Feathers are MOOP, Right? Well, That Depends on YOU.

Dancer at Sunrise, 2013. Photo by Paulius Musteikis.
Dancer at Sunrise, 2013. Photo by Paulius Musteikis.

You may have heard that Radical Self-Reliance is one of Burning Man’s Ten Principles. And so is Leaving No Trace. When you put them together, it means that whether it’s a costume, or a vehicle, or an art installation, your food, your camp, your bike, your trinkets, or whatever, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING SURE YOUR STUFF DOESN’T BECOME MOOP (aka Matter Out of Place).

And that brings us to the subject of feathers on playa.

Back in the day, folks would show up at Burning Man with cheap feather boas, and they’d inevitably fall to pieces, blow all over the playa, get stuck on the trash fence, blow past it, and generally create a super MOOPy headache for everybody.

Boas still suck, don't bring 'em.
Boas still suck, don’t bring ‘em.

So, to prevent a MOOPocalypse, we’ve long had a warning in the Survival Guide to not bring feathers (primarily this was directed at those cheap boas, since it predates when the headdress and fedora fads kicked in), and even had the Gate crew prohibit them from being brought into Black Rock City.

Now here’s the thing … some feathers are super MOOPy and others, well, aren’t. What we’re saying is this: if you want to wear feathers, that’s fine … but make sure they’re attached in ways that won’t fail, and if you can’t then don’t wear them, because it’s on YOU if they become MOOP. (And that goes for anything you bring to Black Rock City.)

So be smart, use good judgment, and be careful about what you do and don’t bring to (and wear on) the playa. In order to help you make sound judgments, here’s a list of things that are known to be especially MOOPy:

  • wood chips, splinters and sawdust
  • pistachio shells
  • cigarette butts
  • live plants
  • burn barrel ashes
  • feather boas
  • sequins
  • mylar (once it dries out and cracks)
  • firecrackers and fireworks
  • anything that may dry out, break up and/or blow away in the wind
  • loose glitter
  • Astroturf
  • styrofoam coolers
  • plastic bags
  • sheets of paper
  • string
  • disposable drink cups
  • hay bales
  • straw
  • gravel
  • confetti (duh)
  • swimming pools (soaked playa = moop)
  • glass containers (they can shatter)

One last thing … we’re keeping our eye on this ball. If feathers prove to be a MOOP problem in the future, we may be forced to ban them.

21 thoughts on “Feathers are MOOP, Right? Well, That Depends on YOU.

  • I’m excited about this change, myself. Feathers are such a beautiful material for the kind of stuff we make for Burning Man. Surely there is a MOOP concern, but there’s always a MOOP concern for whatever you bring to the playa. If you can pack out your glow sticks, you can pack out your feathers, right?

    Report comment

  • “If you can pack out your glow sticks, you can pack out your feathers, right?”

    Uh, no, not really. The problem with feathers is that many people simply overestimate how well their particular feathered outfit will weather playa conditions. Once feathers become loose from their garment (due, for instance, to insufficient quantities of glue or to the glue drying out and flaking away in the low humidity), they tend to FLY AWAY. Feathers evolved to take to the air, contrary to the deservedly maligned glow stick. Inevitably someone other than the owner of the free feather must collect it from the playa.

    Report comment

  • No matter how well the feather is glued, if the Rachis (shaft) gets bent, the feather will break and fly away. Then there is that matter of poor judgment, “Why is their feather OK and mine isn’t?” Why can’t the Playa be respected for its unique requirements? Feathers are MOOP there, whereas not so much at most regional burns. Are the feather wearers going to Burning Man for the attention that beautiful feathers can bring? If they need that much self glory, then I’m sure wearing their headdress or whatever on any street corner will get them all the attention they could possibly want. All they hear is “NO”, when what is being said is to find alternative imitation feathers for the Playa! Keep the real feathers for regionals and fund raisers.

    Report comment

  • If feathers don’t even stick to birds reliably, what makes you think they’re going to stick to your janky costume when you’re having a good time?

    Also: war bonnets: pretty much never cool, no matter what they’re made of.

    Report comment

  • I’m all for personal responsibility, moop control should be one of them. I make my costumes with great care and quality- yes there could be a “why mine and why not theirs” issues, but when aren’t there? (I’ve never lost a feather in many yrs. Some things I am not happy to see- is the cropping up (more and more) of the judgemental nature and false morality and knee jerk responses to the issues of concern. burnier than thou…
    One item I thought was pretty interesting was the mention of fireworks? I know they are messy and dangerous and we really should keep them from messin areas up- however- I guess we give the man special compensation when he burns? ;)

    Report comment

  • this is a terrible, terrible decision. feathers were banned in the first place for a reason: there is NO way, no matter how carefully you may construct your costume or how much you believe your costume is secure, it is inevitable that it will NOT BE and some feathers will become moop. if this decision ends up with the BLM not giving us a passing grade after this year’s burn, i’m gonna laugh and then cry. i spent two days in the hot sun after the burn in 1998 picking feathers out of pee spots on the open playa. it was eye-opening. if the BMORG thinks this is such a shiny idea, i recommend they leave their air conditioned camps and offices and spend an afternoon picking up moop on the playa and see what they feel afterwards. this is not coachella — please keep the feathers off the playa!

