11/17/2013

Jack Rabbit Speaks Wants You to Know Sungevity


Those rascals at the burning man HQ are at it again. In their most recent Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter they suggest that you visit some website to vote for something. This call to vote is much like the call they made on their official facebook page in 2012 to vote for projects on the website of BOCA BEARINGS. The call for votes in 2012 was said to benefit burner artists, helping them to win money in what amounted to an advertising campaign by BOCA BEARINGS.


burning man said this
Burner support needed! A ball bearing company is having a contest to award 10K to a project that uses ball bearings. Each month people vote for a monthly winner, then the final winner is selected by jury. So far Burner projects have won 3 out of 4 months. This month [name redacted] is in the lead but could use help. Voting ends at 12M on Thursday.  [link to bocabearings dot com went here]
The community is said, by organizers, to embrace a shared ethos of decommodification, which, when employed, protects the event and its attendees from commercial exploitation. What seemed like a blatant advertisement coming from the organizers who came up with the decommodification idea smelled a bit too much like bullshit for some people. For them, the ends, burners getting cash, didn't justify the means, advertising a business.

So, here we are in 2013 and we have a new situation that is basically the same. This time the business is SUNGEVITY, a company that works in the solar industry installing and leasing solar power equipment. More precisely they want you to know what appears to be a for-profit arm of SUNGEVITY that does work which is, ostensibly, for the benefit of others. Launched in 2011, and known as sungevity .org, the .org appears to be a for-profit company that that offers incentives for non-profits to sign people up for solar power. It is basically an affiliate program, as noted by someone reporting on the launch of the .org in 2011:
The company today announced the launch of Sungevity .org, a platform where nonprofits or schools can earn money by funneling customers to Sungevity. Organizations and schools get $500 toward the systems for every lead that becomes a sale. -san francisco business times 25 jan 2011 
Things have changed since then, they can get $750 per sale these days. So that is what they do, how does that relate to the vote?

Well burning man, through the jack rabbit speaks, wants you to vote for Black Rock Solar to "win" $20,000 from SUNGEVITY. 



blurb from the JRS
HELP BLACK ROCK SOLAR WIN $20,000!  VOTE today and help Black Rock Solar win $20,000 through the Sungevity Gives Back campaign. It’s a simple online vote. The nonprofit with the most votes will win, so spread the word and let’s FREE THE SUN for those that need it the most. Thank you for your awesome support!

Well there you have it. Make of it what you will. It certainly looks that this is another example of the organizers of burning man bending their supposed principles, what amount to core values, for short term gain. 

Sure, it might be good for Joe Burner to get $10,000 from a bearing company to make art with bearings. It might be good for the non-profit Black Rock Solar to get $20,000 from a solar power company to install solar power somewhere. But what is the cost to the supposed principles of the organization? What is the cost to the community which is, perhaps, exploited by these businesses? Would people take a different view of this if it was BUDWEISER, or HOME DEPOT, or AT&T offering money and thus being advertised by the LLC?

Over the past few years the LLC has conducted many feats of mental gymnastics. It is now OK, apparently, that for-profit companies sell all-inclusive burning man packages. It is now OK, apparently, to sell photo shoots at burning man for $150,000, or, perhaps, more. It is now OK, apparently, to sell burning man, via a recent documentary, through multinationals like Sony, Comcast, Microsoft, and Apple. It is now OK, apparently, to advertise for-profit corporations on the official burning man communications channels.

This seems like a trend. They keep finding ways to benefit from creating, or finding, a gray area in their supposed principles and the community keeps on, for the most part, not caring. Odds are things aren't going to get better. They may be able to get the deals through as, for now, it is their say on what happens. But if they keep on saying OK, OK, OK to these commercial deals, sooner or later, the ones who matter in the community are going to say NO, NO, NO. 

The organizers, in recent times, have devoted 10,000 tickets to those attendees that make the event what it is by bringing the art and theme camps that people want to see. Nowadays that represents roughly 1 out of 7 burners. How much longer can this trend towards commercialism go on before 1 out of 7 burners is convinced they have been sold out? Burning Man organizers said that they faced a crisis when that 1 out of 7 was facing a lack of tickets in 2012. How much of a crisis would burning man face if that 1 out of 7 was convinced, through the mishandling of the trust that they offered the LLC, that being exploited wasn't in their interest anymore? Is $20,000 worth losing the trust of your customers? Is $150,000 worth losing the trust of your customers, and the community that you've built up? Is however much is gained from all of the recent media deals worth losing, as Larry Harvey likes to call it, all of the Social Capital that he has built up over the years? 

Sooner or later, if the LLC keeps on the route of allowing Burning Man to be, seemingly, exploited by various corporations, the community is going to balk. Sooner or later the community is going to turn in all of the social capital that Larry has piled up. Sooner or later people are going turn in their social capital and walk in the other direction with their actual capital. Larry speaks of burning man lasting a century. If him and the LLC keep putting short term gain ahead of long term stability, it won't make it.