Posts in decommodification

November 12th, 2013  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Commerce & Community: Distilling philosophy from a cup of coffee …

[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.]

Center Camp Café, 2005 (photo by Brad Templeton)

Center Camp Café, 2005 (photo by Brad Templeton)

Sometimes the exception to a rule can deepen understanding of a principle. For example, some critics of Burning Man insist that by allowing coffee sales in our city’s Center Camp Café we violate a tenet of our non-commercial ideology. They say that this is evidence of deep naiveté or demonstrates hypocrisy. My reply is that we’ve never espoused a non-commercial ideology. To be against commerce is to oppose the very existence of civilized life. Even hunter-gatherers engage in trade in order to survive.

When most people say that any thing or act is too commercial or has been commercialized, very few of them mean to say that the practice of commerce is necessarily bad. Instead, they are expressing the feeling that something essential — something that should never be bought and sold — has been commodified. This is why we have always been careful to use the words commodify and decommodify.

Our annual event in the desert is meant to provide an example of what can happen in a community when social interactions cease to be mediated by a marketplace. Until quite recently, all societies have provided many different kinds of rites and rituals – set apart from daily life – that rehearse and reaffirm certain core spiritual experiences that are held to possess an unconditional value.

For example, in the culture created by Burning Man, the value of a gift, when rightly given and received, is unconditional. Nothing of equivalent value can be expected in return; this interaction shouldn’t be commodified. Likewise, love – the love of a parent for a child – should never be commodified. This, too, is an unconditional value, hedged round by a kind of sanctity, and can never be measured in dollars and cents. Read more »

May 16th, 2012  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

How Not To Burn: Commodifying Burning Man

Some people just don’t get it. It is sad and upsetting for Burners when brands ignore our cultural expectations and try to pull marketing stunts on the playa, and worse yet when they pretend it’s not happening.  Due to diligent staffers and volunteers, we usually find and stop these marketing stunts, and protect our community, before the commodifiers make it into the city.

The scene. Photo by Peg Ortner.

But some slip through.  This year, one company tried literally to bottle up the Burning Man experience, and turned it into a product shoot. They amplified their marketing efforts by co-opting some major publications to publish articles with photographs that violate our core principles and media policies.  They knew what they were doing, but they did it anyway.   We are sharing this story in explicit detail in order to keep the community alert to these transgressions, and to deter others who are eyeing our event as a place to launch or promote products or companies.  Let us be clear: this is not the kind of marketing activity that raises brand value. Our culture just won’t tolerate it, and it often backfires. (Burners, remember this brand, and perhaps you’ll want to weigh this as you choose your next bottle of champagne.) Read more »

September 8th, 2011  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music), Playa Tips, The Ten Principles

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.

Read more »

May 12th, 2010  |  Filed under Digital Rights

Cameras at Burning Man: Policies for the digital age

Burning Man is trying to  figure out how to respond to the revolution in digital photography.

Old timers will tell you that cameras weren’t much in evidence in the early years of the event. But now you can’t help but see cameras everywhere on the playa —  from cellphones and point-and-shoots to expensive and sophisticated digital recording equipment that produces everything from stunningly artistic imagery to high-res but low-rent voyeuristic crap.

And the places that those pictures wind up is changing, too. Burning Man has always said it was fine to share your pictures among your friends and family. But what are friends and family these days, when you might have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, or thousands of visitors to your Flickr or YouTube sites?

What happens to the privacy rights of, say, a schoolteacher who enjoys the freedom and empowerment of the Critical Tits bike ride? Should she have to worry when she gets back from the desert that her picture will be easy to find on the internet?

Last week, the organization gathered photographers, videographers, artists, event leaders, legal experts, technologists and just plain good thinkers to explore the ramifications of the digital revolution. Are Burning Man’s policies and procedures still up to the task of protecting privacy, preventing commercialization while still  nurturing the creative image-making process?

The discussions were heartfelt, impassioned, informed and on the whole amazingly constructive.
Much more work remains to be done, and a team of people, including the communications department and legal team, are charged with turning the talk into action items.

Here is some of what was said, plus, if you’ll forgive the intrusion, a little of what I think:

Read more »

January 9th, 2005  |  Filed under News

Your Feedback, Our Ears And Eyes

Many thanks to everyone who sent comments to feedback(at)burningman(dot)com! We have received over 100 responses from participants. The Board Members, Senior Staff, various other production staff members and volunteers have read these emails and forwarded many to the appropriate Departments. We are in the planning stages for 2005 and are considering the great suggestions.

Because of the overwhelming number of responses, we cannot reply directly to everyone. Depending on the nature of the feedback, some participants may receive a direct response. Because, many comments touched upon similar issues, we are able to address these issues generally below.

