gift of this size – gifting at the next level – will need your help.  Ask yourself what you can contribute.  Ask yourself what kind of experience you’d like to have if you couldn’t get a ticket.  Ask what you’d like to see happen, and start talking about ways it can get done.  And for crying out loud:  Instead of buying an $800 ticket from a scalper, stay home this year and save the cost of a ticket to donate to any effort Burning Man makes to expand.

An existential crisis is an existential opportunity.  One of my new volunteers on the media team, who will be going to Burning Man for the first time next month, sent me a note today.  She said:  “So tickets are sold out? That’s kind of exciting. And sad for some. What is that weird thing where something big happens like someone predicts it’s the end of the world and you should be devastated but you’re kind of excited and you’re like why the heck am I excited?  That’s sort of how I felt when I read that. I was omg omg omg omg.”

I think that’s about right.  Let’s figure out how to be abundant for 2012.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat grew up wanting to be a Russian novelist, but the closest he ever came was getting personally insulted by the first democratically elected president of Poland. Now the volunteer coordinator for Burning Man's Media Team (itself a volunteer position), Caveat has been messing with Burners for the last five years, and has a hard time believing some of the stuff they've let him get away with. He is a publisher at Omnibucket.com, served as editor of Chicken John’s philosophical autobiography “The Book of the Is,” and archives his publications and personal blogs at www.TheWachsGallery.com.

71 thoughts on “Burning Man’s Culture gets spit on by scarcity: what do we do after we’ve run out of tickets?

  • I recommend not going. It’s too big, too commercial, too many “ravers”, too many frat boys, too much noise, too much technology, too much dust, too many media, RV’s and planes.

    It really was better last year and the year before that was great. You really shouldn’t go.

    Nothing to see here, go back to your homes and places of business.

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  • Jerry comes back for just one more show. I always suspected that Jerry”s death was one last merry prankster acid test happening. All that energy of mourning flowing right into the band. Then Jerry heads off to Maui to scuba and paint and chill.

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    Abundance is often misunderstood. It does not take the form of every individual getting everything they want – or even need – all the time. Indeed, Life, Truth, and Love shall persevere through this crushing blow to existence.

    True believers of “abundance consciousness” that are up in arms over not having a ticket could 1) acknowledge that egos are being triggered, 2) realize that the Universe doesn’t really give a shi*t about any of us as individual, separate selves, and 3) could de-identify from the “poor little old me” syndrome and put their attention on the abundance currently in their lives.

    Then, whoever is really passionate about creating a better system for everybody to enjoy, contribute your time, talent, and heart in a constructive way. If you’re just after a good time for yourself, then good luck with that paradigm.

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  • Hi everyone – not trying to brag BUT – got our tix in the PRE-SALE (shhh – don’t tell next year’s scalpers, right?) – how’s that for planning ahead? Got 2 extra just in case friends needed them at the 280 level – how’s that for planning ahead? Selling our tix at face value to fellow long time burners, would NEVER consider scalping – how’s that for helping our community?

    Here’s a question, would BORG continue to sell tix if BLM hadn’t capped? Just curious…It would be a long ass bike ride from Zypher or Zulu or whatever the ‘”Z” road would be – 50,000 sounds like a good, round number to me! In terms of scarcity and abundance there has to be a reality check – not everyone gets to live on the beach. It would be great if everyone had a cute cottage in Hawaii or Stinson. Not everyone gets a pony either, but if you planned ahead, you will go to Burning Man, unless you forget to check your oil or get all excited and try to pass 5 miles outside of the gate, or as my Grandmother would say, God Forbid, you get cancer – Every year I see the sad faces on the side of the road of the people so close, yet, you know, they just aren’t going to make it … sadly, the burned out remains of their car or ripped to shreds (they’re made of plastic!) RV’s speak volumes about never taking Burning Man for granted (last year it was a medivac helicopter on the two lane road 30 miles or so out) – it always makes me cry.

    The reality is, Burning Man is a RITE, not a RIGHT. (my apologies if that line has already been used – I didn’t read every post – feel free to use it though – seems to make a lot of sense this year, right?)

    Oh, and I’ll have extra water on hand for frat boys/newbies/nudists – as in the sub culture-Boy are THEY excited to be there!/people that don’t read the first timer guide – they always seem to camp next to me with their rent a car and their can of tuna – (I don’t know how they find me but they always do – scarcity and abundance!)-Here’s the deal- I’ve never meet a newbie I didn’t like because I got to know them, and I never meet a newbie who was a newbie after the Man burned.

    Having said that – Jesus, I’m glad I’ve got my ticket and I can’t wait to see home:) I’ve got to go and add check oil and transmission fluid to my to-do list!


