Ah the sweet afterglow of Burning Man. It truly was wonderful being out there with all the Art and our Friends and the Freedom of Expression and the ADVERTISEMENTS.
Ads? Do you even notice them? Yes dear fellow citizens, I know it is shocking, just shocking that any for profit entity would attempt to stealth their name with viral marketing or otherwise sinister attempts at promotion into our fair event, but it is there. Now I do not speak for the ORG so this is all entirely my own blather, but I go to Black Rock City to escape the constant barrage of companies doing what Mr. LH mentioned so eloquently in 1998 “…they do these demographic studies, and they find out what people think they want, and then in a kind of séance they summon up before you the Ghost of Your Own Desire and they sell it to you.”
And what qualifies as corporate infiltration? Artists have logos. Big sound camps have logos. What if all the company does is give away a service like say, the people with the Bird Logo who Tweet? Their camp on Rod’s Road had their logo proudly emblazoned on their bus all week. Sure, Tweeting from the playa is a great way to let the world know what’s going on out there and the people with the Bird Logo who Tweet have been coming for a few years. And don’t get me wrong, I love them and all. Their ability to bring people together to overthrow oppressive regimes, to expose human rights abuses, to let me know when @Sn00ki is “gettin crazy w my bitch” and to organize all manner of Santas and Zombies for pub crawls is unmatched.
But that logo just kind of bugged me.
We don’t sell things out there, except ice and coffee and evidently that helps the local schools or something. We are a GIFT economy, not the V Festival. This isn’t Shakedown Street, this is Burning Man. And while those things have their place, we are intentionally different in Black Rock City.
See there are these 10 Principles and number three is this:
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.
Now I hear stories of back in the day when dinosaurs still roamed the playa and you could shoot your guns with wanton abandon and everyone was naked and covered with mud from the hot springs that bubbled up like fountains of youth everywhere, that if you didn’t cover your truck logo there were riots and people were pulled from their tents and forced to eat dirt until they came up with something witty to change the logo name into.
Could you imagine that happening today? We’ve become so accustomed to seeing all those ads everywhere that no one gives it a second thought. So what you get are more and more surreptitious ads sneaking in. You get more and more free giveaways with just enough corporate recognition there to plant a seed in you that you were “gifted” by so and so. It is death by 1000 cuts.
How hard is it to get up there and change your U-Haul into RU-Paul, your RV into Bruise LAme, “Penskie turned into Penis”, RV 4 Lent or create “Budge and Fuck Rentals”?
The Survival Guide RV page even says
“Corporate advertising is not allowed at Burning Man. Participants with rental trucks and RVs are enthusiastically encouraged to cover or decorate prominent logos.”
In my opinion, if you’re a corporation and you want to gift on the playa, why not do it like Ben and Jerry’s did that year (at least I think it was them), giving away ice cream with names you’ve never heard before out of the back of a truck devoid of any corporate logos in plain white cups. Ice cream on the playa! And I do appreciate the energy drink you gave me at the Pickle Bar, girl in the red yellow and black dress with odd wings on your back Thursday night. It wasn’t until you were gone that it occurred to me that you were wearing the colors of a well known drink and you were so friendly. And I hear a certain Internet Search company is involved with the Yellow Bikes program but they don’t tout it at all. [this last rumor debunked - see comments]
Then there are the pure INTERLOPERS who don’t care about the event at all and just want to get your eyeballs on their product at any cost. The incident in 2009 comes to mind where some idiot cannabis nutrient system company almost crashed their helicopter pulling a banner that read something like, “Want Sugary Buds DUDE?” No I don’t. Not from you numbnuts. Burners email bombed the company after the event. Then it turned into this whole mess of the company “protesting” against big corporations and, well, don’t even bother researching it. The whole sorry episode was lame.
My point is really just that we should try to remember the whole “Decommodification” thing. Be aware of it and confront it. Don’t accept death by 1000 cuts. Cover up those logos and shame those who are stealth marketing. If we ignore them, each year more and more companies will see an opportunity for profit in Black Rock City and do we really want to give them one?
I know there are people who will disagree and not see what the big deal is, but if I want to bask in all the glory of corporate branding there are already plenty of places to go. I don’t want Burning Man to become one of those places.
And what of the people with the Bird Logo who Tweet sign? Well, I won’t dwell on who it might have been who climbed up there eventually and replaced the double “ee” with a big “a”, but I give massive kudos to the perpetrators for carrying on a fine Burning Man tradition of subversive Radical Self Expression and for making that logo no longer hurt my eyes.
Oh, and to their credit, the people with the Bird Logo who Tweet didn’t even change the sign back.
Credit for last three must go to Eplayans Coastburner and TomServo and Mr. Wenderlich