DMV Registration
Many folks commented on the DMV registration process and related safety issues. First, the organization would like to apologize for any inconvenience that participants experienced this year. Second, please rest assured that the DMV registration process will begin earlier and the DMV department will be modified to reflect the needs of the mutant vehicle community and all other participants in 2005.

Acculturation of Newcomers
Yes, there were a large number of newcomers in 2004. As a result the event experienced some serious challenges, such as trash in the porta-potties, and some reported a dilution of the sense of community experienced by seasoned Burners. Some people perceived less evidence of unique self-expression, such as large scale art and costumes. We are in the process of discussing the numerous solutions that many of you proposed. We are considering many changes in an attempt to acculturate newcomers in 2005 and we will be asking for your support. In the meantime it is important to remember that we were all newcomers to Black Rock City once. It takes time to learn how to be a responsible participant at Burning Man. If many of this year’s newcomers return in 2005, they will come as veterans with a year’s worth of planning and inspiration under their belts.

Art
Several participants perceived less art on the playa this year. Inclement weather prevented some artists from completing their work and there were a few no-shows. Burning Man has already begun to address this issue. A proposal for more funding by our organization is in the works for 2005. Stay tuned.

Fall Town Meeting
It is our feeling that the annual Fall Town Meeting is no longer meeting its intended purpose. Accordingly, we received several emails with suggestions on how to reinvent this forum. Before discussing this further, a background of this meeting is given below.

Initially in 1997, Burning Man created the Fall Town Meeting to address some heavy issues that the organization was facing. In 1998 the same forum was used as a very successful way of exchanging ideas and recruiting volunteers. Out of it, the Spring Town meeting was created as a volunteer recruitment event and the fall Town Meeting was reserved for discussion and feedback. The Spring meeting has flourished, but the Fall meeting has served only a smaller group of Bay Area participants.

Burning Man staff decided it was time to reexamine the purpose and format of the Fall Town Meeting. The following issues surfaced:

  1. The core Burning Man community is no longer restricted to the Bay Area; but rather, is global.
  2. Many of the same basic questions and concerns are raised at the Fall Town Meeting repeatedly every year, so it yields little in the way of new information.

In order to address these issues, we solicited feedback from participants. After reviewing the suggestions, we have decided that the Fall Town Meeting is no longer automatically warranted each year. The need for this meeting will be evaluated on an annual basis. Should the meeting be held, it will be done in a way to involve the community as broadly as possible. This could likely include pre-event outreach as to the purpose, and a webcast or teleconference for remote participation.

In lieu of the meeting, the Burning Man organization has set up several feedback mechanisms for all participants to utilize in expressing ideas and feedback. The first of these is the feedback(at)burningman(dot)com email. This year the feedback email address remained active until December 31, 2004. Next year the feedback email will go live immediately after Burning Man 2005, and stay active through December 1, 2005.

Additionally, next year there will be a “Feedback on 2005″ topic on the Eplaya (Burning Man’s BBS) where participants can not only provide feedback, but also, have a dialogue with staff and other participants.

Furthermore, Burning Man staff members are interested in meeting with participants and hearing their thoughts in person during their increasing number of trips to meet with Regional groups year round. We are currently working with Regional groups and will continue to do so to set up meetings with participants when Board or Senior Staff members travel. If you would like to find out more about our regional groups please visit http://regionals.burningman.com.

January 29th, 2004  |  Filed under News

Burning Man Supports Local Community Service Organizations

Black Rock City, LLC Donates Funds & Technology to the Northern Nevada Community

January 29, 2004 Reno, Nevada. – Black Rock City LLC, the organization that hosts the annual Burning Man event, has donated more than $32,750 in proceeds from ice sales at the 2003 event to community service organizations in Northern Nevada. “We are pleased to say that this year we are donating more funds than in prior years—and to more organizations,” said Marian Goodell, Director of Business & Communications.

“Donating proceeds from ice sales to local organizations is in line with Burning Man’s principles of fostering community and supporting the arts without turning to corporate sponsorship” said Larry Harvey, Founder and Executive Director of Burning Man. “Ice sales allow participants to sustain themselves in the desert for the week long event without burdening the local roads with trips into town. Moreover, local community service and artistic organizations benefit from the proceeds.”

This year Black Rock City, LLC is making donations to Friends of the Black Rock, Reno Crisis Center, Nevada Museum of Art, Nevada Outdoor School, Gerlach Medical Clinic, Gerlach High School, Greater Gerlach Improvement District (GGID), Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department, Gerlach Senior Citizens, Empire 4-H Club, Pershing County Chamber of Commerce, Pershing County School System and Lovelock Lion’s Club. Additionally, Black Rock City, LLC will be providing unlimited wireless Internet access for Gerlach residents in the near future.

