Death by 1000 cuts

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.

Good use of your truck side

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.

the people with the Bird Logo who Tweet banner

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:

Decommodification
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.

Clowns Abound

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”?[1]

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.”

photo by Scott London

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]

 

Banner in 09 photo by Pinky Perdue

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?

finally Chill

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.

[1]Credit for last three must go to Eplayans Coastburner and TomServo and Mr. Wenderlich

About the author: Moze

Mosbaugh aka Moze is a San Francisco heretic and writer who spends his time producing pornographic puppet shows, writing novels and dark fairy tales and building art installations to haul out to the desert. He's been on the Burning Man webteam since aught two and serves as section manager for the art and afterburn sections, deputy image wrangler and overall whatever you need kind of guy. Moze has the complete works of Shakespeare on his iPhone and he's written for Piss Clear, the YEP and has been blogging about Burning Man since blogs came into existence. The Nebulous Entity first beckoned him into the community and he's been returning to the dry lake bed ever since.

41 thoughts on “Death by 1000 cuts

  • What about that “True Mirror” bullshit that was so prominently placed on the Esplanade this year? I think it was around 7.30/Esplanade? It was a blatantly commercial presence, touting the benefits of using their mirrors. Why in the world was that placed on the Esplanade? I think bmorg needs to be a little more mindful about who they place in the most strategic real estate.

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  • That tweet logo did make me uncomfortable, thanks for showing its re-do.
    I have been waiting for years for someone to change “truck rental” to “fuck rectal” on a certain brand’s truck. Seems this kind of thing was far more common my first year in 2003.
    PBR is surely getting some small boost from seeming to be the unofficial beer of the playa.
    I personally resolve to do what I can next year to counter logos, with a good natured prankster sort of approach.

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  • All rules like this, including those limiting advertising, are anti-subversive. Covering up logos and making them all pseudo-sexual isn’t cute, clever, or subversive, it’s mindless. It’s expected. It might elicit a giggle, but it doesn’t surprise anyone anymore. It’s old and overplayed, and why burners are seen as easily stereotyped.

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  • DL, if it happens that we’re not aware of a camp or artwork being affiliate with a brand, it’s helpful for you to let us know. Me, I had no idea, or I’d have said something long ago. I’ve seen ‘true mirrors’ at Burning Man before, didn’t know they were “True Mirrors”. You can always ask for help from a Ranger or Media Mecca.

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  • Or even better, walk in and talk to the camp about how it feels to you to see a company showing a brand or displaying a logo on the playa. That’s all I’d do if you came and got me at Mecca to ask about it. – AG

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  • There is more creativity out there than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Let’s help each other by being creative at least once a day. On and off the playa. If it means starting your burn with being creative and going out of your way to cover up corps, even if they come out all pseudo-sexual. I always enjoyed that. Then it’s another creative movement in the direction of stopping ads/corps. That and confronting them, that always works best. It’s your place to create.

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  • I wish I had thought to find the folks at Distrikt and ask them about it when I saw that polished/shiny logo truck parked so prominently at their camp for most of the event. I didn’t recognize the brand/icon and didn’t see it as a beverage at the bar, so figured I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and not assume it was some kind of product or brand placement. Sadly, when I got home and looked it up, it turned out to be an MTV show production truck. D’oh!

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  • Commodification still happens, logos not withstanding. I really support the community in its efforts to move away from materialism, but its still there. I wonder if its even possible to separate entirely from it…

    I’m an inventive, creative person, but I really don’t have an eye for costumes. So, although I’ve built art pieces and my own crazy bike, I haven’t put much effort or thought into my dress. I usually end up going around in cargo shorts, a t-shirt and hiking boots.

    I’ve experienced everything from avoidance to razzing for this “spectator” costume of mine.

    Why? Because I didn’t go out and buy a pair of high platform, fuzzy playa boots, or a cool ruffled vest with a bowler hat. I didn’t replace my regular sunglasses for spiral, mirrored goggles. I didn’t go blow a wad of cash on el-wire and disposable glowsticks.

    People still judge you on your appearance. Burning Man has its fashion/commoditiy expectations just like the default world, and the same clique-ish language still applies, regardless of whether there’s a logo on your ass or not.

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  • @Stacey I hear ya. In 2003 we built some carousels. Worked 5 months on and off playa. We finally had them set up and running and being enjoyed by everyone so we actually had time to leave our installation and walk out to the Man. We were there, just wearing the usual goggles, overalls, whatever, and this group of pixie fairy sparkly things walked by and said, sheesh, talk about participating… We had a good laugh over that one. You never know what people are up to unless you interact with them and ASK them what they’re doing. You can be surprised.

