There has been much Sturm und Drang about Burning Man having wealthy and famous people come in and "ruin" it in the past few years. As long as Burning Man changes lives and opens hearts and brings that creative blissful inspiration, it is NOT "ruined". If anything, doing this for influential and successful people will change the world for the better. There are some shitty behaviors that can come into the event with out-of-culture privileged people. There is fear that they won't "get it". It is important that Burning Man changes them more that they change us. If Burning Man changes someone's life in a powerful way and they have the power to make change in the world, isn't that a good thing?
How do you say no to the title of this article?
How Mark Zuckerburg pitched his own tent and co-founder Moskovitz 'hugged it out' in spiritual moment with Winklevosses"
Quote from Muskovitz in his blog post Radical Inclusion vs Self-reliance
" I happened to run into Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss near the Temple crew camp on Esplanade. In spite of our tangled history, I had never actually met them; we only communicated through lawyers. These guys are among the only people on earth I might describe as real antagonists in my life or even enemies, but on playa my first instinct was that I quite obviously needed to introduce myself and start with hugs. They had just arrived so I wasn’t sure how they’d react, but they were very gracious at the time and I knew they’d understand more deeply by the time they left. Almost immediately when I got back, I had a Facebook friend request from Tyler and we started a thread mutually extolling the virtues of the festival. In no uncertain terms, he described a spiritual experience. I had created all kinds of dark fantasies about how meeting them would go (Tyler assures me it would have been cordial regardless), but on playa it was laughably clear. There, we were all part of the same community. We were always part of the same community."
Holy Fuck! That happened!
Imagine if the movie " the Social Network" ended at Burning Man. It is hilarious, but think about how resilient and powerful what we created together must be. People who can be doing anything else in the world that they want, choose to come to Burning Man for their own reasons and have the same experience of connection that we do.Do you get to decide if Andrew Sullivan, one of the most influential bloggers in America "got it" or Grover Norquist or Puff Daddy or Dennis Kucinich? These people matter in the world and our "stupid little dirt rave" of Burning Man 3.0 changed their lives.
Burning Man is both a fragile and a resilient culture. It feels like one interaction can mess up your moment of connection. But it takes a lot to ruin a whole burn experience, and it takes a WHOLE lot to "ruin" 70,000 people's burn. It's been going for an entire generation. Thousands and thousands of people have attended at least once. If you start at the first Burn in 1986, that is 29 years. You can argue that the Burning Man that we know started later when the first permit was pulled in 1991, but that is still almost a quarter of a century. It has been "ruined" according to someone every year since then. There are legitimate reasons for believing the festival is too big, has changed too much, and has shifted away from the culture you love. That depends entirely on which year you first came. It was "ruined" for someone that same year you fell in love with it. Burning Man was better 5 minutes ago.
Before 1997 attendees were more likely to be the anarchists and Cacophanists who were instrumental in the founding culture of Burning Man. During this time, people preferred to be anonymous and escape their life. Important and successful people were there, but they didn't want anyone to know who they were in real life. This was the playa I fell in love with. There was an exodus of people from that era when rules became more restrictive like banning guns and restricting driving. Burning Man "sold out to the man" in 1997, so if you have been since then it was "ruined" already. Events like 4th of Juplaya started to emerge for those people who didn't like the direction Burning Man was going. No leaders! No tickets! No gate! No rules!
During the tech boom starting in 1997, the wealthy were busy "ruining" Burning Man by creating huge art and art cars and camps. The playa was transformed by ambitious, creative, large, and elaborate camps and projects. Who do you think paid for all of that? The people who had money wanted to spend in on our crazy art festival. So much tech bubble money was coming in that when the bust came people wrote dire articles about the collapse and demise of the festival. I could probably find an article from some tech journal or SF paper every single year saying that "Burning Man is Dead" because it gets clicks, it sells papers. Cynicism pays the bills.
Founders of Google Sergey Brin and Larry Page posted the first Google Doodle before their trip to Burning Man 1998. The filed for the incorporation of the company when they returned from the Playa.
