As anyone who has been following the recent commodification camp discussions knows, the response of the BMORG hasn't been as satisfying to many Burners as would be ideal. I'm not going to go into the details because it'd be repetitive given how much this has been talked about in the community, but if you read the two posts linked to above you'll have a sense of the issue, if only from the BMORG's perspective.
As I said in the opening post of Burn.Life, I'm willing to be cautiously optimistic about the org's stated intent to treat commodification camps as theme camps, with all the same associated responsibilities. We won't really know how they've done until we've come and gone from the playa this coming year.
Danger Ranger vs. Burners.me
And then came the now infamous post about a day and a half ago from Burning Man co-founder "Danger Ranger" (playa name a Michael Mikel). It was on Facebook but as his account has been banned or deleted the original post isn't accessible any more. Reddit saves the day, and you can read it here.
People have come out against and in favor of different parts of Danger Ranger's letter, but the part I want to address is this paragraph, which comes out of nowhere:
"Things on the internet are not always what they claim to be. The troll behind burners.me is a lone individual who made $50 million in the tech field. Steve Outtrim (KingZos) owns several expensive homes in Australia, Europe & California. His private plane flies him into Burning Man each year where his big RV is waiting for him. He has no problem with hiring professional trolls like Otis Beard to mount sock puppet attacks. Don't believe everything you read on the internet."
Steve Outtrim is the man behind Burners.me - by far the most popular blog on Burning Man outside of the official one. Until Danger Ranger so publicly outed him, Steve maintained at least some level of anonymity, preferring to post as either Zos on Facebook (they apparently forced him to switch to another name due to FB's policy that requires most people to use their real names). Further, despite Larry Harvey saying that wealthy and 'rich people' are straw man issues (he's right), Danger Ranger appears to attempt to smear Steve because he's wealthy, which is fairly obnoxious classism, and even makes a claim (sock puppets) that appears to me to lack credibility.
Burners.me fired back with a long and generally excellent post that can be summed up as:
Burning Man and Media Control
One of the seeming paradoxes about Burning Man is that despite the generally free spirit that surrounds the event and culture, the BMORG maintains very tight control, relatively-speaking, over how its portrayed. They completely ban (though unevenly enforce) commercial use of images and video shot at Burning Man, the same with their trademarks, and even employ a Minister of Propaganda - Will Chase - to spread the Burneriness. All journalists must be registered. I believe they typically (perhaps always?) ban live news coverage from inside the event by outside entities. You won't see Peter Jennings out there interviewing the Deathguild with a news crew behind him, and not only because he's dead. (You can read about all their media policies here.)
They say they do this in order to control the commercialization of Burning Man, and I do believe that's the motive behind it, but I believe what this has done is create an organization that is a bit magisterial and unaccustomed to having to answer for itself. It's used to putting out propaganda (and I use that term neutrally) that we accept as happy Burners because we all love Burning Man. It's not used to, or comfortable with, the kind of analysis that Burners.me brings, because while it's clear Steve loves Burning Man, the perspective he writes from is sometimes critical, which is, of course, one of the functions of media generally - to help cast light on what's important to us and what's going on around us. He can be a bit acrimonious at times, but so can most people, and I think it's largely a reflection of the passion he has for the event.
There's nobody else out there in the Burniverse doing a better job of attempting to hold the BMORG responsible for what it's said it is and what it will do. That doesn't mean he's right 100% of the time, but no media is.
How Should Burning Man Treat Media?
I have no idea how much, if at all, Danger Ranger's post reflects the thinking behind the rest of the exec committee at BMORG. I hope he has a personal vendetta against Burners.me for some reason and that it's not an organizational dislike of critical media.
I note that Burners.me is still included in the Community Blogs section of the BM site though, which is perhaps a clue that the organization is not, as an entity, interested in simply shutting down dissenting voices.
Burning Man should, in my opinion, embrace and welcome Burners.me in an effort to help keep itself honest. The best non-profits are transparent and are kept that way by those watching them. Instead of circling the wagons, the way to respond to Burners.me is think of it as a tool that the org can take advantage of to help stay on mission. As long as the BMORG is acting in good faith in the pursuit of its mission, it's got nothing to fear and no reason to try to quiet Burners.me or any other voice that is intelligently critical of it.
I'm Dr. Yes. I run this site, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!