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  • I was apalled Thursday night while I was making dinner in my camp. A large art car was rolling by blasting some tunes and all of a sudden they were blaring an ad for the satellite radio company they were getting their music from. Ah that was a bitter moment for me. Really think people need to be reminded that things like that are pretty innapropriate at the burn. Thanks for writing this blog, maybe a few more burners will try harder to cover logos AND make their own damn playlist for their art car so I don’t have to listen to BS commercials!

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  • So I had a little thought… It has to deal with the comercialization of playa fashion.
    IDK im from the east coast but I find it pretty lame that everyone on the playa dresses in the few similar get ups.

    For example – When we were at the airport I met this woman who had been decked out in playa boots, a utility belt, and just look totally like a 10th year veteran.
    When we started talking she informed me it was infact her first burn.

    So as a man I have to wonder — HOW THE F did this woman know to dress like this?????
    Then it occurred to me on the playa – that there must be clothing shops dedicated to dressing burners in playa fashion.

    So how is this any different that going to abercrombie and bitch and buying a 50 dollar pink polo shirt, vs spending 100 bucks on a playa utility belt that I saw 200 people wearing the same thing???

    Where is the creativity? I just found it so fucking cliche that the fashion there so simliar. Either your one of the hardcore / punk / metalheads with the utility kilt some type of leather shit on and representing the biker style burner…
    Or you are the fluffy animal head/hat wearing … LA style burner who is camped w/ a mega soundcamp. Probably wearing a miniskirt and a bikini top.

    OR your wearing one of the thousand premade LED costumes that are on sale for 500 bucks on ebay … that you yourself put no time into making.

    I mean I get it burning man is just sooo far out there man, but as a second year burner I was kinda frustrated w/ the lack of creativity inthe clothing.
    For me i dress in as funky creative style – maybe a painters outfit that I painted all over, or my chef hat that ive totally done fun things to. Heck I sewed my girlfriends TuTu w/ LED wire by hand … I made a crazy spun bob square pants costume…

    But really people – lets make an effort to be far out there and stop trying to look like eachother – because inside our own little utopian society we are becoming no different than shopping at Thollister or american feagle –

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  • After attending for a few years, I always chuckle over the sameness in ones manner of dress. There is a burning man “look” which over the years is becoming more and more homogenous. As an example of prejudging someone on appearance, I always bring up David Best on Playa…. My first rule regarding people: “One never truly knows to whom one is speaking too.”

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  • Here’s a twist on corporate branding and commodification. Due to my broken foot, my main form of transportation throughout the event was my personal truck, which had been modified by urban camouflaging it, as seen here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/xmasons/2826094619/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/xmasons/2387727797/

    Now this may be labeled as an art car, but not the sort of sort of mutant vehicle oft seen on the playa, and that’s where the confusion comes in. It’s certainly not a real corporate vehicle, but it is a play on commercial vehicle identities and what that means. So a question arises if this is art or commercialism in this new context?

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  • I destroyed a fuckload of vans with advertising. Ran around with a crow bar asking people to change it. If they looked at me funny, I broke all the windows. Funny thing is, everyone was too high to care. Fuck burning man, I’m never going back. Its so over.

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  • I was a ticketless burner this year after 10 consecutive burns (Mr. last minute don’t you know). But I made it a point to live in the burner spirit last week. Solo, I picked up trash on Newport Beach before bodysurfing, smiled at strangers, and dressed in my playa duds. I missed everyone of you this year but know that my spirit and soul will always be in BRC. The default world is more livable when you have Utopia in your heart! I love you all…………… Sorry to get off point.

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  • I am lucky to camp with a lot of very creative and consciously-driven people. I started coming in 04 and remember a lot more originality and gifting energy on the playa. We work hard as a mini community to cultivate a positive, loving, uplifting genre of radical expression.

    But not everyone there is an artist of some type. Not everyone has the time or energy to hand-make their own costumes or gifts. Not everyone thinks about the details such as covering up corporate logos. For some people Burning Man is the gateway to discovering a creative Self, period. Bravo that!

    I would love it if the gate closed Thursday night to keep out the spectating, empty-beer-can-polluting, playa-peeing people who cannibalize the community effort. And I would love it if people were screened at the gate and reminded this is a commodification-free event.

    Submit comments to the BM blog by October 19th if you want to have your voice heard. I did, and it started by saying overall I LOVED the quality of art installations this year.

    In the meantime I choose to focus on how I can create more of what I love.

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  • Regular shelf contact paper on the outside of RV and Trucks works better than crowbars. It peels right off after a week with no residue or gummy stick to it.

    Used to offer pre-printed cutouts for all the Cruise Amerika rv’s with a matching AachenBold “Tom ‘s Gay” to make Tom Cruise’s Gay America all over camp. Help expect the advertising before the event, help cover it up there with those that don’t yet get it.

