Burning Man Inc.

Looking for an old friend’s address, I stumbled upon BM’s website… been a long time.

Trying to stay clear of I-told-you-so‘s and it-s-not-what-it-used-to-be‘s, it is still hard to ignore how crassly commercial Burning Man has become…

Generally, I just placidly observed the unavoidable mutations it has undergone over the years and did my best to focus on the positive aspects: no matter what, BM’s utter creative chaos, where nothing made sense and everything was possible, is long gone, and for the last few years, it has been more something of a regular desert festival featuring a mix between alternative urban planning and drug-indulging camping week… with a few cool art shows in the middle.

Don’t get me wrong, last time I went in 2000, I still had a blast of a time, but I just could not help noticing that a lot of the original ground concepts were long gone… and the official festival coffeeshop now sold very expensive lattes for those in heavy starbucks withdrawal…

Anyway, over the years, I noticed the amusing evolution of BM: what was total joyful anarchy around 95 quickly became one of the most nit-picking, bureaucratic, rigid organization a festival ever had. A modern, digital-era, democratic organization… but an excruciatingly bureaucratic one nonetheless. I guess there was a lot of the Open Source spirit influence (there are a huge lot of similarities between both communities, for a good reason: most of their members are the same).
It is quite ironic how every major idealistic movement, if it doesn’t die right away, eventually turn into what they were trying to destroy/replace. Just ask any russian communist or my 60’s hippy friends who’ve turned 80’s finance sharks…

How bad is it?
First, it was unavoidable, with time and increase of popularity, with the attention it drew to it, there was no way it was going to stay the same.
Second, most of these changes actually come from the people who were there at the beginning. Although I quite resent the typical “I was there first, this is mine” mentality, present among BM old-schoolers, they got their point.

Last I checked, there was an “official” BM radio and newspaper (profoundly despised by other “alternative” BM media for their beatific propaganda), so we already have an established BM authority… and even a burgeoning opposition!
There is also a “DMV” to regulate cars, lots of rules enforced by a local security force, a carefully designed urban planning, complete with street names “theme” and theme camps (hmm, it does reminds me of somewhere else…), and local political cat-fights between different organizing factions.

So, for better or for worse, BM is now more like a lifesize playground for adults who want to experience being Smallville, NV, mayoral team for a few days. It gives anybody the opportunity to enjoy the thrills of democratic power without sacrificing on the altar of Political Correctness.

However, I do clearly remember something about a “NOTHING IS FOR SALE HERE” motto.
It slowly turned into “nothing is for sale, unless it’s really essential, and we are the one selling it”… then it became “nothing is for sale, unless you buy it at our official coffeeshop camp… and don’t forget to buy the souvenir mug”
Well, why split hair anymore: let me introduce you to the official Burning Man T-Shirt Catalog (and no, this is not a hoax, this is hosted on the ever-official BM website)… you can also get books, posters and videos. Larry’s bobblehead action figures will probably be available next year.

capitalism will always come back and bite you in the ass…