As the two founders of Burning Man struggle for control of this iconic, off-grid, anarchist art event, its been announced that Burning Man 2007 in late August will have an eco theme. In fact it has been something of an eco-event for two decades. Last year 40,000 came to the hundred square miles of Nevada desert, some punks, some naked, some painted every color of the rainbow. But Larry Harvey the de facto king of “the Burners” has rather damaged his credibility by leaping so blatantly onto the green bandwagon this year. For those who don’t already know, Burning Man, in the Nevada desert is the ultimate off-grid festival.
The annual event was started Harvey and his friend John Law burnt a 40-foot wooden hominid. They liked it so much they did it every year since 1986, and they built a tented arts community called Black Rock City in the desert: with its own “gift economy” (commerce is banned). Burning Man’s motto is “No Spectators”.
“I think it’s something that needs to be skewered and mocked,” says Law, Burning Man’s other co-founder. He quit running Burning Man a decade ago, but not before he and Harvey began selling expensive tickets to the event (this year the $250 tickets have already sold out and only the $350 tickets are still for sale). The pair of them trademarked and split ownership of the Burning Man name, and licensed it to Black Rock City LLC, a for-profit, limited liability Corporation run by Harvey. Law believes the corporation has become unaccountable, so he’s challenging Harvey’s oversight in a California court as Mother Jones magazine put it: putting the fate of Burning Man in the hands of “the Man.”
Law’s lawsuit would compel Harvey to open Burning Man’s financial books. Law thinks the corporation should give the public more say in the way it doles out $400,000 in annual arts funding. In addition, Law would like to see the Burning Man trademark revoked, which could allow anybody to stage a Burning Man event or even, to the horror of the event’s staunch anti consumerists, market Burning Man products.
So is the lawsuit just a money grab? Not at all, says Law. Burning Man was built by misfits who spent more time mocking old traditions than building new ones. In years past, Law has joined fake protests against the movie Fantasia, dressed up as a clown to ride San Francisco buses, and hopped on a cable car naked. Law’s suit, he claims, is a challenge to anyone who would take Burning Man seriously. “That’s my prank; that’s my gift,” he says. “They need to poke some fun at themselves.”