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  • Moze,

    Had a good laugh over your encounter with the sparkling pixies. I give it my best, but being in my late 50’s, platform boots would probably result in a trip to the medical tent and fur in the midday sun is a sure ticket to a hotflash. Junior High was a long time ago, we shouldn’t be judged by what we wear.

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  • 50,000 people. We get the thick & the thin. The good and the bad. Alotta people. We have to continue to fight for what we all love. Or, walk away, stuff a crowbar in our back pocket and find something new to destroy. Great, loved it. If you can instill into people to ‘pack it in pack it out’. Then we can instill into people that Corps /Ads at this event, is just not cool. We don’t want it. We’re going out of our way to creatively alter it. Not intersted in being peddled, even from a far. We’re here to give, not to sell , that’s the base. Log it into your server. If you could just try to restrain youself for 10 dayz. I mean if you could at least, try! ‘Geeze. Show some control. I mean damit man!’ At least that’s what people try tell me to do, when I’m out there.

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  • It is after all a control issue isn’t it?
    It’s not the 10 commandments.
    It’s the 10 principles.
    While we all would want the Burning Man or Default world to be a certain way, all we ever can do is to live that way. Lead and inspire by example.
    Do our Best.
    See you next year!

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  • It was my first year, hired a rental truck and did know about the no advertising rule, but the overwhelming experience of organising our first year was bigger than worrying about the words on the side of the van. I do now wished I had done something but all I can do now is say I will certainly do so the next time I go.

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  • Personally,
    I wish they wouldn’t have allowed wireless of any type!! No cel, no email, nothing!! We get enough of that in the default world. It’s nice to escape completely. I mean really, do people need to tweet? Eliminate it all. The default is creeping in folks. Lets put a stop to it early on.

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  • “The default is creeping in folks. Lets put a stop to it early on. ”

    The internet’s been at the event for about ten years, and is provided by burners who thought it should be there who’ve been going for longer than I have, so I’m not sure the answer is that simple. You’d have to make another “rule” to keep it out, and I’m not sure it would make the difference – this is a strong culture, it takes more than a wifi signal to knock it off its center.

    But walking up to your corporate-affiliated neighbors and talking it out with them with compassion and understanding – that’s how you keep the ship on course.

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  • You know, if you look at pictures of the first few burns out there, it’s mostly people in shorts and t-shirts during the day and then thrift store formal wear at night. I kind of prefer that. A uniform is a uniform, and people get caught up in that. For me, Burning Man is about the conversations. A 21 year-old sparklepony prolly isn’t gonna have all that much to say compared to the 65 year-old grandmother of 7, wearing a big floppy hat, gardening shorts and a tank top, who’s husband passed away last year and is bringing part of his ashes to the temple. For example.

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  • Moze, NOT TRUE about the “internet search engine” funding the Community “Yellow Bikes (painted green). Those are actually totally funded (including annual storage and maintenance) by one person, who happened to start that same search engine.

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  • How about camp ’88’. Seems innocent enough until you visit their web site and discover that ’88’ is all or part of the name of a number of related for-profit enterprises. The theme camp guide dutifully published the link to the web site. Very nice free advertising courtesy of BM.

    How about the guy I saw on the way in with the expensive truck towing the expensive trailer that was all decked out with ads for some sort of cool bike he was selling? I’m not saying he was selling at BM, but he sure was advertising loudly.

    How about the company that was handing out free bottled water in the exodus line? Except that the bottles all had ads for their upcomming event?

    I did not even try to find creeping commercialism, these examples are ones that I found without looking… Meaning there are lots and lots more.

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  • The flip side of creeping commersialism:

    – Hundreds or maybe thousands of burners have gotten jobs based on contacts made at BM.

    – One theme camp I know well has spun off 3 real world businesses that employ burners.

    – Many companies send or encourage employees to attend BM due to the concentration of creative people and the wonderful environment it creates.

    – Government and aid agencies have a long standing interest in BM as a test bed of examples of methods that can be applied to disaster relief. Ideas first tried at BM are in use today for disaster relief. In some (many?) cases their are companies that make a profit in this arena.

    – Many outside companies make a lot of money catering to burners and the Org. Potties, RV rentals, used bike sales, food, fues, hotels, heavy equipment rentals…

    – The BMorg has fostered a lot of good will in the region by steering business to local vendors.

    I’m sure there’s lots more that could go here…

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  • This year I was feeling pretty unhappy about the porta-potties… we were right on 5:30 and D (in Kidsville) and as the week wore on, the toilets got worse and worse: trash, vandalism, poop all over the seat, you name it. My response was to grumble and whine about stupid party-goers who leave their beer cans all over the place. I did clean up a can or two but mostly I complained. Then, on Thursday, a sign appeared on the doors reminding us all to stop our bitching and DO something to improve the state of the potties. The next day, there was a woman with a megaphone cheering people in their efforts to be good porta-potty citizens and maintain the cleanest potties in the city. And wouldn’t you know it? It worked!

