Burning Man Corporate Controversy – Selling Out or Evolving?

bman.jpgThe bulk of San Francisco’s creative social scene revolves around the monumental once-a-year event known as Burning Man. This year, Burning Man will have a “Green” theme which expands their already strong environmental policies to try to become a closed-loop event. Nonetheless, there is also great controversy this year, as Burning Man will feature a “worlds fair of clean tech” wherein companies have been invited to show off their wares.
Since its inception has been explicitly non-commercial in spirit (commerce of most kinds is banned at the event, logos banished, and a ‘gift economy’ proclaimed) so the invitation to corporations has many long-time burners seeing red.
The fear is that this act will be quite literally a death blow for the event – that corporate interests are so inherently contradictory to the philosophy of Burning Man that they simply can’t co-exist. On the other hand, with a logo ban still in effect, and companies required to turn over their products to artists who will have free reign over how and where the items are displayed, perhaps it’s not that big a deal and it’s the corporations that will really be changing for the better – or, more specifically, ideas that will be changing and evolving for the better into new and different kinds of companies.
Here’s what Money Magazine says. and here are two discussions about it [1][2] that take a different view.

On another note, I think the Green Man theme is not without irony. Burning Man always had a “leave no trace” policy which is a very green philosophy, but at the same time, Burning Man is about indulgant celebration and the dramatic banishment of past troubles, and involves the burning of a huge amount of fossil fuels and other material… much like a Nascar event for a more erudite demographic. The point has never been conservation, but rather momentary excess, the temporary freedom to completely release one’s sensibilities, inhibitions, and cares. I think that’s a good thing, and it would be a shame to lose track of it.
Anyway, what do you think? Is this remotely a big deal at all? Are you a burner who’s also in business? Leave your thoughts in the comments…

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

5 responses

  1. I am a burner and I also run my own business. I also produce a weekly podcast called BURNcast, about the event and the culture of Burning Man which is available free to download from iTunes.
    I had an opportunity to talk to the journalist who wrote the controversial article that you cited from you Money Magazine link. You may be interested in getting his take by listening to “BURNcast #50 – Chris Taylor of Business 2.0 Magazine”.
    As a business person, I find the policy of disallowing any logos with the exception of the Burning Man logo to be ludicrous. It is fails to be “radically inclusive” to the BMorg’s invited guests. This is a flagrant violation of one of the tenets of the events “10 Principles” known as “radical inclusivity”.
    As a burner‚Ñ¢, I take issue with the fact that this development is in direct conflict with another tenet of the “10 Principles” called “Decommodification”.
    I think that the way the Burning Man Organization is handling the controversy is a big deal, as you put it, Nick. Instead of handling the dialogue that ensued from this controversy, members of the BMorg wish to engage in a monologue by coming on Tribe.net, a third party social network that is not their own. In so doing, they make declarations, announcements and even antagonizing members on the thread by being “burnier than thou” to which I say “be humble, you don’t know shit.”
    The BMorg has been accused in another hot thread on Tribe.net as being “unresponsive, non-transparent, and fundamentally undemocratic” and I would have to agree with that. My tolerance for the BMorg’s bullshit is negative point five.

  2. I think they are going to destroy the event from the inside out….Its a sad thing to invite corprations to such a respected buutiful commerce free event.

  3. Burning Man as an event and as a social experiment is no doubt taking a turn. Perhaps it’s the “right” direction, in the eyes of some, but clearly not for all. Regardless, Burning Man has always been an event that is evolving (read the time line on Burning Man website), and I believe the invitation to clean tech companies is just part of that process.
    Personally, I am really excited to see where “radical self expression” and “radical self reliance” intersect with this so-called world’s fair of clean tech on the playa. It appears that an emphasis has shifted just slightly from art to education. As an MBA and a burner, I’m all for it. I really doubt that demonstrating a few clean tech products is going to take anything away from the spirited ethos of BRC. Rather, participants get to engage these products and learn first hand what alternatives are available out there.
    Speaking of Burning Man tenets…BURNcast: when BMorg came up with the concept of being radically inclusive, I doubt that they were talking about logos. (And as Nick pointed out, the “clean tech fair” will remain logo free). The tenet actually reads: “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” So one way to look at it is the invitation to these companies was actually abiding by the tenet, not violating it.

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