Written by Jenna Dreisenstock
When talking about Burning Man, the first images that come to mind are certainly not air-conditioned camps, segways and festival goers glued to their phones. Right? Apparently not. As someone located outside of the USA, it comes as quite a shock to me that this is even – a thing – and has been for quite a while. It came to my attention a few days ago, simply due to the fact that these ‘turnkey camps’ are being cracked down on – and for good reason. Burning Man has always been a symbol of community and creativity, even to those who have never attended the event. An experience that is synonymous with somewhat outlandish, but incredibly crafted art projects; an experience that centres around the celebration of self-expression, and community – as ‘burners’ trade and barter resources, art supplies and more (note: psychedelics) in an all inclusive, judgement free seven day celebration.
The idea of spending a week in the desert isn’t exactly appealing to some (note: me) however ‘burners’ swear by the incredible experience that is Burning Man, with many attending religiously. The concept behind this is of course very appealing; and the principle of leaving no trace, after a week of thousands of people creating artworks and in turn – burning them down, has always fascinated me. Freedom of expression, a week devoid of the stressors of modern life (including technology), a sense of being able to connect with oneself and others is great. Except when this whole concept becomes everything it is not.
Hearing about the fact that those attending Burning Man have had access to ‘turnkey camps’ for quite a while was rather shocking to me; and even more so hearing some of their efforts to crackdown on these have not worked. Basically, companies like Humano The Tribe offer these ‘camping’ packages; only accessible for the super rich, with Fyre Festival-esque prices – a more luxurious experience of Burning Man. Who wants to deal with the sun, the sand and all those unappealing aspects of camping in the desert for seven days? Well, ‘burners’ do. That is the whole point of Burning Man. Yet for thousands of dollars, (up to $100,000 being charged for some of these packages) festival goers can have a ‘different’ experience of Burning Man – an experience that quite literally takes every principle behind the experience, and crushes it.
Again, think Fyre Festival – the luxury dream for Silicon Valley, as well as a total scam. This pretty much sums up outside sources such as Humano, with these many camps apparently receiving warnings as noted by CEO Marian Goodell. In an open letter entitled ‘Cultural Course Correcting’ Goodell warns:
“Do not buy package deals to attend Burning Man. Period. You know it’s a “package deal” if it includes a ticket and accommodations. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. Don’t do it. There are NO approved vendors for this type of offering.”
There are many terrifying aspects to this:
- The organisers of Burning Man have taken rather long to address this issue, only now withdrawing invitations for fraudulent third-party Humano.
- The existence of paid promotions by Instagram influencers and models.
- The painful irony of these ‘luxury camps’ taking up space meant for regular ‘burners’.
- The even more painful irony of the Humano camps, according to Mashable “literally leaking toilet water” as the promises for private plumbing turned into PVC piping flooding the ‘playa’ (the main gathering space for attendees) which is very contradictory of the ‘leave no trace’ principle of Burning Man.
- And quite literally, everything else.
Goodell further addressed in her post:
“Burning Man strives to stand in technicolor contrast to the typical consumerist, status-driven, brand-saturated, optimized-for-your-convenience world. We create Black Rock City every year because we believe there is value in having an entirely different kind of experience — one grounded in what you have to contribute – to say, make, do, and share.
What about our principle of Decommodification? It’s fair to say this behavior has been around for a while. Posts of gratitude cross referenced with hashtags started off slow and innocently enough, but are now wildly out of control. Failing to make clear what behavior is unacceptable has compounded the problem. Seriously, people. This really isn’t Burning Man.”
To see the 10 principles of Burning Man’s creation overturned by the increasing commodification of the ideology and is terribly disappointing but not really surprising. Monetising everything that Burning Man stood against, is very representative of today’s consumerist culture, and the economic hierarchies of our society.