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The Assless Chapel Newsletter #31: Decommodification Edition

The Chaplain’s Weekly Screed

Ironically for a financial guy with a strong belief in the benefits of market economics, I think decommodification is my #1 of the Ten Principles. It’s the one that buttresses the others – creates the space for the others. I like that our camp doesn’t need much acculturation for that. I’m proud that we have no formal financial arrangements, no ticket preferences or gauging of responsibilities to our financial contributions and no camp dues, nor any use of off-site services. That’s uncommon nowadays.

People often talk about authentic interactions on the Playa or being able to be oneself. Of course, part of that is simply being outside of our default lives. But a big part is that we do not need to commodify ourselves in Black Rock City. Those of us who need to make a living must commodify ourselves to do so. Even the artists among us must perform their personal brand when they meet with potential clients, instead of just being themselves. We behave a certain way and say certain things to burnish the value of our for-sale time. With no market for one to sell oneself into on-Playa, we just don’t have to do that. Decommodification gives us a respite from performing who we are and allows us to be who we are – to experience immediacy and authenticity.

And the environment around us reflects this. For one sweet week or so, the bombardment of ads and buy-my-crap bullshit stops. The organization of humans into money-making enterprises where our behavior is guided by the need for resources largely comes to a halt. This is a big part of what Larry Harvey valued in Burning Man and something he emphasized: “Authentic culture is disappearing faster in this world than the tropical rain forests.”

Most of our culture nowadays is focused on profit-making. Our movies, our music, our production. Sometimes, in our culture, we even do commodification squared: think of product placement in a movie or television program.

In the Gifting newsletter, I shared my quote: “I’ve always said that love is like tomatoes. If you’re paying for it, it’s not the real thing and it will always taste best if you grow it yourself.” I really enjoy love and sex analogies. Decommodification is a big part of why Burning Man feels so different. It’s like the difference between sex and love; it leaves a more lasting impression and changes you, instead of just leaving a memory of a moment (no matter how great that moment may have been.) Perhaps a better analogy would be that it’s the difference between porn and sex; because one is real and the other is fake, includes ads and is focused on trying to get you to pay for something.

Of course, plenty of commodification occurs on the Playa. Beyond the transactional things, I saw plenty of people at Waking Dreams who still treat themselves as a brand, building their Instagram persona, instead of feeling the immediacy of the moment.

I once read a post on Burning Man journal that addressed this behavior. I don’t remember exactly the point that was made but what I took away was a differentiation between a symbol and a logo. A logo is a commodified symbol meant to sell something. When someone posts Burning Man pics of himself or herself to Instagram to make money, that’s clearly self-branding. When we put a The Assless Chapel sticker on something or another, that’s just a symbol of something meaningful to us.

Ironically, the Burning Man logo is only partially-decommodified. After all, it’s used to sell tickets. On the other hand, the ticket pricing and distribution is not focused on profit-maximization, nor is the brand management. This is an example of the paradox that Decommodification is a principle that we can only live off-Playa to a partial extent. After all, we need money to eat, travel, go to Burning Man, etc. We can find some ways to live this principle off-Playa, but in the end, the fact that we can live it completely on-Playa is one big thing that makes Burning Man so special.

Group News

I had an eventful week last week. I met up with Sia at City Hall to [redacted]. We had a great lunch together and got to catch up. I went to the San Francisco Public Library’s history room and asked to see their Burning Man archives. I’ve attached some pictures I took as a zip file for the curious. Then I flew overnight to Yosi’s to attend his son’s bris. It was great – totally decommodified!

I also met someone through my Burner Network volunteering from a camp called Art Haus. They put on orchestras, ballet, etc. If you’re interested, I plan to go and wouldn’t mind a date. Bonus points if you come prepared to serve martinis so we can be fancy.

Also, Seamus came over to my place and we mounted the façade onto the bar. I also bought a job site boombox at auction to bring to the Burn. The sound’s not great, but it should do for our needs.

I also have some unfortunate news. Ziad, Karine and Antony will not be coming.

[Redacted, please see newsletter for important information]

Current list of campers:

1. Katie

2. Seamus

3. The Assless Chaplain

4. Red

5. Curtis

6. Sia

7. Becky

8. Squid

Still need to get me the signed agreements document:


Wedding Planning

I have been approved to officiate weddings in Nevada this Burn.

Black Rock City News

· The big news is that today is the 37th anniversary of the first Burning Man on Baker Beach, which was actually planned to coincide with the summer solstice. Happy solstice everyone!

· Playa events registration opens tomorrow! I plan to register all our events online, but only put us in the printed book for the animal weddings and the early-morning weddings. If you have any objections, speak now or forever hold your peace!

· Here’s a podcast with the guy behind an amazing Burning Man history site.

· BORG has a new green camp accreditation program called BLAST. Anyone want to do this for us?

· BORG will be going over their own sustainability efforts on July 21st. You can register to learn about it here.

· Here’s an article on a cool installation coming to the Playa, called Liquid Forest.

Placement / Ticket News

Placement News

This section is repeated from last week for reference.

For the curious, here’s the Placement calendar:

June 22nd: WhatWhereWhen registration opens.

July: Placement team announces neighbors

June 29: Last day to make changes to Work Access Pass requests (for theme camps/villages only)

Early August: Work Access Passes emailed to placed theme camps/villages

August 21: Placement begins on playa; camps arrive according to their WAP arrival date

August 27: Gate Opens @ 12:00 am (midnight) — BRC begins!

September 2: The Man burns

September 5: Camps must depart BRC and leave no trace!

October 25: Post-playa Report due

November: Statement of Intent opens for 2024 returning theme camps and villages

January 2024: 2023 Camp Standing announced to placed theme camps/villages

Ticket News

[Redacted; please see newsletter for important news.]

Current Pre-Build, Build Week, Burn Week and Exodus Schedule

This section contains the same, weekly updated schedule as the spreadsheet.

Over time, I’d like to add everyone else’s dates for when they plan to pack, head out and arrive on the Playa and, of course, when they plan to Exodus. I’ll also add in any pre-planned weddings. So, please let me know as you make your Burning Man plans.

Upcoming Tasks

· Curtis, please send me your signed agreements document.

· Everyone, please think about what we want to do with the 4 extra tickets.

· Anyone who objects to or wants to give feedback on the plans for the sunrise weddings and the animal weddings, please do so.

· Curtis, please confirm that you’re getting a vehicle pass from Mona.

· Please update me on your travel and prep plans as you make them.

As always, I have attached the most recent organizer file.

Closing Thoughts

I’m going simple with closing thoughts. I can’t wait to see all of you at our 100% decommodified camp. To do together and make together, instead of consuming together.

“If all of your self worth and esteem is invested in how much you consume, how many likes you get, or other quantifiable measures, the desire to simply possess things trumps our ability or capability to make moral connections with people around us.”

-Larry Harvey

The Man Burns in 72 days!

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