“…but when I first started, they walked up to it with a torch. They didn’t do all this shit.”

The general consensus in the Burner community right now is that the “lottery” ticketing scheme was a hope-crushing train wreck of epic proportions, and there has been no shortage of words spewed about it over the last few days. The system was supposedly intended to minimize scalping, but if anything it encouraged it. With as many as 70% of the tickets sold now in the hands of scalpers (or at least in the hands of those who stand to do far better financially by scalping them than by selling them back through STEP), it raises some questions about the “true” market value of Burning Man tickets.

Some have suggested, now that Burning Man tickets are a commodity (sorta), that scalpers like any speculators just help ferret out the equilibrium price. Could BMORG sell out the event at $1000+ per ticket? Maybe. Probably, at least once. The problem is that Burning Man is not like a Cirque show, Broadway play, or Don Henley concert, where the experience being sold is the same no matter who shows up.

Now is the hundred thousand dollar choreographed pyrotechnic extravaganza that burn night has become cool? Of course, but it’s also completely unnecessary, and is not why we go through all the trouble of camping in a remote desert for a week. They do fireworks in Long Beach, for fuck’s sake. The Burning Man experience is created by the participants; BMORG is there to facilitate its creation, but they have fairly little to do with it. If tickets were to sell for three or four times what they officially sell for now, it would force the demographics even further in the direction of rich middle-aged white yuppies (incidentally the same people who pay to see Cirque shows, Broadway Plays, and Don Henley concerts) and I have my doubts as to what kind of free-spirited, self-reliant, and radically creative culture would materialize among such a crowd.

This is why Burning Man tickets are not really a commodity. A gallon of gasoline will burn the same way whether it costs 99 cents or 99 dollars, but at a certain point the quality of the Burning Man experience starts to decline as ticket prices increase. Eventually what will be left is a contrived spectacle for the wealthy with as much soul and genuineness as a coked-up Universal Studios theme park.

Admittedly, Burning Man costs a lot of money to run. Nine miles of trash fence, thousands of porta-potties, and month long cleanup efforts don’t pay for themselves. But preserving the “radical inclusiveness” that fosters the renegade, youthful, and artistic culture of the event requires that ticket prices be kept significantly lower than the demand that an over-hyped vision of some DayGlo bohemian utopia in the desert apparently generates. Even if BMORG is still selling every ticket, at some point the event ceases to be Burning Man.

What happens when too many rich people hear about a place called paradise and try to make it their own? I think Don Henley wrote a song about that.

-Adam (Would-be second year burner)

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