Burning Man's ticket sales have always been both rapacious and stultifyingly, comically incompetent, but I see that this year they have finally learned a few things and gone full TicketMaster. Slow clap.
Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.
I've never been, but with each passing day, I understand why Paul Addis burned the corporate symbol.
(Shortly after, I auditioned for one of his plays not knowing who he was or what he'd done. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.)
'Burning Man, [...] the the most enduring countercultural phenomenon of this era' and '$2500 non-refundable deposit to (not) ensure a ticket' certainly brings a whole new meaning to 'countercultural'. Perhaps what they mean 'countercultural' as in 'I am very rich and I am quite happy to do unbounded damage to any culture whatsoever if it is momentarily convenient to me'? The Elon Musk definition, I suppose.
That SFBG description was commenting on the festival's public status, not its quality; like how the The Simpsonw and SNL are two of the longest-running and "most important" shows in tv history, but neither has had any genuine cultural relevance for decades. Hell, the Oscars are seen as the paramount (no pun intended) of awards ceremonies, despite the fact that even their pre-pandemic ratings were already in the shitter.
I'm willing to give BM's founders the benefit of the doubt when they say the it started as just a "Wouldn't it be cool if we went out to desert to get high, paint rocks, and burn an effigy?" idea. But that was 1986. And the laws of capitalism dictate that everything can and will be commodified.
As someone born 'n raised in SF, I can't pretend to be surprised at Burning Man's swan-dive into greedy self-parody any more than I would for Whole Foods now being repped by
Trump-loving libertarians who gladly sold the chain to Amazon, or Comcast and MAGA hats (Log Cabin) having official booths at (pre-pandemic) PRIDE.
that i've never understood which culture burning-man is counter to says i've been in tech too long. counter to those without disposable income and free time?
So, partly this is probably 'grumpy-old-man-fings-ain't-what-they-used-to-be-cor' but I think there's some kind of process by which things which might once have been (counter-)cultural just get turned int parodies of themselves by rich people. I can remember going to a bunch of Edinburgh fringe shows in 1990-ish (I lived there) for ticket prices which were, maybe £2? They were cheap enough that unemployed me could save up and maybe go to a couple a day for the few weeks of the fringe. Pretty sure the modern equivalent of me then couldn't do that now, not even close.
I suppose this is just gentrification: rich people move in and pretend to be as cool as the poor people they displaced were.
And I'm sitting here looking at my beautifully brassed camera, which I bought partly because it was beautifully brassed and realising that I am, in fact, rich people. (OK not quite: it was very cheap indeed, but ...)
It's simpler than that, really: the "counter"-culture is only "counter" as it relates to a specific time and place; much the same way "modern art" is a term that refers to art that start in the 18-fuckin'-60s.
I'm reminded of that episode of Coupling when Labour-loving Betty is told by right-of-centre Patrick that she (a left-leaning Brit in the early-2000s) was now "culture" and that he, logically, would be considered counter-culture. (Having never been to the UK, I can't speak to the veracity of that claim - I'm just thinking of the first thing to come to mind.)
Hell, a few years ago, a then-colleague of mine had the biggest fucking fit when I mentioned that young people don't go to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show anymore - they see Tommy Wiseau's The Room (at least, they did for most of the past decade). That wasn't me taking shots at Rocky Horror - which I love dearly - but pointing out how Millennials, GenY, & whomeever consider it a film for/from an older generation; even if the youngsters who do connect with it.
So, they found their own flick to quote and heckle... which is kinda the point of Rocky Horror having its own cult. (My cry-baby former colleague was acting as if I wanted to burn down every cinema still showing Rocky Horror at midnight.)
TL;DR: My long-winded point is this: you can't think of culture or counter-culture as something definitive (like "The Bronze Age") because culture, by its very definition, is always evolving. And capitalism will always find a way to sell something: Rocky Horror, Eraserhead, and El Topo created the "midnight movie", now every Hollywood blockbuster premieres at midnight (or did pre-pandemic). Every time someone tries to revert back to an earlier evolutionary cultural state, it fails - you wind up with MAGA... or Aaron Sorkin bitching that the US is no longer the great country that MEN made it to be.
Burning Man started as an SF beach bonfire with friends that has (like Coachella and other fests) become corporate-sponsored pageantry. C'est la vie. What's next?
I agree with that (I haven't even seen The Room ... though I have seen the film about it in a cinema (the Prince Charles) which almost certainly did do a lot of spoon-throwing showings of it). But so far as I was making any coherent point (which may not be far) I think it was not quite the same.
Take, I dunno, people playing blues-influenced rock music. Once that was actually an innovative and interesting thing to do. Now it can be really two different things:
- if you see see someone doing that in a crappy pub, it's likely just a bit boring now because there probably just is not that much to say in that area that hasn't now already been said;
- if you go and see the Rolling Stones then it's also probably a bit boring, but you're also part of some vast machine built of money which has eaten anything that was once interesting about that band, and given what I imagine tickets to gigs like that cost you're probably quite an active part of it.
So I think there are two slightly different things that happen: things just move on and what was new becomes old; but also money just actively comes in and destroys everything good about ... anything, maybe. If you can afford a Leica out of discretionary money you can't be a good photographer because money has eaten your soul (you might still be able to be if you're buying it as a business expense because if what only it will do ... though probably it is a long time since there was something only it will do now.)
So, obviously that's not some great new insight except perhaps to me.
Burning Man where the hipsters meet the grifters
Sounds like this year they'll be lighting The Man on Fyre
and every third one is a cop