Radical Self-Reliance and Rich People at Burning Man

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

In the two weeks since this year’s Burn I’ve noticed a fair amount of press claiming “the rich are ruining Burning Man” and I’ve seen a handful of stories on Facebook about confrontational run-ins with people at so-called “rich camps” in Black Rock City. I hear a growing conversation around radical self-reliance and the perceived threat to Burning Man culture posed by “turnkey” and “plug and play” camps on the playa. I’d like to offer the following perspectives to help inform your own conversations and dialogues on these topics.

Flame war, anyone? Dance Dance Immolation by Interpretive Arson, 2013 (Photo by Steven Fritz)
Flame war, anyone? Dance Dance Immolation by Interpretive Arson, 2013 (Photo by Steven Fritz)

First, let’s talk definitions:

Turnkey Camp: A Burning Man camp built by a production team where (generally) paid staff members create the infrastructure so that camp members don’t have to.

Plug and Play Camp: The older term for turnkey camp.

Radical Self-Reliance: One of Burning Man’s 10 Principles. Radical Self-Reliance states: “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

The Ten Principles: The Burning Man 10 Principles were written by Larry Harvey, at the request of the other Burning Man founders, in 2004 to help support the demand of the growth of the Burning Man Regional Network. They were written to be *descriptive* not prescriptive. They are not intended to be dogmatic. They form a cultural guide map that is aspirational, not absolute.

* * * *

Next, let’s look at the problem at hand:

Since 2010, there has been an increase in the number of camps run by long-time Burners who are paid to work during the event week. They are hired by a “camp owner” or camp funder and they usually work collaboratively with the owner to determine the vision of the camp and the level of services provided, and then produce the camp as planned. Often times these camps are inhabited by people who are coming to Burning Man for the first time. Some of these camps go so far as to provide costumes and pre-decorated bikes. (more…)

A Rich Man Dreams of Paradise

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

“Somewhere past these gravel roads and high on castle’s tower, a rich man dreams of paradise and sees a life like ours.”
Antsy McClain of the Trailer Park Troubadours

Rosie Lila deftly stated “We were all newbies once” just recently in a post titled “Radical Self Reliance and Rich People at Burning Man”. Burning Man is an event that takes years of practice. One can actually tell a five-year Burner from a ten-year Burner. You never stop learning as the “social experiment in the desert” is ever changing.  It seems that our grand tree of evolution has sprouted a new branch. It’s the much discussed topic of “turnkey camps” or “plug and plays” that seem to fly directly into the face of our principle of radical self-reliance. It’s even sarcastically been nicknamed “radical self entitlement” in rising grumblings.

Black Rock City, 2012 (photo credit unknown)
Black Rock City, 2012 (photo credit unknown)

It was about four years ago when I saw my first “plug and play” camp. From my perspective my initial impression of a camp of all brand new trailers in a horseshoe with no real social area, nothing but a giant generator and a trailer loaded with brand new bikes in the middle, and the “campmates” barely knowing each other seemed like aggressive cancer to me. The only social interaction I witnessed at the time was a worker in a pickup truck knocking on one of the trailer doors and an arm briefly jabbing out to hand him a bag of garbage. The door slammed shut and the shades were drawn. My Burner blood dropped several degrees – I immediately wanted to form a lively group of welcoming troubadours to welcome the shit out of them!

Easy now – baby steps – we were all newbies once. (more…)

MOOP MAP 2014: Black Rock City Will Rise Again

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

DA, Playa Restoration Manager/Mastermind, and his fabulous and brilliant assistant Irene.
DA, Playa Restoration Manager/Mastermind, and his fabulous and brilliant assistant Irene.

In the midst of the bass-thumping, fire-florid, neon-edged glory of Black Rock City, we forget ourselves, lose our boundaries, recombine with our neighbors to become something new. And even as we’re out there, as Larry Harvey might say, “jiggling our molecules around,” there’s an awareness — this doesn’t last forever.

We have this window in time, this brilliant moment to reinvent ourselves into something slightly better, truer, more vibrant and conscious.

