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Month: August 2011

A Burner Lexicon: Decommodification

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, Burning Man, and Guest Bloggers

As part of decommodification, many Burners take extra steps to ensure that corporate logos do not appear in their temporary cities. Black Rock City, 2005. Photo by Surya Buchwald.

Decommodification, Our lives can feel fully commercialized — advertising surrounds us, from logos on the clothing we wear to advertisements so pervasive they even appear in bathroom stalls. Not only do people take part in a commercialized world, they sometimes even craft their identity from their shopping choices (Android vs. iPhone, anyone?). People are even encouraged to market their “personal brand.”

Subcultures and counterculture are especially susceptible to being co-opted and commercialized as marketers and coolhunters look for the latest youth trends to capitalize on in a process that has gone on since well before the 1960’s — according to the book Counterculture Through the Ages by R. U. Sirius and Dan Joy, the automotive industry borrowed the term “tripping out” for use in ad copy as early as 1967. Though commercialization does not necessarily destroy subcultures, it can interfere with participants’ ability to experience them with complete immediacy.

Thus far, the Burning Man community has largely resisted commercialization through a dedication to the principle of decommodification, a dedication that it acts on through both social and legal means. Socially, Burners work to hide logos on rented trucks and enforce the commerce free, gift economy nature of their event through education and peer pressure. Legally, the BMORG (and similar regional organizers) enforce decommodification by carefully policing the use of logo, name, and even photos from the events. This has included successful lawsuits against groups like Girls Gone Wild, who would have exploited female participants for profit. Ideally, Burners use this increased awareness to make more knowing choices when they return to the commercially saturated default world.

In 2007 the BMORG made the controversial decision to allow certain environmental organizations to display their products in a special pavilion near the effigy as part of that year’s Green Man theme. It was that same year that Paul Addis made an even more controversial attempt to burn the effigy early, at least partly in protest to the weight given to this corporate logo, an act for which he was charged with felony arson.

The Lexicographer has been soliciting opinions from other thoughtful Burners on the Ten Principles. Below you will find another opinion, but more are still welcomed. Use the contact information at the top to send your thoughts.

For more entries in A Burner Lexicon, visit

A Burner Lexicon: Gifting

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, and Burning Man

Gifting takes many forms including the sharing of food. Black Rock City, 2007. Photo by Bill Dimmick.

Gifting, The Burner Principles were created relatively recently as an attempt to share the core values of the Burn community as it grew beyond That Thing in the Desert to encompass an increasing number of regional events. Like the principles themselves, the concept of a gift economy is a relative newcomer to Black Rock City. Though conventional commerce has been strictly limited since the old days, there was one time when barter was commonplace. This practice has since fallen out of favor, in part due to encouragement from the BMORG who were facing the possibility that the default world would impose itself on the playa through sales tax and other legal entanglements.

Virgins often expend much effort worrying about what gifts they will offer the community. Although swag is welcomed, especially items imprinted with the Burning Man logo, the best gifts are those which arise organically in the moment when one participant perceives a need they can satisfy. Gifts are not always lasting objects — food, drink, and physical labor are just as common. When Burners help build an effigy or erect a shade structure they are giving a gift; so is anyone giving rides on their mutant vehicle or doing a Ranger or Greeter shift. The gift economy is the reason the playa provides, serendipitously helping Burners find what they need when they need it.

This principle extends to a spirit of generosity found throughout the lives of Burners, reminding them to share what they have and to ask when they are lacking. Despite a limited number of paid employees, Burning Man would not exist without its volunteers and most regionals remain entirely based on volunteer labor. Though most will go far to help those in need, Burners who have accumulated the most whuffie tend to receive the most assistance in reality camp.

See also: Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, Decommodification.

Some of the best gifts are simple and ephemeral — the lexicographer will never forget the hot English muffin pizza he was gifted at just the right moment in 2004.

A Burner Lexicon has been soliciting opinions from other thoughtful Burners on the Ten Principles. Below you will find another opinion, but more are still welcomed. Use the contact information at the top to send your thoughts.

Going to Burning Man? The lexicographer is missing out this year, so please send him new words and catch phrases when you return from the playa.

For more entries in A Burner Lexicon, visit