    My point is, it’s very easy to complain – much more challenging to come up with creative solutions to move things in a positive direction. But its also a lot more fun, and rewarding, and actually stands a chance of getting the results you want.

    Next year, I’ll come armed with shelf liner and will spend some time at the gate, offering to help folks cover up their logos before entering the city.

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  • I didn’t see the tweeting camp mentioned in the article, but certainly agree that sponsored camps/events/giveaways at Burning Man are inappropriate and go against some of the core values of the events and its participants. That being said…

    While I love the creativity (and often the raunchiness) of the truck rental coverups, I find the annoyance of those who get their panties in a bunch about truck logos NOT being covered up…well…annoying. Almost all of the product we use – from our personal cars to our shoes to our cameras to our hydration packs and so much more – have a corporate name and/or logo on them. I think it’s unreasonable to expect people to cover up ALL of these, and I doubt that even the staunchest critic of the moving truck logos can honestly say they use nothing on the playa that has a corporate name or logo displayed ANYWHERE on it. And if they can, then I think they’ve spent a lot of time trying to cover up the existence of corporations and not understanding the intent of the principle.

    And as for the critics of internet and cel phone access, I say that if you need to “escape” from your default life so badly you should rethink your own path. I don’t go to Burning Man to escape, I like my life. If you have a hard time turning off your own cel phone and computer occasionally then you should focus more on how to resolve that than the ways that I’m enhancing my burn through the use of technology. I consider the addition of these things evolution, not distraction.

    And speaking of evolution, or lack thereof:
    “We burners prefer blatant, crass sexism over any form of advertising. ”
    I still get a chuckle from people who consider any crass or sexual humor to be sexist. I’m sex-positive and love both men and women equally, but I think dick jokes are hilarious.

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  • And another thing…

    “A 21 year-old sparklepony prolly isn’t gonna have all that much to say compared to the 65 year-old grandmother of 7, wearing a big floppy hat, gardening shorts and a tank top,”

    That seems like an awfully prejudiced comment coming from a community that struggles so hard to get the default world not to judge us by our appearance. I won’t even address the “sparklepony” comment because it seems unnecessary to argue that good people come in all shapes, sizes, and amounts of glitter on a Burning Man blog. However, I will address another part of your statement by saying that young people these days – especially burners – have a lot to offer in the way of experiences, opinions, and knowledge. Sure, a few will have naive or even just plain annoying views on the world, but age does not automatically bring intelligence, compassion, or the ability to spin a good yarn.

    I think I get what your point was, but you should understand that you spoke out against those that judge us for NOT dressing up enough by judging someone for dressing up too much. And criticized us for ignoring the older generation by suggesting that the younger generation has nothing to offer. You’re trading one prejudgement for another in a community where everyone should be accepted individually for what they have to offer.

    God, I hate when you guys make me sound like a hippie. ;)

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  • I don’t agree that logos are evil, nor that they clash with our value of decommodification. While I have never been subjected to these supposed guerilla marketing efforts, I agree that such a thing may be borderline. However, if you only *suspect* that Ben & Jerry’s was responsible, what is the harm? What did B&J gain? Remember that real people – including burners – work for these “evil corporations”. What if a burner who is a higher-up at B&J talked his bosses into providing free ice cream. Why is the fact that B&J covered the costs worse than if the money came from kickstarter, or other private donations?

    And most importantly, why are you so upset by things like “Tweet & Chill”? From what I can read here, those were individuals, not a corporate entity. And covering up RV logos is all well and good, but it has nothing to do with decommodification. The key thing is that the RV company is not the one responsible. Should we all have to cut tags out of clothing, scratch out all brand names on our canned food, cars, shoes, sunscreen, lip balm, glasses, camp stoves, flashlights, goggles, and on and on and on?

    Logos in themselves are not inherently advertising. They can function in much the same way as an artist signing a painting – simply informative, not coercive.

    While I also enjoy the break from commerce at Burning Man, I don’t think we need to hang people for owning a product made in the real world – after all, we do pack it all in from default.

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  • in reply to what’s all the fuss about logos, my friend Porter, after working his ass off to set up their camp complete with bar and DJs in one of the plaza said that after all that work, had someone hassled him about not covering up his logo, he would have told them what they could do with their logo, which seems to me an entirely valid point. It is my intention here to put this on our radar as a community and to do what we can; and by logos I’m not meaning artist logos. To that point, look at all the Burning Man logos for DPW, Rangers, etc. They are omnipresent. However, IMHO, Burning Man has already sold you your ticket by the time you are in Black Rock City so they aren’t trying to get any $ from you. Once you’re in, they just want your soul. ;-)

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