Unrest At Burning Man: "Handcrafted, Artisanal Popsicles" A Bridge Too Far

Said popsicles, bending over backward for Leonardo DiCaprio, paid "mistresses of merriment," and wrist-band only bars are not what Burning Man is about (says, among others, an actual clown quoted for this story).
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Burning Man, as most of you probably know at this point, is a festival that takes place in Black Rock Desert in Nevada for a week over Labor Day every year, where attendees, free from the shackles of a judgemental society, engage in "radical self-expression." In the past, many a tech investor attended the event, and they still do, along with finance people, but in the last number of years they've apparently become tacky assholes about the whole thing. Spending thousands of dollars on costumes that involve "a bright electric blue tutu, a headdress, goggles and an astronaut jumpsuit." Hiring teams of "sherpas" to do their bidding for them, like butlers. ("Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you.") Erecting private camps personal chefs. There have been grumblings about the commercial element introduced by the attendees who bunk at "Billionaires’ Row" for some time now. The straw that broke the camel's back, though, according to a new report by Bloomberg's Felix Gillete, came last summer courtesy of Foresite Capital CEO and Burning Man Project board member Jim Tananbaum.

Tananbaum's "aesthetically novel, ecologically conscious, exceedingly comfortable" camp, for which he charged $16,500 per person, caused furor and fighting within the community, and has made people who once looked forward to dancing alone in the middle of the desert wearing a loin-cloth and Scarface mask and banging on a sieve filled with glitter as only a person on a three-day acid trip can wonder if the original Burning Man would even recognize the Burning Man of today. At Bloomberg, you can read about the whole affair. These are our favorite, most feel-like-you're-there parts:

  • "For 2014, Tananbaum wanted a camp that was aesthetically novel, ecologically conscious, and exceedingly comfortable. In the spring he and his team sent out a detailed invitation, enticing potential guests with an early vision of the camp, named Caravancicle."
  • "Amenities would include a central lounge housed in a geodesic dome, private showers and toilets, solar panels, wireless Internet, and a 24-hour bar."
  • "Guests could count on a 'full-service' staff, who would among other things help create 'handcrafted, artisanal popsicles' to offer passers-by."
  • "Tensions between the two tribes were high. The staff had been told ahead of time that Leonardo DiCaprio would be staying at the camp. The expected presence of a Hollywood celebrity heightened the pressure."
  • "Many of the wealthy guests arrived on private planes, tired and ready to be pampered, only to find a harried, semi-professional staff struggling to meet their expectations.
  • "The only employees who appeared to be enjoying themselves, Lillie wrote, were the attractive models, a posse dubbed the 'mistresses of merriment,' who had traveled from L.A. ostensibly to flirt with and help entertain the male guests.
  • A petition on Change.org called for Burning Man’s founders to put an end to the scourge of 'commodification camps' and for Tananbaum to resign from the board."
  • "See you in the dust, Jimbo. Can’t wait to meet you."
  • "Tex Allen, a performance artist in the Bay Area who’s worn a clown nose in public every day for the past four years, says this episode highlights growing discontent with camps like Caravancicle."

The Billionaires at Burning Man [Bloomberg]

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