Well, I’m here to tell you that, even though the window for 2014 has closed, it will open again in 2015. Congratulations, Black Rock City: You successfully left no trace on the playa, helping to ensure that Burning Man can return to the desert we love.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Resto Love Letter

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Somebody left this message for us. The feeling is mutual. Photo by Tiffany Sinacola.
Somebody left this message for us. The feeling is mutual. Photo by Tiffany Sinacola.

…and just like that, it was over…

It’s hard to describe Burning Man to someone who’s never been — and it’s even harder to describe working for Burning Man. In all the dimensions, all the realms of the vast universe, there can be nothing else that even approaches this experience. I consider myself lucky to have discovered it.

This is the tenth year since I became a member of the Department of Public Works. Green as I was back in 2005, it only took me a few days to fall head over heels in love with these people: the strong, weird, passionate, fiercely individual, workaholic and totally misanthropic friends I’d been seeking my entire life. It is my great privilege to spend two months in the desert with the DPW every year, breaking our backs to build Black Rock City for little to no reward — other than the pleasure of each other’s company.

And what a pleasure it is. Each year, I write the Moop Map blog series not just as a celebration of Black Rock City and of the incredible accomplishment of leaving no trace — but as a love letter to the DPW, the best people I’ve ever known.

Today is the last day of operation for the Black Rock Saloon, our staff watering hole in Gerlach. Tomorrow, the BLM arrives to inspect the Burning Man site. As usual, the people of BRC and the DPW have left the place squeaky clean, ready for (much hoped for) winter rains to wash away our tracks. When the inspection is done, we’ll all scatter, the DPW diaspora extending once again around the globe until next August calls us home.

Thanks for a great year, Black Rock City. Tune in Wednesday for the results of the BLM’s site inspection, which will determine whether Burning Man will happen in 2015.

Till then, enjoy a few photos of the beautiful DPW Playa Restoration crew. You can find more of them here and here.

Burning Man Playa Restoration 2014

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MOOP MAP 2014: Storm Front

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

It’s been a warm September. For those who’ve been out here since early August or before, the heat has seemed relentless: an unending series of hot, still afternoons on the baking Black Rock Desert.

But at this time of year, you never know what tomorrow brings. You don’t even know what the weather will do in an hour. The desert creates its own atmospheric conditions: storms that sweep across the entire West will break up and encircle the playa without ever touching down. Or, they’ll intensify in power as they eddy and swirl, trapped in a rage between the surrounding mountain ranges. The Playa Restoration crew has a detailed evacuation protocol for such situations — like the one that happened yesterday.

There was a rumor that weather was coming, but that’s a rumor we hear often (usually followed by “but it probably won’t hit us”). It wasn’t until the black ridge of clouds crested the mountaintop that we started to worry. And then, out of nowhere, the temperature dropped ten degrees. The wind began to howl. And the desert surface lifted up into the sky.

Witch Doctor & Rebecca brave the sudden onslaught. Photo: Aaron Muszalski / @sfslim.
Witch Doctor & Rebecca brave the sudden onslaught. Photo: Aaron Muszalski / @sfslim.

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Killin’ Time Till Resto

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The signs were not good at all.

First off, we were headed back to the Black Rock desert to visit people who, incredibly, had never left the playa.  Some of them had been there since July, and it seemed the only question was just how cracked out they would be.

All their friends and everyone else who’d been to Burning Man had left them behind. They had to know that we’d been eating sushi and pizza and burritos, and we’d been showering whenever we felt like it, and when we used the bathroom, it didn’t the way only a PortaPotty can stink at noon.

So these folks had to be bitter. And they were probably resentful, too, because who wouldn’t be? By the time we rolled into town, they’d already been working Playa Restoration for days. And they had a lot more mooping to look forward to. They’d been walking slowly across the empty desert, sometimes getting down on their hands and knees, to pick up what the partygoers had left behind.