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  • Just read a few posts and I forgot to add this – in the spirit of Burning Man – I have a friend that knows someone that’s dating someone in the DPW and the playa is TERRIBLE this year: …”it’ll be the worst year ever for dust storms”. And, to make matters worse, the advance weather team that BORG hires in order to ensure safety (it’s a federal requirement in order to run an airport) have said that there will be rain, and a lot of it: “…not sure how planes are going to land in six inches of mud…” Stay home everyone, there’s nothing to see…Donate your ticket to an artist working on a playa project as long as he/she owns a hazmet suit and a respirator.

    Buy/sell at face value, please?

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  • Man! Some burners really got a big ego, remember guys out of 50,000 people probably 49900 were newbies at one point. Who is to say if Rv’s or tent are more “Buner Like” burning has always been and hopefully always will be about beeing open, open to newbies, to Rv’s to tents, to unprepared burners….
    When did Burning man became so serious that the people with tickets feel so proud to be such good little planners? Hey, rocket kitten, Kudos dude you are amazing and I am sure your mama would be proud of you too.
    Let’s relax a bit guys. There is not one way to be a good burner, everybody brings what they want and/or can and that’s the end of the story. All you all doing is making Burners look like little crying beotch, let the scalpers do what they do if someone wants and can afford it that’s trheir call, Karma will take care of the rest, now it’s time to focus on what really matters… get out there thrue whatever means possible ” Burn or Burst ” right??? But don’t forget to check your oil you don’t want to bother the perfect little burners who get annoyed by your shitty vehicle beeing in the way…
    I love all burners even perfect little planners!

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  • Meow Playapuss! Love your tag, and humbly, thanks for the kudos, it made me feel good that someone got me – THE reason I go is for the unexpected – yes we plan – so we can get there, but once we hit the desert, who knows what will happen, who we’ll meet and what our experience will be like- isn’t that the point? It’s the only place or time that gives me the freedom to not plan – once I’m there that is…and it’s a precious rite – hoping you have your ticket and if ya don’t, I know you’ll find one -that’s the way it works.


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  • Hi all interesting thread. I’m wondering if there’s anyone out there who can answer my question about this whole issue. There’s a lot of room out there. As is my understand though the previous contract worked out Between Burning Man and with whoever is mainly responsible four approving the permit (BLM maybe along with some other people?) is structured at a 50,000 person cap. Is this correct?

    Now my question is whether there is a way for burning man legally and in the short amount of time to place on an addendum to this previous contract and allow another block of tickets to be sold? I’m sure the money could be used to hire more staff to maintain the proper balance of burners, volunteers, BLM officers etc. BRC is a very important spiritual place for many people. I feel as if entry and exodus will be so much smoother if more tickets are allowed to be sold.

    I wish everyone the best of luck veterans and newbs in their search for tickets, in my opinion everyone should be allowed to come home. Love and Blessings to you all I’ll
    see you out there.

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  • Hey Newbies!

    My last post was a sarcarstic call on the BS given to newbies – First let me say, I think this is going to be a great year (best playa in years!)- every year is a great year because it’s what you make of it – forget the playa conditions, dust and rain, just get your cute behinds there (if you have a ticket, and read the guide, that is), you’ll be fine! – Better than fine, you’ll have a life changing experience- One that I AND A LOT OF OTHER BURNERS want to share with you! Gosh -am I breaking BM law by stating the obvious? People LIE about BM – in order to keep you, Newbie, out (scary the first time – the unknown!)! I know this because like Playapuss said, we were all newbies once – I was in 2001 – we had the internet back then, but not much else and getting info about what BM was really about was tough – I was coming w/a group of virgins from Florida and we did what I’m hoping you’re doing right now – we built shade structures and tested them, we read the first timers guide, we bought dust masks at home depot. We also had a camp mate who’s boyfriend volunteered for the DPW and sold our stuff for drugs -all our plans went Poof – It was the best thing that could’ve happened – the EXPERIENCE of being tested is what makes BM so unique…No slight on DPW – they make our city and we love them:) Kisses!

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  • Dear Paisley,

    I camp on the outer rim – or one or two blocks in – hence my comment about “Z” roads – last year they added an “L” road – and it’s on the map this year – plus, if you look closely they added additional radials -that’s a lot more city!!! I don’t know about you, but I LOVED when they shrunk the city based on feedback because it was just too large – we were close to 9:00 and we actually couldn’t get our bikes to make it to 3:00 to visit friends (please, you that were there know how tough it was with a city that big and with the playa FULL of sand dunes -impossibe! Well, plus we were maybe, a little impaired – don’t slam me?).
    Now, this year, we “think” we’re going to have, FINALLY, a good bike riding year, so we can jet here and there, but as any urban planner (i am not) will tell you, with growth comes infrastructure…there just aren’t enough art cars that stop and pick you up like the old days…and if the dust is thick and you risk your life riding your bike, why grow a city when it can’t accomadate it’s citizens? Having said that, the past few years, I loved just hanging out in my ‘hood – nice people there – no need to go to 3:00! Who’s to say?

