11/16/2013

Larry Harvey Misses the Mark on Commerce

chess set and table at a burning man theme camp
that seems like a fun game

In a recent post on the official Burning Man blog Larry Harvey speaks about commerce as it relates to the event. Sadly, for us, when Larry speaks about it he goes on about something that nobody really gives a shit about: coffee in center camp. He himself, and others, have gone over that tired story a zillion times by now, and nobody is really too concerned about it at this point in time.

Larry Harvey missed the mark. What he should have been shooting for is the stuff people have actually been discussing in the recent past. For example, why isn't he mentioning the so-called Plug-N-Play for-profit camps that sell all inclusive burning man experiences? Why didn't he mention the deals like the $150,000 site fee that VOGUE was charged to make photographs at the event? Why didn't he discuss the much hyped film (posted about 9 times in Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter) that has Burning Man in bed with multinationals such as Microsoft, Google, Sony, Comcast and Time Warner?

In a way, Larry did speak about these things, by totally brushing it off and denying that the LLC would ever do anything to commodify the burn: 
... the most important questions to consider are not those that are most frequently asked: will the Burning Man ethos be absorbed and commodified, exploited by the so-called mainstream; will the identity that we’ve achieved together be perverted into just another branding device? The answer to these questions is a simple and emphatic no! The Project and our regional contacts diligently work to prevent this. -larry harvey
Why aren't the most important questions the ones that people ask about the most? And, Larry, how can you reject those real concerns, the ones that people frequently ask about, with a simple "no" when you know that nobody, in comparison, really gives a shit about you selling coffee? Isn't it obvious that the mere fact that these are the most frequently asked questions evidence enough that the community doesn't agree with you when you say "no" to the question of whether Burning Man is being exploited, perverted, and commodified?

Midway through the post on the blog Larry calls in the help of someone who is a Regional Contact to help make some point. It seems like when he does this the point is to show that the average Joe gets it, that some commerce is required in this Burning Man world. But the Regional Contact has the same problem as Larry. They both missed the mark. It is not surprising that the regional contact person missed the mark, considering that their job is to basically tow the company line, to expand the brand. He spews stuff much along the same lines as Larry, ignoring the real questions that people are asking these days:
Let community and commerce do their thing freely and naturally within their own contexts. When they exist in an organic rather than a corrupt or artificial relationship, they’ll naturally benefit each other. -"Zay"
So what we have in the post by Larry is, basically, 2800 words about coffee and how you need to buy stuff, like tickets, to go to Burning Man, which are issues that nobody really gives a shit about right now, and roughly 60 words about the actual important issues that people are concerned about right now. The issues that people are concerned about get brushed off and mostly ignored, totally dwarfed by flowery language justifying things that people have not really discussed passionately within the community for ages.

Again, Larry Harvey missed the mark. Whether he was aiming to justify the Plug-N-Plays, or the for-profit media whoring that the LLC benefits from or not is unclear. What is clear is that he had the opportunity to address those concern in similar 2800 word fashion, but he didn't. 

It may be really easy for Mr. Harvey to brush off the pressing concerns of the community with a simple "no" and a glance that says "trust me", but the questions that he says are most asked won't be going away. People will continue to ask these questions. These questions will continue to be the focus of the ire of many in the community until they are addressed or it seems that all hope is lost. 

Long after people have relented on the issue of coffee the LLC still has yet to truly and clearly speak about its position on those troubling and most frequently asked questions. The LLC chooses to speak about coffee instead of about the commercial exploitation of our community and the perversion of the supposed values that represent a so-called "shared ethos" between us and the LLC. They speak about how our community can change the world and about how they seek to foster a global movement while they are simultaneously unable to speak about the pressing issues that face their adherents. The fact that they choose not to speak in depth about the issues of commerce that face our community today shows that they are either ignorant, incapable of seeing what is important to the community, or simply ignoring the concerns. 

For a group that considers themselves indispensable to the community and the event the LLC certainly doesn't seem to get what some in the community want. People asking those most frequently asked questions don't want political flowery bullshit which beats around the bush and placates those who just want to party. People want, from the LLC, honest admissions about their intentions, actions, goals, and plans as they relate to the commercial exploitation of the brand and the event of Burning Man. Anything less than that misses the mark.