But worst of all, these lost souls might even be hostile, and that made us nervous. Who the f—were we, all clean and shiny and caught up on sleep, to come sashaying into town? What the f—were we doing there, and who the f—did we think we were?

And then there was the trip itself.

The stench of broken dreams had been with us since before Truckee. The sky was dark orange, clouded by the smoke from fires ravaging Northern California. Reno seemed like some Saudi Arabian town in the middle of a dust storm. The sky there burnt ember, and it  smelled of smoke and destruction.

 

D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years
D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years

By the time we got to the other side of Nixon, where the beauty of the ancient lakebed usually hits us in the face, we were almost ready to turn back. We couldn’t see more than a couple of hundred yards on either side of the road. There was no sun, no glowing, golden hills. There was only smoke, and the growing sense of dread that this was all a very bad idea.

D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years, even though they haven’t called it “Playa Restoration” for nearly that long.  He’s been around since the days when only a couple of dozen people would stick around after everything had been trucked back to the ranch, after everything had been stowed away for the year.

Brukka was telling us about the old days, too, when it was a just small bunch of really ragged people who did the cleanup. They didn’t eat well, mostly stuff out of cans, and they didn’t sleep much. They did drink pretty hard, though, which only served to make things … volatile.

There were no fluffers, there were no support teams, and no one really knew they were still out there. There was no such thing as a Moop Map — there was only the need to leave no trace.

The BLM has always made Burning Man clean up after itself. It’s pretty simple, really: Officers will come to random points in what had been Black Rock City, and they’ll put stakes in the ground, and they’ll stretch out lines. Then they’ll inspect the circles of desert defined by those lines, and if they find too much crap  … boom. Inspection fail. Permit pulled. Event over.

So this Playa Restoration is serious business, and it is quite literally true that the future of the event depends on leaving the desert the way we found it.

Sometimes you have to get down on your hands and knees to clean the moop.
Sometimes you have to get down on your hands and knees to clean the moop.

And all the work is being done by people who haven’t seen home in months, and who have spent very little time with anyone but each other.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Leaving No Trace Around the World

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

I’ll be straight with you, Black Rock City: The map I have to show you today is not from Burning Man 2014. It’s not from Burning Man at all. It’s not even from this continent.

Today, I’m proud to show you the 2014 Moop Map from Tankwa Town, South Africa.

Click the map to read AfrikaBurn's 2014 moop report.
Click the map to read AfrikaBurn’s 2014 moop report.

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Coyote Nose: Astro-not!

Was reading an article about Burning Man the other day where the writer remarks on how serious the participants can be about Black Rock City’s principle of “Leave No Trace”. He mentions a happening at a bar where someone flicks a cigarette butt down and the instant scolding he gets from his campmates. The writer also mentions how impressed he is with this because the playa was already protected with AstroTurf. Participants were so concerned with leaving no trace that they would never let it hit the ground even if it had a protective barrier on it.

Upon reading this it occurred to me that people can think that putting down yards of AstroTurf in their camp will safeguard it from MOOP.

This year’s public service announcement:

AstroTurf is MOOP!!

AstroTurf is some of the worst and most difficult to get rid of MOOP ever, and more and more camps are using it.

AstroTurf shreds and sheds worse than a dried up Christmas tree, and when you finally pull it up after an event’s worth of trampling and occasional soakings, there’s a billion little green plastic grass blades embedded into the hard pan playa. And this can stretch for a block’s worth sometimes.

The Playa Restoration crew dubbed this spot "AstroTurf camp."
The Playa Restoration crew dubbed this spot “AstroTurf camp.”

For understandable reasons, AstroTurf is exponentially growing in popularity. It gives your camp a lush and dust-free floor, and I’m betting that many believe that it doubles as a MOOP catcher. Turns out that it’s a MOOP nightmare!

We all need to get the word out far and wide that AstroTurf is right up there with boa feathers, wood chips, and pistachio nut shells as “Worst MOOP Ever”.

Leave no trace – leave no couch – leave no AstroTurf!!
Never let it hit your pack job.

ASTRO – NOT!

Coyote Nose