Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why I have no Problem with "Plug and Play" camps at Burning Man

I'll start out by saying the camp I stayed in this year was NOT a plug and play (PNP) or turnkey camp.   Like many Burning man camps we had some folks who rented RVs and had even some that had those RVs delivered onto the Playa and picked up later.  But everyone in our camp was committed to doing the work themselves, helped with meals, brought and gave away booze, and volunteered for our open bar welcoming everyone on the playa into our lounge.

If you've ever attended Burning Man you know that there are all kinds of derogatory terms for people who don't participate in the "correct way".  It's one thing to be called a "sparkle pony" [people who don't help out around camp and spend all their time primping (usually young women)].  But a sparkle pony doesn't elicit nearly the venom among hardcore burners as a PNP (Plug and Play) AKA Turnkey camp. 

A Turnkey camp is one which provides many of the basics needed on the playa.  This means RVs, transportation, meals, bikes, and in some cases even costumes or pretty girls.  Organizers of such camps (sherpas) are reviled for making a profit or working for tickets and money.  Attendees of the camps are reviled for being "tourists" and not participating or giving back.  Turnkey camps also have a reputation of being exclusive, which violates one of the 10 principals of burning man (radical inclusion).  This may be because some of the PNP campers have some level of celebrity or notoriety, but the general perception is they have a closed camp because they are simply rich or snobbish.  A PNP camp isn't necessarily an exclusive or closed camp, but that's sometimes true.  A closed camp is one in which RV's are parked in a box formation, creating a private central plaza and discouraging others from just walking in.  Since these camps are often placed on the outer rim of the city (far away from the busy esplanade where all the action is) I've wondered why anyone cares.  What if those RV spots were simply empty?  Why does the very existence of  a few fancy RVs piss burners off so much?  There are plenty of other camps to visit, plenty of art to see.  Those RVs way on the outskirts of the action aren't hurting anyone. I think the hidden reason these camps are hated is simply class envy.  It bothers the average human to work hard and receive less than the next guy.

You see, going to burning man is HARD.  It is doubly hard for fly-in or international participants because finding businesses willing to rent cars or RVs to go out onto the dusty Playa is challenging.  Camping at Burning man is dirty, gritty and a lot of work.  You must bring your own food, water, booze and everything else you need to survive (radical self reliance) and commit to haul the garbage back out.  It is the hardest "vacation" you will ever take.  In addition, participation is a key principal - which means everyone who comes should give back in some way.  That could be small gifts, running a bar, volunteering for the organization or in thousands of other ways.  Everywhere else in the world people welcome "tourists" with open arms.  But at Burning Man a "tourist" who comes just to check out the scene and watch the craziness is considered undesirable.  Commercial enterprise is not allowed (with few rare exceptions such as coffee, ice, sewage, fuel etc).  This principal goes so far that many people tape off logos on the side of their U-haul trailers so there are no commercial logos displayed.

In a way, the prejudice against plug and play camps is a prejudice against international and fly-in travelers.  If you're flying in from Germany the logistics of getting an RV, transportation to the black rock desert, buying bikes, food, water and then cleaning the mess up afterwards are daunting.  Not to mention expensive.  So when Oregon, Washington, California, and Nevada residents look down their nose at people who organize professional camps what they have to remember is that WE have the advantage of being able to take our own vehicles to burning man by driving.  People further away simply don't have that option.  Looked at from this perspective, we see that burners angry at plug and plays are actually being exclusionary themselves.  They are favoring a LACK of diversity both geographically and economically.  The truth is wealthy people simply piss burners off because most of them aren't wealthy.  Radical exclusion of the rich is hardly in the burning man spirit.

Facebook is ablaze with angry burners who resent these "tourists".  How DARE they come when they don't put the year round work to create art or theme camps?  This anger baffles me because I happen to know these camps donate a lot of money to art on the playa.  In fact many of them pay above par for their tickets.  That money flows into the Burning Man Art donation program and into other things that make the festival grow.  I know this because my camp donated over $20,000 above the cost of our tickets this year to art (in addition to the free chill space, food, and booze we gave away).  The true "plug and plays" donated far more.  Yesterday a guy suggested that all PNP camps be located at 7:30 and P street (the outer ring is L street - there is currently no P street).  My response is simply that the turnkey camps are already placed between K and L and already treated as second class citizens.  You want to create non-existent streets to put them even farther out?  You want to further enable class warfare? That's not radical inclusion and it's mean spirited.  Here's an idea:  Place them further in as long as they agree to be open.

One role for BMORG would be to assign a "playa coach" to each placement team.  When the playa coach visit camps and encounters a "velvet rope" they sit down with the camp leads and have an educational conversation with them, explaining things.   In the same way they are being exclusionary towards burners BMORG might have to be exclusionary toward THEM next year. A gentle reminder should be all it takes.