    Report comment

  • This sounds like a bad judgment call, as a DPW member of 13 years that has done many resto stints, telling folks it’s ok to bring feathers will end in a huge amount of clean up work, good intentions have nothing to do with nature, and wind, and intoxication, witch will bring on the feather moop. It’s happened before now it will happen again,

    Report comment

  • Great decision! For those against this change imagine a world anything that might cause MOOP was forbidden. This is a win for self-reliance, self-expression and personal responsibility.

    Report comment

  • Dont get me wrong I love the way feather headdresses look but being that Iam a native american and knowing what they are truly for,, wearing headdresses is very disrespectful to native Americans especially wen used in the wrong way for the wrong reasons in the first place, 2nd it’s purpose was solely meant for traditional native american ceremonies,for native american people (who are leaders of their tribes) used and honored in the right way not for use of people’s in non-native ceremonial happenings such as this event and or any others…respect who’s land ur on n do the right thing. ….

    Report comment

  • I appreciate that Borg continually makes every effort to keep the event evolving in a positive direction. However, I can’t help but think that making this allowance will cause more work and headaches for the Restoration Crew, than the minimal amount of joy it will bring to the few that decide to add feathers to their outfits. I wager that most seasoned Burners and anyone that gives this option serious thought will see it for what it is ie. “Not so good of an idea”. Hopefully they will then make the decision to seek other materials to add flair and interest to their Costumes.

    Report comment

  • and on that note, a big thank you to those that put in the long hours and hard work it requires to clean the playa long after we are gone…you guys Rock

    Report comment

  • Overall, this is a very smart decision by BMORG. As they stated, the rules have always been intended to address poorly made costumes with bad maintenance, leaving trails of MOOP behind oblivious revelers.

    The rules of Burning Man are meant to support people embodying their visions, their dreams, their Art…that they might share those gifts with others. Whether that may be through wearing a single feather in a leather head-strap to connect to their native blood, or embodying as a fully feathered Bird Goddess to bring their spirituality and prayers to those at the Temple, these feathered artists should be supported an honored like any other form of radical self-expression.

    There are a few important considerations to note, that in my opinion, would have helped to complete this article:

    1. There are actual birds on the playa. They drop feathers. We pick them up. It’s okay.

    2. Natural feathers are ALWAYS better than artificial feathers. Natural feathers will decompose on the playa within a month or two. Artificial feathers are plastic and may takes decades to break down.

    3. Costumes with feathers NEED maintenance. Feathers should be steamed and checked for their secure attachment EVERY time they are worn. They should be affixed with epoxies in addition to wire or metal cones that will not break down (as quickly) in playa dust. They should be worn once or twice for specific purposes on the playa, not every day.

    4. Feather wearers should travel with a partner or group, and ask everyone in the group to keep an eye out for fallen feathers.

    5. Fun-fur is 1000 times more MOOPy than feathers. It sheds filaments on your car seats, in your tent, and all over the playa. Clean up crews often mistake fun-fur for feather filaments, though you will almost NEVER find actual feather filaments unattached to the rachis (center bone). They are simply built better than almost any man made structure. Look up “Feather Biology Diagram.”

    Finally, I’d also like to point out that fully feathered performers have been honored by BM as requested dancers in Center Camp on several occasions, and have been given free tickets to BM for many years after performing at Fundraisers. The interpretation change around the rules two years ago caused many of these performers to receive death threats and violent attacks from certain individuals in the Burning Man community.

    This is absolutely inappropriate, and should be looked at by everyone at Burning Man. It is not okay in any community, especially one that is supposed to be based on acceptance and radical self-expression, to threaten someone’s life. Some of these threats came from individuals who are part of groups who we know are responsible for burning PVC coated wires on the playa after major burns, which effectively poisons the air of the entire playa. Compare this to picking up some feathers that would effectively decompose in a month anyway. Any veteran burner has smelled the air on Saturday or Sunday night and known something was burning that shouldn’t be…

    We are all responsible as a community for making Burning Man a safe place for everyone to express themselves.

    We are also all responsible for leaving no trace on the playa, and though that currently doesn’t account for any of the air pollution for which we leave PLENTY of trace, we all must pitch in on MOOP cleanup and support the BM cleanup crews as much as possible. Their work keeps Burning Man alive.

    Report comment

  • A few feathers in a hair clip or on a hat isn’t a big deal especially when a lot of glue gun is involved, but chicken/turkey/whatever head-dress lady largely seen in videos of BM on You Tube is just plain silly. She can’t claim ignorance that feathers blow off. A bird her size would lose a thousand feathers @BRC. She was in complete defiance and f*** you attitude of the prior rules. No feathers=Go ahead and wear them at Coachella and wear your pseudo Native American headpieces out of complete disrespect for culture. (Still not a good idea). Now that feathers are allowed? Yay. WooHoo. :-P Gate’s gonna have a field day asking people about it. Stoopid decision in my book.

    Report comment

  • First off thank you Guardian for your thoughtful detailed response, you covered the topic eloquently. Several other responses seemed rather judgmental and narrow minded. Someone wearing a feather costume and dancing in a crowded drunken space is completely different than someone doing performance art in center camp.
    If you see a person with feathers how about politely asking them about their intentions, have a conversation, walk if not a mile in their shoes maybe just a minute. Wouldn’t that be more of the burner spirit? See you all on the playa.

    Report comment

  • Guardian, you sound seasoned. Seasoned enough to know that alkali dust lacks the necessary bacteria to allow any kind of decomposition to occur… if you didn’t know it before, you do now. Anything left behind, be it feathers, cigarette butts, insects, birds, etc. will simply become a fossil ultimately.

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply