Burning Man prides itself on its thriving year-round culture. It is not a festival with attendees that leave (without a trace) and then forget about their week-long desert experience until the following summer. Burning Man is engrained in our souls – thus the reason we make our annual pilgrimage to Black Rock Desert and roll in the dust year after year. It is an unforgettable experience, to say the least. Its Principles permeate into your psyche and spill over into everyday life, whether you want them to or not.
One of the primary themes is decommodification and gifting. The lack of commerce is a key cornerstone in the grand social experiment that is the Burn. No monies. The holy city of Black Rock runs on hugs and schwag. This is also one of the major “Default World” culture shock factors – once you step foot off the playa and retreat back to your ordinary existence, you’re thrown back into the system of paper bills and plastic cards.
And how do we, the Burners, sustain our livelihood when it boils down to the brass tax? We scrape by, we struggle. We wait tables, grinning sheepishly as we refill coffee mugs. We curl up in cubicles and daydream of dust. We freelance, we telecommute. We fulfill contracts and meet quotas.
But is there a way to allow the essence of Burning Man to so thoroughly consume us that we are able to cross boundaries and dimensions and somehow bring that playa magic into our workplace? Can we take the sacred Principle of Radical Self-Reliance and turn a profit on it? Can we, the Burners, fund our playa experience with off-site playa businesses? Does that break all the rules? Will that taint Burning Man, if we utilize the playa as a catalyst for “Default World” business? Earning filthy money that we all rely on and need to get to Black Rock – through a Burner business?
This raving madman from Boulder, Colorado named Dr. Klear is attempting to do just this. He claims his street-cred as an ex-DPW and alleged “Media Mecca Volunteer.” Dr. Klear brings to light the glaring problem that, given the addictive nature of Burning Man, we all must go back year after year. Drawn like a moth to the flame, the Burners can literally not help themselves. They simply must return to the playa. And they will do almost anything during the rest of the year to get by, to survive, – and to get back Home. But a lot of us, the Burners, we often scramble in the “off season” to make ends meet. Our community gives back to us through music and parties and decompressions and art fundraisers and regional burns, but how does our community help us (*gasp*) financially?
The great Burners of the world – the urban legends, the Big Foots and the Loch Ness monsters – they’re out there. The Google CEOs, the PayPal founders, the Couch Surfing entrepreneurs: the fabled, invisible Burners that pave the way for the others. The ones who emanate success and glory and achievement. Dr. Klear claims that it is these folks who are fueling the fire here. They are supposedly in favor of establishing a “Burner Business,” a model of a company that embraces the Principles and relies on its community for support.
But many of us are lowly artists. We write and paint and seek part-time work to fund our passions. We make music and art, but we have to settle for menial jobs to pay the bills. Our time isn’t worth much more than minimum wage – but it is worth so much more than that. How do we, the Burners, maintain? How can we support this cause? Do we support this cause?
Dr. Klear claims that with his new product, “Dr. Klear’s Lung Cleaner,” that a “Burner business” will be born. Dr. Klear will be vigorously promoting his Lung Cleaner (“a steam room in your pocket”) to the Denver-Boulder Burner community and the general public with an aggressive advertising campaign that is greatly influenced by “V for Vendetta.” His upcoming military-themed product launch party will be featuring performances by the local circus arts collective and debuting their scandalous and sexy Lung Cleaner infomercial. Apparently, Dr. Klear’s efforts are being supported by the Black Rock Best Business Bureau. Dr. Klear will also apparently be water-boarding a clown at this event.
Is this attempt at playa commodification antithetical to our basic Principles as Burners? Is this Dr. Klear whoring out Burning Man and using it as a trademark to hawk Lung Cleaners to an unsuspecting community of accepting hippies and harlots? Are we falling for it? This guy throws a warehouse party and gives some of the profits to playa-based charities and all of a sudden, we throw our Principles to the wind and jump on board? Where are the rest of the profits going? This guy uses some Burner lingo and controversial advertising and all of a sudden, a “Burner Business” is born? Is it all a bunch of bullshit?
Or is this faceless Dr. Klear a true revolutionary? Will this Lung Cleaner be breaking down boundaries between the playa and the default? Money, honey: we all need it, it’s true. Can we use the Burning Man Principles to profit? Just typing those words in the same sentence makes my fingertips tingle.
What will become of the Lung Cleaner? Will a little eucalyptus oil and salt water cleanse our lungs of the dust? Will money grow on trees? We shall see… The story of Dr. Klear may actually pose another question entirely. Is there a right way and a wrong way to be a Burner business? As a large community that literally creates our environment on-playa, do we get to choose how our culture is utilized off-playa? Many corporations have tried to exploit our beloved Burn only to meet the wicked backlash of thousands of outraged burners (do we even need to mention Krug?). Yet what happens when it is burners themselves using the Burn to support themselves, sell their products and in turn most likely put some of that money back into the Burning Man event? Can we regulate their usage of our culture? Should we?