11/15/2013

A response to so-called Burner Fundamentalism

lamplighters at burning man
Burner Fundamentalists
Recently, on one of those other burning man websites, someone commented in the reply section of a post that discussed the merits of making and releasing a for-profit documentary about a community that is told that Decommodification and Gifting should be a part of its shared ethos. The site is burners.me, the documentary is Spark: A Burning Man Story, the someone claimed to be actiongrl (former Communications Manager and Regional Network Manager for Black Rock City LLC), the community is the "burner" community, and the shared ethos is the 10 principles, a bunch of stuff that Larry Harvey made up to expand his brand via the Regional Network.

In the reply to the post, that also mentioned that one can get a totally free copy of Spark: A Burning Man Story via file-sharing networks, the person who claimed to be actiongrl suggested getting the movie for free on the internet was stealing and that any justification of that so-called theft based upon the 10 Principles was a load of fundamentalist burner malarkey:
"... if there’s one thing I’m glad to get away from since I left it’s misguided Burner Fundamentalism. Here you justify stealing art from someone you perceive as profiting ... because it should not have been made anyway because “DECOMMODIFICATION!” is black and white in your mind, so stealing becomes right. ... That’s not “being the change,” or whatever and it’s not going to change Burning Man. It’s simply stealing." -actiongrl (maybe)
Now, the true identity of the person who claimed to be actiongrl cannot be verified, let's just say for the sake of argument it was the former Burning Man staffer.

This talk about being glad to be away from Burner Fundamentalism seems odd. For the most part, the post-2004-fundamentals-of-burning-man are really only extant in the form of the 10 Principles, which were created for the Regionals Network (which someone named actiongrl, who worked for burning man for 12+ years, was a 'manager' of during her tenure), and now are applied to all-things-burning-man. To see someone who is the former Regional Network Manager bemoan the existence of fundamentalist burners looking to the principles, which she was responsible for spreading, when trying to hold the LLC to account for some anti-their-own-principles-bullshit is quite ripe. If the LLC and its staff didn't like seeing people trying to hold them to account for not following their own principles, why did they go about preaching them like Moses on Mt. Sinai?

Now, it's one thing to be against those who go all burnier-than-thou like the average Joe Burner who breaks the call for Radical-Inclusion when he says that ravers shouldn't be allowed at Burning Man because all they do is spectate. It is another thing altogether for a former high level staffer to claim that it's good to get away from the misguided Burner Fundamentalists which claim that a for-profit movie which has brought in $250,000+ (involving megabillion-multi-nationals like Sony, Microsoft, Comcast, Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Google, and Time Warner) is going against a certain shared ethos, and is a bad thing.

This is not the awesome-burners-clique suggesting that the totally uncool people shouldn't be allowed at the party. This is burners saying that if Decommodification doesn't apply to selling shit through Sony, Microsoft, Comcast, Amazon, Apple, Best Buy and Google, then what the hell does it apply to?

Does decommodification only apply to hippies selling grilled cheese and hemp bracelets during the event? Are people really total fundie assholes for suggesting that using big-ass multi-nationals to sell a film shot at Burning Man is commodficiation?

The correct response from a former staffer to so-called misguided Burner Fundamentalism isn't "wow am I glad I don't have to deal with that anymore." The correct response is to separate the wheat from the chaff and realize that some complaints by the so-called fundamentalists are actually important ones. The correct response is to sit around and put your heads together at the HQ and realize that: if you continue to redefine what the principles mean when it comes to the Big Things, that they will, sooner or later, hardly apply when it comes to the Little Things.

Eventually the community isn't gonna take too kindly to the whole "commodification is OK, but only if we say so" line coming from the LLC.

At what point does the community fight back and, through a display of radical-self-expression, start selling their burn photographs, their burner videos, their burner books, subscriptions to their burner websites, their burner t-shirts, and their burner posters and all kinds of other commodified burning man crap the other 51 weeks of the year, just like the LLC does? You see, they can't sue everyone. Perhaps giving the LLC an example of what it's like to have someone sell you out without permission might make them come to their senses. Either that, or, maybe the LLC releases the grip they have on the brand and the media created during the event and lets everyone do what they do: sell art.

I wouldn't suggest holding your breath waiting  for the LLC to evolve on this issue. They seem destined to continue to sell the idea of Change, of being different than the other guys, while actually just being another corporation who wants to make a boatload of cash, like all the others they claim to be different from. The only thing different here is the Mission Statement. Where have I heard that before?