Burning Man has changed the world. Not just your world, but THE world. It built Silicon Valley as much as Silicon Valley built it. The creativity, the connections, the shared hardships all of the things that built your friendships also built the companies that made the modern era. You benefit every day from some stupid conversation in a dust storm where some people hatched some plan which had cascading effects that led to what you are looking at to read this article. Lots of Burners make companies and hire other Burners which make money that they spend to make art at Burning Man. Largely because of these successful people and those amazing artists that worked with them, Burning Man has become larger and more influential and, yes, successful. We have entered 3.0, as Adrian so aptly stated in the BRC weekly and it is still fucking awesome!
What CAN break Burning Man is the scarcity economy intruding upon the abundance and gift economy. Since 2011, more people want to go to Burning Man than can go. That is, and will continue to be the reality.This has happened for a few years and is a really big factor in the changes that have happened recently. Scarcity mentality leads to hoarding, scalping, and exclusiveness. No matter what the hippies think, market economics is still a factor even in Utopias. It changes the demographics of who can go and also who wants to go. The rich can always afford scalped tickets and the rest have to scramble through the ticket process and get lucky. People start to think about who "deserves" to go more and resentment builds when access seems unfair. The Radical Inclusiveness principle says that everyone "deserves" to go. It is is human to fight that and say "my tribe" deserves to go. "They" took something from me. The heartbreaking thing that happened to Burning Man is that you are no longer entitled to be included at Burning Man.
The thing is, rich people didn't make Burning Man expensive in the first place. It's expensive because this shit cost lot and lots of money to produce. Infrastructure is expensive, permits are expensive, employees are expensive, events are expensive and art is really really goddamned expensive. And that is without paying the tons of volunteers, (which is it's own discussion). You can disagree about how the org spends money and their priorities, etc but anyone who has produced an event will tell you that events cost way more money than you think and certainly more than the ticket price. Everything else you ever go to is sponsored by advertising. When you take away sponsors and you pay the real cost of the event, and it is a lot of money.
Flipside is not radically inclusive. Tickets sold out at Flipside much earlier in 2004, but we didn't choose to raise prices or find bigger places immediately, we chose to make it harder to get tickets and stay small. You had to know someone, you had to know exactly when to buy your ticket, you had to have social capital to get in on volunteering. Everyone always got a ticket "if they wanted to" but I am sure that many cool interesting contributing people didn't come because of the way we chose to deal with scarcity. We didn't raise ticket prices, but we raised the social capital costs and kept the event growing at the rate the land could handle. I remember the first time we sold out and people started arguing about who "deserved " to go. Blocks of tickets were reserved for out of towners, but only if they deserved it. People deserve to go if the are in town and volunteer and know someone or are part of a theme camp. The actual Radical Inclusivity principle was compromised. The cool kids did not invite people to the party because they didn't fit in. Inclusivity only works if there is abundance. Lots of LLC and leadership did the best they could, but the culture of Flipside was created by the constraints of its environment.
Now Flipside has the capacity to grow after getting new permits, but the culture is set based on early scarcity. New people, new art, new ideas, are hard when it is hard to find out about our family reunion. Many of people at Flipside have never been to Burning Man. Many Burners in Austin have never been to Flipside because they never felt included. Flipside hasn't changed the world, or even changed Austin, because we closed ourselves off; partially because we had to for the land, but partially because we reflected the no-growth, rejection of success, slacker (counter) culture of Austin.
Flipside is the Austin we used to have vs the Burning Man that Austin looks more like today. The tension that people expressed after the last Burning Man seemed to be coming from the same place of mourning the lost Austin. "They" don't "deserve" to be here. "They" are ruining our thing! Our city becoming successful and influential "ruins" it. "Californian's" are making everything expensive. You are cool enough and "Austin" enough to decide who "deserves" to move here. (Even though you only moved here a few years ago). Austin and Burning Man have shared a lot of the same trajectories and were shaped by the same forces and even the same kinds of people. The threat to the meaning and character of both cities is real. But the future is coming and we have to believe in the resilience of our culture and the strength we have through welcoming new people excited about being here. How do we change "them" into "us"? How to we make the new citizens of our city "get it"? How do we actually learn from Burning Man how to grow and stay awesome?
Austin is changing the world right now. Lots of really cool and creative things are happening here and the Flipside community doesn't seem to have any interest in engaging in the future or in the rest of our city. It is stuck in old Austin mentality. How would you welcome a newbie to Flipside? By telling them it was cooler before they got there and that they are ruining it? How would you welcome a new neighbor to Austin? Welcome, stranger! Have you had a breakfast taco yet?