When the 2011 Burn sold out, it was clear that Burning Man has reached another pivotal point in its history. “We knew we were in for a different kind of ride in 2012,” sayid Andie Grace, Burning Man’s Communications Manager.
The first transmutation happened in 1990, 4 years after its 1986 birth, when the Burn moved from Baker Beach in California to Black Rock desert in Nevada. The second was in 1995, when the 4,000 Burners that participated were charged an entry fee for the first time (it was $35 at the time). Last year, with over 60,000 participants, Burning Man tickets sold out for the first time sending waves of panic across the globe and skyrocketing black market ticket price to well over $1,000. Something had to give.
After weeks of deliberations, the organizers came up with a sophisticated lottery system, that was intended to turn the first-come first-served system into a “more moderate, less angst-ridden experience,” that should yield “the same kind of results”. Many were skeptical.
“The system may have worked,” apologized Andie in his recent blog post, “but the cultural outcome sure didn’t, and even though some of you saw that coming and said so, we didn’t, and for that we are sorry.”
Why did this happen? In his blog post, Andie describes several factors that contributed to a “perfect storm”:
We can now see that some of that happened simply because the perception of scarcity drove fear and action for all of us. It could be said we were quite naïve to think we had much control over a basic emotional response to scarcity. Game theory won out over good wishes.
But that’s not all that happened. In fact, there were plenty of ‘perfect storm’ influences afoot: 2011 had perfect weather, awesome art, and record attendance and visibility in the press. The ticket sell-out made headlines around the world. Social media use is higher than ever, so participants who had such a great time were more active than ever telling everyone all about it. One such participant shared a magical YouTube video he created in 2011 (“Oh The Places You’ll Go!” – see below) – the link hit the Huffington Post in January and went viral, eventually hitting 1.3 million views from all around the world; its visibility peaked right around the day that ticket registration opened. And, thinking we wanted to ensure a fair shake at the new system for Burners, we decided to leave registration open for two full weeks, just to be sure that any of you who were out on vacation or away from your computers for the announcement had plenty of time to get a fair shot.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go at Burning Man!
Based on Dr. Seuss’s final book before his death, this is a story about life’s ups and downs, told by the people of Burning Man 2011.
What happens next?
While The Burning Man organizers are working as quickly, as transparently and as honestly as they can to sort this situation out, there are two things for us to do: to contact our community and regional coordinators to figure out if there are any available tickets there, and to keep our eyes on the STEP program (Secure Ticket Exchange Program) for ways to get our tickets there.
However, the real drama is elsewhere. “If new Burners are the lifeblood,” says Andie, “the existing community of collaborators, projects, and creativity is the corpus of Burning Man. And now we’ve learned after a few days of polling and information gathering that many of the largest groups and projects (mutant vehicles, theme camps, volunteer groups, and other collaborations) planning to attend this year have secured only 25%-30%, on average, of the tickets they needed to commit to their projects. Even calculating that many tickets would eventually become available via the secondary market, the timing of that possible influx comes too late. These groups are telling us “This might be the year we skip Burning Man.” Plenty of significant groups have already moved forward with making alternate plans.”
A strange new reality indeed.
What does it mean (in my opinion)?
I heard many people say “I’m finally back home”, as they walked through the gates to the Playa. Many start counting the days to the next Burn as soon as they get home from the last one. Many leave their gear dusty for weeks and find it hard to let go.
It is not a place we are longing for, it is a way of being. Unlike the Default World, on the Playa we have the freedom to be who we are, to be fully self-expressed and to be fully accepted no matter what.
It is my belief that Burning Man and the ultimate growing pains it is now experiencing, is one of many phenomena that are about to converge into a very interesting 2012. As a vehicle for people to dance with their fantasies and break through their fears, it is a mind-expanding, heart-opening experience that promotes radical self-expression and denounces conformism and compliance.
Why would I want that?
Because it enables, encourages and empowers me to be me, you do be you, and us to be us.
Whether or not I will get tickets this year, it is my intention to be me all year long. When I leave the rejuvenating comfort of my temporary housing (camp or house or apartment or hotel room or cave), for which I am abundantly grateful, I will be responsibly equipped with the equipment required for my survival. My pink glasses to look through for when the storm hits, my water bottle to nourish me when the environment cannot and my costume to express how I view myself. I will carry with me kindness, generosity, smiles, hugs and good intentions, and look for opportunities to gift them to those in need. I will carry with me at all times the openness and means to receive what is constantly and generously being offered to me by the people, the circumstances and the Universe around me. I will look with amazement on the wonders that surround me, natural or man-made. I will leave behind those things, people and attachments that no longer serve me, and focus on the things that matter most to me. I will embrace my experience of being human with wide-eyed curiosity and child-like enthusiasm, and will constantly explore new ways of figuring out and expressing who I really am. I will love all who come my way, for they are part of me and I am part of them, and I will heal myself and them with that love.
Whatever solution will be found for distributing tickets, it is clear that the Burning Man spirit can no longer be contained by its current physical location. It has reached its critical mass and now has the opportunity to play a significant role in the global transformation that is happening all around us. To Burners, this presents a timely opportunity to step into our role as a Ambassadors of Love, unpack the Burning Man Spirit we’re usually saving for the Playa, and put it on now and forever.
As the dust storm settles, the most interesting question for me is where the Man will go from here. 26 years after its inception, The Man has spread millions of seeds around the world. I believe these seeds, some already waking up, will soon explode into full blossom. Local communities will create their own DIY Burning Man experience for their members and their awakening neighbors (e.g. The Burning Opera). It’s going to be one hell of a party.
The Man burns in 200 days.