Burning Man gets bigger, more expensive, and more exclusive every year. Prior to its first-time sellout in 2011, Burning Man could be experienced by anyone who wanted to go. Now, it’s a race to the gate. This year, 30,000 tickets were gone in about a half hour—each cost $425. You had a better chance at landing some if you had deep pockets—pre- and post-main sale tickets went for $990 and $1200, respectively.
There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about Burning Man being “over,” and with good reason. The days of shooting a rifle from a speeding car at gas-filled metal pigs are gone. Burning Man’s radicalism is being challenged by its appropriation. You can buy a pre-selected Burning Man wardrobe before you go, fly your personal sushi chef and their fresh fish in and out daily on Playa Air, and keep your social media networks updated (and sufficiently jealous) as you post all your Burning Man travel porn.
The Burning Man Organization is working to maintain the soul of Burning Man, and getting the Man back on the ground and raised communally by hand was a heartening shift for 2017. But there are real problems that are threatening Burning Man’s existence as a force for social change. A few big moves could assert the hugely transformative and otherworldly core of the event for a lot more people. In case anyone at the Burning Man Organization is listening after this year’s Burn, I have some suggestions.
Create a once-every-other-year attendance policy
Burning Man is oversubscribed—the population estimate for 2017 is over 70,000. Maybe it’s time to change things up so that attendance is a biennial, not an annual, possibility. More would have access to the experience, and fewer people would feel entitled to it.
Kill the high-priced pre-sale tickets
A one-price-for-all ticket would be more in line with Burning Man’s 10 Principles, especially radical inclusion, civic responsibility, gifting, and decommodification. Selling more expensive tickets before and after the main sale makes money the most valued qualification for entrance. If Burning Man really resists the “substitution of consumption for participatory experience,” some alignment of money and mouth could be achieved through a single ticket price.
Block Wi-Fi in Black Rock City
Burning Man should be about leaving the outside world, disconnecting from the quotidian, and connecting to the unknown and the unimaginable. Not very long ago it was impossible to get a cell signal on the playa, now there’s a café with wireless Internet access and an interface for mobile app and web developers. Some of the most challenging and life-changing aspects of Burning Man can’t be experienced by device-addicted attendees. Besides, those attendees can really piss off people who are trying to actually be at Burning Man.
Don’t let people come and go
Anyone who goes to Burning Man should commit to the whole week-long event. In-and-out access should be curtailed. I heard a lot of people talking about “stopping in” to Burning Man. Come on, what’s the point? It’s supposed to feel like a marathon.
Get rid of the playa event guide
Burning Man publishes What Where When, a listing of all the events and activities happening on the playa. Burning Man should not have a manual. Wandering, lingering, and getting lost are the keys to the city. Pre-planning your trip, keeping track of the hour, being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there—all these are anathema to playa time.
Limit RVs and generators
Black Rock City is increasingly a walled city. RVs and generators define the edges of roads and support the social isolation of camps. The communal quality of Burning Man is being diminished by the increasing privatization of space. RVs could be assigned to designated parts of the city; the number of RVs per camp could be limited; or only a certain number of RV passes could be distributed. The city is better when it’s more porous and more environmentally sensible. This year it sounded too much like a construction site and smelled too much like gasoline.
Make virgins recite the 10 Principles at the bell
If you’re a first timer, you have to ring the big bell and roll in the dust before you can pass through the entrance gates. Virgins should also be required to recite Burning Man’s 10 Principles during this initiatory moment. Before the Man burned this year, a guy next to me asked what the fuss was about. He definitely didn’t know there were any principles; hell, he probably didn’t even know he was at Burning Man.
Samantha Krukowski is the editor of Playa Dust: Collected Stories from Burning Man. She teaches design at the University of Cincinnati and taught the Burning Man Studio for two years when she was on the architecture faculty at Iowa State University.