Violence at Burning Man 2016 may seem out of character for the desert arts festival, but, then again, so does White Ocean — the “plug and play” camp site that was vandalized there last week.
Upset about White Ocean’s presence, groups of Burning Man attendees, or “burners,” waged an assault of vandalism against the resort-like property. Tanks containing 200 gallons of potable water were slashed open, and doors leading into the shelter’s covered spaces were glued shut. Heaps of food went to waste as electrical cords were cut, knocking out refrigeration units.
— WeatherNation (@WeatherNation) September 6, 2016
In a statement to Facebook, White Ocean expressed disbelief that such a thing could happen at “OUR Burning Man utopia,” but for many who have frequented the desert gathering since its early days — the backlash is no surprise. One higher-up didn’t even feign surprise at the vandalism, essentially telling the luxury property that they had been targeted because they are “not welcoming.”
“This year has been quite the challenge for our camp. We have felt like we’ve been sabotaged from every angle, but last night’s chain of events, while we were all out enjoying our beautiful home, was an absolute and definitive confirmation that some feel we are not deserving of Burning Man.”
White Ocean belongs to a class of “concierge” camps that emerged long before 2016. In fact, following the festival two years ago, Burning Man released an official statement countering claims that the festival had sold out to such groups. As it turns out, many of them are stationed outside the boundaries of Black Rock City and procure their own permits from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Peter and I want to do Burning Man again! What a blast it was… https://t.co/pV5TWe8GRl
— David Kuefler (@davidkuefler) August 27, 2016
While Burning Man does allow some such groups that make a sizable contribution to the experience to operate, it rejects commodifying. It’s not sure if the organizers would include White Ocean in this category.
“Advertising and selling the Burning Man experience is absolutely not okay. A camp that is truly commercial in nature, meaning that it seeks to reap financial gain, publicly advertises for customers and does not contribute to the greater community, is not in line with Burning Man’s principles. Further, bringing a VIP lifestyle experience — with velvet ropes and wristbands — introduces an element of exclusivity into a culture that values inclusion, and those that opt in to these kinds of camps miss out on the transformative power of the event.”
I forgot Twitter doesn’t know what Burning Man is: https://t.co/iUYxz4PtOR
— paulina (@paaulaa_xo) September 6, 2016
Rejecting this label, White Oceans counters that it has sought to be inclusive toward others in the festival who do not pay to enter its camps — hosting hours of free music and even feeding Burning Man attendees who aren’t paying to stay there. Some who were members of the audience at the free shows agreed, such as Denise Johnson of Portland, Oregon, who told Reno Gazette-Journal that she noticed no such elitist attitude.
“I didn’t get any kind of holier-than-thou vibe. The shows I went to were chill and accepting. I don’t think vandalism is acceptable no matter what they did.”
While many were shocked at the vandalism, others responded to White Ocean’s teary-eyed response with disdain. Some even referred to the group as a member of the “parasite class” of Burning Man, celebrities and Silicon Valley millionaires who have carved out a high-end market in what was meant to be a currency-less marketplace. One commenter said the push back against them was well-deserved.
“Your misguided attempt to be the big unifiers of people, love and music failed miserably… Clearly some things cannot be bought! Thank God for the rest of us and the occasional reckoning of the angry mob!…. Your spirit of exclusivity and decadence is exactly why the world, outside of your luxury camp is so f***ed today… You got what you deserved and now you want to cry like the victims!! Case closed!”
— Electric Family™ (@ElectricFamily) September 5, 2016
Both White Ocean and the act of vandalism at Burning Man 2016 contrast sharply with its kick-off event 30 years ago on Baker’s Beach in San Francisco. Then an informal meeting of friends who lit a massive wooden sculpture aflame, it mutated into an arts festival when it landed in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in 1990. Six years later, the festival was open to the public, eventually morphing into a grid-based gathering amassing nearly 70,000 people every year.
[Image via LeStudio/Shuttershock]