Angry Burners hear me.  All of us are only able to attend burning man because we have jobs.  Burning man is an opulent self-indulgent party in the desert. Yes, YOU spent your chilly February night after work welding an art car.  While you did that a busy google exec stayed up fretting about company profitability and the decisions he made created millions in wealth leading to employment for thousands.  Some of those thousands built the art out there.While YOU attended a preburn build party a German business man worked a 14 hour day to finance his next venture and employ 400 people.  While YOU packed your Subaru the weekend before the burn Anne Hathaway shot film until she paid someone to pack her costumes for her.  These folks and the people who help them are making a contribution to both our society and to burning man that is just as valid as yours.  Their contribution to art on the playa probably exceeds yours.

A tale of two burners:  A young burner hitchhikes to Gerlach and holds a sign along the side of the road saying "Need a miracle" and when finally a generous sole gives him a ticket he hitches into BM with a backpack and a tent.  He spends the rest of the week walking around mooching meals and drinks and gawking at art.  There are a LOT of such individuals.  We've all seen them.  Yet no one is angry at this lonely tent camper, even when he passes out in the dust in their chill space because he's a friendly hippie type that greets everyone with a hug and a vacuous grin and never spends too long in one place.  And if this young burner happens to be an attractive female? OMG she encounters little animosity anywhere!  Now imagine a second burner:  a successful business exec from Europe who rents an RV in a PNP for $10K.  He is automatically labeled a tourist dickhead.  Even if he volunteers for stints in the camps open bar or makes cheese sandwiches or makes donations to art.  Doesn't matter.

Stop hating on the turnkey camps.  It takes all of us to make Burning Man a success.  They are not ruining Burning Man!  They are helping and breeding new generations of aficionados.  Next year some of those wealthy tourists you hate so much will be the ones funding and building the camp next to you.  Do you know what a zoo it is when people find out where Mark Zuckerberg or Anne Hathaway are camped?  Talk about mess up yer burn.  Having your bike stolen is nothing compared to having thousands of people strolling through camp gawking at you. The mere rumor of celebrity causes buzz. Pretend those diesel pushers out on K street are not even there and ask yourself why you really care?


  1. Darren McBride why can't Anne Hathaway's camp gift something to the Playa? "Someone there wrote a $20k check" doesn't cut it, sorry. Why not have a bar and give out free drinks? Why not have an interactive art piece at the camp? Why not just come by themselves and stay in an RV and keep it low key, instead of an organized Exclusion camp? Why not practice Radical Self Reliance, Participation, Communal Effort, and Civic Responsibility?
    If celebrities don't want to be recognized (and let's face it, many of them do, that's why they chose that career path) Burning Man makes it very easy for them to disguise themselves with masks and costumes - even cheap dust masks and goggles from Home Depot would work fine.
    I think one celebrity doing it right is Rosario Dawson. Veteran Burner, she designed and executed an amusing art project. If they're so cool that they need to hide out and only hang out in wrist-band only areas, then fuck them, let them go to one of the many Hollywood soirees that we're not invited to. A party about participation and radical inclusion is not the right community for them to try to join.

    1. Good points, I believe they and she probably did. Another way to get across what I'm saying is if a person donated a pile of cash to help build "embrace" that everyone on the playa loves but then that person pays to attend an expensive PNP and stays in their RV the whole time and lets sherpas cook dinner have they made a valid contribution? If embrace hadn't been built for lacks of funds or the artists are massively out of pocket so they never build another project isn't the playa poorer as a whole?

  2. Darren ...why don't you publish your camp accounts ? Then we'll know if you're PnP or not. I think you did a good job with Deoxidised considering you've only been to the playa a couple of times or so. But I also recall that your 'public' facilities were only open for just a few days and only for a couple of hours, unlike many of your neighbor camps. And you wanna know why people are pissed at RV fortress camps like the no-name camp at 3.15 and K where Will Smith stayed this year? It's because they are totally exclusionary, they tell visitors to f** off and contribute nothing to their neighborhood or to playa ambience. I don't think you actually appreciate that some people camp independently in these outlying areas to create a neighborhood community. That might be something else that you put into practice in future years?

    1. I wasn't responsible for the camp fees but any money left will be plowed back into next year I'm told. We could have done better at keeping the bar staffed for sure. Too many virgins wanting to experience the playa and not enough volunteers to hang out at on the ass end of K street. Lessons learned for next year.

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  4. ^ mr. mcbride edited this piece....originally, he called anyone who disagreed with his point of view a "Mouth Breather", guess he decided that was too douchey, even for him...

  5. Simon, When I'm wrong or a jerk I try admit I was a jerk and apologize. I corrected my text when I realized I'd been an ass. For the record I did not call anyone who disagreed with my point of view a mouth breather. Nor did I imply all burners are mouth breathers. The blog is an opinion piece intended to provoke thought. If BMORG outlaws PNPs it doesn't affect me. I believe that "only fools are positive" and try to consider opposing views without name calling. I'm Sorry I offended you.