For thirteen years, the Black Rock Desert outside of Reno, Nevada, has been home to the increasingly popular and influential Burning Man event. The annual art event, which began on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, has grown to attract more than 30,000 participants annually, from every state of the Union and twenty-two countries worldwide. Based on corporate accounting and participant survey data, the organization estimates that it contributes $10 million annually to Washoe County, including real estate taxes, vehicle and equipment rental, and the money that its participants spend on groceries, supplies and lodging on the way to and from the event. The organization also contributed over $600,000 in 2003 to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for land use of the area where the event is held.

For more information please contact:
Ray Allen, Executive Project Manager
Black Rock City, LLC
(415) 865-3800, ext. 137

ray(at)burningman(dot)com

June 12th, 2003  |  Filed under News

Permits in Washoe County

We’ve been walking on air since the meeting on June 10 at the Washoe County Commissioners’ chambers. (See “Burning Man Files Suit Against Washoe County, 06.06.03, below.) More than sixty Burners showed up and shared their heartfelt, articulate, passionate, and convincing thoughts for more than two hours on why the Commissioners should reconsider their decision to uphold the appeal that put a halt to our permitting plans for the work ranch. In fact, everyone was so convincing that two of the Commissioners who voted against us at the May 13 meeting, Jim Shaw and Jim Galloway, both accepted our challenge and agreed to come and tour the Ranch .

We’re confident they’ll make an informed decision and agree to support our permits. And, they’ll have that chance on June 24, since the issue has been put back on their meeting agenda for that day. (More to come on meeting details and how you can participate) Our thanks to the more than 250 of you who sent an unprecedented number of letters to the Editors of the Reno Gazette Journal supporting Burning Man’s rights to use our property. No more letters to the editor are needed – they have heard our message loud and clear! Thanks, too, to everyone who showed up at the meeting! Stay tuned for the next installments.

Check out these related news items:

Reno Gazette Journal
Reno Gazette Journal Editorial
KOLO TV channel 8
KRNV TV channel 4

KTVN TV channel 2

June 6th, 2003  |  Filed under News

Burning Man files suit against Washoe County

On June 6, 2003, Black Rock City LLC filed a lawsuit against the Washoe County Board of Commissioners and Washoe County, seeking to avoid penalties related to the four special use permits we were denied for the staging area on our property at Black Rock Station. We are of the opinion that the appeal to our permits is based on conjecture and misinformation. Frankly, we’re confused as to exactly why we are being denied our right to use our property in this manner.

Read the press release from Burning Man on this issue by downloading the PDF here (52k).

View a PDF version of the full appeal here (9.9mb). For more information, check out the story in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s June 9 edition.

Meanwhile, here’s how you can help:

— Come Join Us Tuesday, June 10, in Reno, NV at the Washoe County Board of Commissioners meeting — We’re planning a show of strength at the next Washoe County Board of Commissioners meeting, being held June 10 in Reno at 2:00 PM. Each meeting starts with an opportunity for public comment; each speaker gets three minutes to share with the Commissioners their opinions on any topic that is NOT on that night’s agenda. You don’t need to be from Washoe County or even Nevada to speak – our goal is to get as many Burners as possible there to show the Commissioners the importance of Burning Man to the financial and cultural sustainability of the area. So, grab your friends from your theme camp and carpool out to Reno. It will be a blast! If you’re planning to attend, email rae (at) burningman (dot) com so we can have an idea of the expected turnout and send out updates if we have them.

Meeting Details:
Tuesday, June 10
2:00 PM
Washoe County Commissioners Chambers
1001 E. 9th Street
Reno, NV
Map: http://makeashorterlink.com/?E2C625B74

Exit off of 80 in Reno at Wells (Exit #14) and head North. Make a right on 9th and a left into the Washoe County offices’ parking lot.

What to say at the meeting:
We want the Commissioners to reconsider their decision. The outcome we desire at Tuesday’s meeting is twofold:

— The Board should suspend their normal rules and reconsider the decision to uphold the appeal
— The reconsideration should be placed on the regular agenda for the
next meeting

Come prepared to let the board know that public opinion on this issue strongly supports rejecting the appeal. If you write a letter to the editor of the Reno Gazette Journal (see below), you might want to simply read your letter outlining your points. The board needs to be reminded of the financial and cultural impact of Burning Man. We don’t want to leave Washoe County, but there are other counties who have expressed interest in welcoming Burning Man instead. This would be a major economic loss to Washoe County, and the Board should be reminded of this fact.