The Burning Man Announcement
Call it a rave, call it a hippie collective, call it some other gathering of steampunk counter culture. Whatever it is, Burning Man is unique. The modern precursor to the festival culture that has taken the world and Instagram posts by storm, Burning Man has welcomed folks to the Californian desert since 1990 (Burning Man officially started in 1986 but was held on Baker Beach in San Francisco).
For a number of years Black Rock City, another name for Burning Man, had a folkloric quality to it. A rumored, near cultish, party in the middle of the desert where drugs, nudity, and effigy burnings were all welcomed. Naturally, the festival continued to grow, even giving birth to two organizations, including the non-profit The Burning Man Project which succeeded Black Rock City LLC in 2014. On top of that, the once-underground mysterious gathering had an attendance of well over 80,000 people last year.
This initiation into the mainstream vernacular has upset many loyal “Burners” (people who attend the festival) and the dissatisfaction amongst those who have Burning Man’s “best interest at heart” has caught the attention of those who run the annual event. Marian Goodell, the CEO of The Burning Man Project, has recently released a statement on the website outlining a major “cultural course correcting”.
Back to the Roots
The team in charge of putting on the festival is now hoping to get back to the image that made them great. This overhaul in culture is primarily taking aim at the “elite”. Goodell in her written statement specifically mentions social media influencers, models, and wealthy Burners as people they want to limit at the 2019 iteration.
These three classes of people are targets because of their attempts to increase their status or get economic gains from their presence at Black Rock City. Goodell elaborated by saying, “Whether it’s commercial photo shoots, product placements or Instagram posts thanking ‘friends’ for a useful item, attendees including fashion models and social media ‘influencers’ are wearing and tagging brands in their playa photos. This means they are using Black Rock City to increase their popularity; to appeal to customers and sell more ‘stuff’”.
This goes against the fibers of Burning Man, as Goodell and faithful Burners are quick to point out that it is more an anti-consumer social experiment rather than a festival.
Changes in Ticketing
Burning Man, despite their strong words, hopes not to propagate a culture of exclusivity but rather provide disincentives for those not in keeping with the traditions of the event — an action which will be seen primarily through ticket sales.
To start, Burning Man has sent warnings, even banned, many luxury camps that have been taking advantage of the event. One such camp was called Camp Humano, which has been officially banned for being “a strain on resources”. According to reports, Humano was renting two-bedroom, air-conditioned camping units, with private bathrooms, for upwards of $100,000 last year.
In addition, ticket sales will also see an 18 percent increase of low-income tickets, a 30 percent decrease in high price tickets, and a 10 percent increase in ticket allocation for directed group sales.
Burning Man’s website is now encouraging Burners to watch out for and avoid any packages that are “all-inclusive”. This commodification takes away from the core Black Rock City experience, which is often dirty, dusty, and hot because of its desolate location. It is also suggested to not buy tickets from unofficial sources. Goodell and team encourage people to report anyone trying to resell tickets above face value.
Other Factors at Play?
Some people have been pointing fingers elsewhere for what inspired The Burning Man Project to change their policies. Many believe that the popularity of Hulu and Netflix’s documentaries on the now infamous Fyre Festival had something to do with it. With Fyre’s disastrous results it would make sense to disassociate with the types that originally tried to make the doomed event happen.
No-one from Burning Man cited Fyre Festival but instead said their main concern is with situations like loyal Burners being denied passage on “mutant vehicles” during their art car parade because they are “too old”, “not pretty enough”, or because drivers are “only picking up hot girls”. This beauty segregation stands in direct conflict with Black Rock City’s mission to “preserve and protect the community ethos that sets Burning Man apart from mass-produced events”. Burning Man will return for a weeklong celebration on August 25th, no doubt with fewer hashtags.