Burning Man, the nine-day-long festival set against the backdrop of the Nevada desert in late summer, is setting some restrictions on the level of glamor available for its guests to arrive with.
The event, named for the symbolic burning of the large wooden effigy known as "the man" at the end of the festival, was inaugurated in 1986 by Larry Harvey, John Law, and Jerry James.
It started as a bonfire between some friends ending with the burning man.
This year the organizers of Burning Man might be trying to head back to those roots.
CEO Marian Goodell, of the Burning Man Project (the non-profit behind organizing the event), stated that the festival was in need of "cultural course correcting".
Goodell says her heart was broken when she heard a story of the previous year's festival from a 70 year old participant:
"I am disappointed with the attitudes of the mutant vehicle and art car folks. Their gatekeepers are very discriminatory on who they let ride. I was actually told, 'No, it's too late for old people to be out, anyway,' 'you're not pretty enough,' and 'we're only picking up hot girls right now.' I asked other camp members and heard similar stories. One gay couple said they had tried for 3 years to get on a vehicle and they were denied every time."
"That just broke my heart. How did we get here? Who thinks saying this is okay on or off the playa? This isn't Burning Man," said Goodell.
"One of the most distressing trends is the increase of participants (both new and experienced) who don't seem invested in co-creating Black Rock City, and are attending as consumers. Mass consumption in our default world, ticket scarcity and some elaborate luxury camps have contributed to the rise of a playa 'convenience culture,'" Goodell continued her analysis.
"In some cases, camps or companies are offering 'all inclusive' pre-packaged Burning Man experiences, claiming they will preemptively meet all of their client's needs. Burning Man is anything but convenient, and therein lies its transformative potential!"
Goodell is referring to so-called "turnkey camps," where you can pay thousands of dollars to be waited on by a paid staff in order to appear like you're attending Burning Man.
These tents and dwellings are reportedly designed to keep out non-paying attendees, even sometimes hiring private security to keep "undesirables" away.
In response to what Goodell sees as an invasion of sorts to the culture of Burning Man, the company is employing some new policies:
- 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.If you are aware of such package deals being offered or sold, please report them to email@example.com.
- Do not buy tickets from unknown and non-trusted sources. And, never pay more than face value plus fees.
- Do not let your friends and campmates do these things, either! Do your part.
She also notably disinvited camp Humano, which she says has been "a strain on resources for years."
"After negative reports from participants and nearly every Black Rock City operations team, we told Camp Humano that they are not invited back in 2019 as a placed camp. Humano ...had a poor 'leave no trace' record for three years, had a very poor 2018 environmental compliance record including multiple BLM citations, and was the subject of many complaints from neighboring camps."
Over a dozen other camps have been issued warnings as well.
What does this mean going forward for Burning Man?
Goodell says she hopes it will re-commodify the integrity of its culture.
"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."
"I'm personally committed to that vision, the staff at Burning Man headquarters and beyond is dedicated to that vision, and we are counting on you to join us."
"This is Burning Man."
The festival will take place from August 25th to September 2nd in 2019.