    Metropolis was the the theme last year (I think – I lose track) – and lookie, lookie – here we are! We should talk in September and see how it went. Kisses!

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  • I’ve been there with a tent and a bag of gronola and been there with 6 monthes of planning – full camp-all luxery – the best time I’ve ever had was the first…I”ve had both abundance and scarcity – but I was always abundant in spirit – My first year was ’98 and I was young, bouncy trouncy and flouncy like Tigger the Tiger – in the growing up process, between my first time and now, I”ve learned to be more self reliant and through this process I can give what happened to me my first time -I got love and was made to feel welcome and not like an outsider. Don’t put down RV’s they can be filled with amazing people – in my case, a lover who I ended up spending time in Hawaii with…ah yes – my first time

    No one want s a moochie pocchie next door but if you are yourself and have something to offer(not material) Burning Man can provide! as Rocket Kitten and Playapuss said – have fun and participate in the giant collaboration of Burning Man.

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  • I think Regional burns are important for spreading out Burning Man culture. But since I can’t go this year (after three times in a row), there is a strong feeling in me to spend that special week somehow different. I’ll try to escape from my everyday life, living at a local campground (maybe with some other Burners) while still going to work Monday to Friday. That might be a way for me to feel connected with Black Rock City while away…

    Owl (Berlin, Germany)

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  • If you dont’ have a ticket yet and know other people who don’t then start oranizing your own events. Take the inspiration and insights you’ve gained from Burning man and bring it out into the world to let it flourish. Realize that if you can imagine it you can make it a reality with dedication love and community. Making art and building sustainable communities and local culture a part of your daily life is extending the spirit of burning man year round and makes the world a better place to be. And next year get on that stick and buy a ticket at the beginning of the year when you’re organizing your next amazing offering to the playa.

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  • I have a simple question. Has BMOrg even approached BLM and asked for a variance? I mean, if they were allowed to issue, say, an additional 1,000 or 2,000 tickets, once news of this hit the website here, scalpers woud dump their tickets as well, not wanting to be left holding the bag. The supply/demand equillibrium would fall back into place, and all would be harmonious again. Clearly next years negotiations with the BLM will seek a higher cap, so why not ask for a variance now. You could even give them half the revenue (or more) from these additional tickets to help pad their budget for future preservation actions in the Black Rock Desert. Has this even been considered? Or is the plan to simply say “don’t show up” and post pictures of inhospitable looking bouncers as implied threats?

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  • Was hoping to roll up last minute (as usual seems) to my 10th burn. Usually solo but meet old/new friends. Rarely have a plan, always have a blast. Sold Out. Whatever. Time for a different trip..Cali coast? Mex? Empty SF? Woohoo! Roll with it people it’s called life. Enjoy the Chocolate, Charlies!

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  • You people who are trying to artificially hold down ticket prices are unrealistic. I will be selling all my extra tickets for whatever the market will bear, and right now it’s looking like I’ll make a few thousand on the deal. My whole trip funded PLUS money left over? You think I’m going to say no to a deal like that? Why? So I can be a broke-ass like you? Trying to pretend that BM has ever been egalitarian in any way is total BS and you all know it. I don’t see any poor Mexicans buying tickets to the burn, considering the tickets cost as much as their whole years salary. The only difference now is that the price has gone up, so the hippy kids living off their parents will have to beg that much harder to get a ticket, and I’m more than happy to take their parents money.My only regret is not buying twice as many tickets.

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  • Please folks. As much as I love Burningman and would be sad if I had not bought my tickets, we seem to be loosing tracl of one basic idea. Burningman is a recreational event that sells tickets. As with any recreational event they can sell out. This is not the end of the world. Supply and demand will cause some tickets to go for more, that is sad but welcome to capitalism. I have heard so many crazy ideas about this…form a committee to decide who goes, let “primo” burners get tickets first. This is bull. First come, first serve is the way of this country, and it should stay that way.
    If you didnt get a ticket I am sorry, but buy earlier next year. If you did, have fun! This is no different than a big concert or broadway show. You have no right to a ticket anymore than anyone else.

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  • This just shows that more and more people are open to taking part in this giant, temporary social experiment. It’s great more and more and more have come. It’s a government limitation at the moment, not an existential issue as I see it. I won’t be there this time anyway, but godspeed you black emperors and I shall see you the year next!

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  • Isn’t there a way we can control ticket scalping? Tickets are only allowed to be sold through burning man and have to have names on them? If someone needs to sell one, they have to register it with Bman?

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