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More than 40K Burning Man tickets already sold. So how come most people are ticketless?

UM, SO YEAH. I got my Burning Man ticket. I’m one of, like, 20 people who did.

Yet, where is that excitement? The one I get when I know my spot on the playa has been secured, and I can move on with my life.

I’ll tell you where it is. It’s sitting in my inbox behind a slew of emails from friends who have been denied tickets. Seems more than half the people I know did not get one.

Not even those of us who did win tickets are happy. I defer to the playa-named Naughty Bits, who expresses this sentiment far more deftly than I ever could:

    “Two cheap ones granted
    Yet I am empty inside
    Black Rock jumped the shark”

When he’s not composing rebellious haiku, Naughty creates really cool shit that allows us to communicate with space, plants, and more via multimedia. (It just bears saying because, like I said, really cool shit).

Others, while less eloquent, are just as clear in their discontent:

    “This is bullshit.”

Or if you want more emphasis:

    “This is BULLSHIT.”
    – Roy, Jack, Noam, Mike, Alex, Brett, Britt, Sam, Frankie, Lucky, Lightbox and Playboy.

Then, there’s Hitler’s reaction.

And you know, once the Hitler Reacts meme has been invoked, things have truly hit rock bottom.

My Reaction?

I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t work. I just sat around for two days watching my inbox to find out if I’d be one of the worthy to receive a golden ticket or would I, too, be tossed onto the ever-growing pile of ticket rejects.

They really do make everything better.

I eventually had to step away from the computer and spend some quality kitten time with our new kittens, Roco and Coco. Kittens make anything better.

But really folks. Really?

I thought Burning Man was about forging paths around the usual ways. It’s about doing things with your own ingenuity and not accepting an answer just because someone in authority gives it.

Has Burning Man forgotten its own Ten Principles?

1. Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

    “I feel bad I got a ticket when so many other veterans didn’t :-/ ”
    –Candice Walsh

Does that sound like someone who feels included? I’m sure hearing Hitler shout about being a 12-time Burner and now his ticket will go to a tourist only made poor Candice feel worse.

2. Decommodification: (This is the big one. Are you watching carefully?) In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation.

Let me also remind those of you who didn’t get a ticket that they’re on sale at Stubhub.

$2800 for a ticket? My entire trip to Burning Man, which includes transportation from north-fucking-west Argentina doesn’t cost that much.

3. Radical self-reliance: Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

First, a quick overview of the 2012 Burning Man Lottery System:

When the regular ticket sales turned into lottery, I as well as many I know felt the new system played directly to the needs of scalpers. Still, we all registered for our tickets and waited patiently.

Then, days before the actual lottery drawing, Burning Man warned in their newsletter that many more registered for tickets than expected. Said the Jack Rabbit, “As a result, a significant number of people will not be awarded tickets in the Main Sale.” We mumbled a bit, but we manifested faith.

Now that we know so many didn’t get tickets, we’re asked, once again, to be patient. The Burning Man Organization — that is, BMORG — has set up the Secure Ticket Exchange Program — that is, STEP — so BMORG will buy back our unwanted tickets to then be sold back to the public through STEP.

I guess Sit-and-Trust-the-Cockamamie-System-Will-Work-For-You is the new radical version of radical self-reliance.

Three other principles to consider:

4. Immediacy: Seeking to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves.

5. Participation: Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

6. Communal effort: Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration.

Is your heart open now? Do you feel as if you are recognizing your inner-self and overcoming barriers? Are we communicating? Collaborating? Striving to produce?

Or are we mostly sitting around bitching about this stupid system and dubbing Hitler movies while we wonder, well, if half of my camp doesn’t have a ticket, who the hell does?

This new system craps on approximately 60% of the main principles of Burning Man, which, by eyeball accounts, is roughly the same percentage of people who didn’t get tickets.

Coincidence? Yes, probably. But it’s annoying just the same.

So what are our options to fix Burning Man 2012 Ticketgate?
  1. Chill the fuck out and wait.
  2. Decide not to go and be pissed off.
  3. Accept the inevitable — that Burning Man isn’t going to be any good this year.
  4. Make it clear we’re not happy with things as they are and work toward a solution that serves the community in a real way.
  5. Go play with kittens. This article offers some options.

I think the choice is clear.

Then, we can all just get our tickets and go back to the business of our lives where, hopefully, we’re doing something more worthwhile than worrying over tickets.

So please, BMORG. I beg of you. Listen to the community. Do something no one else would and take a mulligan. Burn the lottery to the ground and start all over at the beginning.

Or something.

Because we are Burners, you know, and waiting around usually isn’t our style.

Burning Man


About The Author

Leigh Shulman

Leigh Shulman is a writer, photographer and mom living in Salta, Argentina. There, she runs Cloudhead Art, an art & education group that creates collaborative art using social media to connect people and resources. You can read about her travels on her blog The Future Is Red

  • Scott

    This is really upsetting but it happens with concerts all the time because scalpers and resellers buy up all the seats. These websites should not legally be allowed to resell tickets of any kind for profit. Short of convincing authorities to go after Stubhub like they go after Megaupload, I’m not sure what the solution is.

    • leighshulman

      There’s a petition now that offers some solutions.

      My only concern with it is that it doesn’t seem allow people to transfer tickets to friends.

      I guess part of what makes it upsetting for me is that this is supposed to be about community involvement. But the community doens’t seem to have much say.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    Appreciate your commentary Leigh, but I disagree with you.  The following is making the rounds on Facebook now, so wanted to paste it here: 



    It’s a fair question that I feel deserves a fair answer.

    3 reasons

    #1 It is pointless to complain, because it solves nothing.
    #2. That energy spent complaining could be spent on productive things like, ones project.

    #3 (and the biggest reason) The Lottery did something that I think this community needed. Chaos. It threw us into chaos and in that chaos, our reactions to it define our character. Study the Sun Tzu and you will discover how exposing character is as simple as testing it with challenge.

    And in this way, the Lottery tells us A lot about ourselves. The most horrible of this character is all the expectations, righteousness and entitlement that has bred into the community in recent years. I know everyone wants to look at the organization, but the BOrg is but a small part of our community. They do not lead us, only organize us at a very small scale. We create the community. I think the lottery has exposed us for what we are, whiners.

    You can hear it in our arguments.” Our camp will change”, “our project is threatened”, “my friends can’t go”. You hear it, “same camp”, “same campmates”, “same projects”. The lottery has shown us a reflection of ourselves and we have gotten kind of fat and lazy about taking the event for granted. We have become expectant to be involved in a theme camp filled with the familiar. We have come to expect that we can find what we are looking for. We have come to feel entitled to be able to burn in the manner in which we are accustomed. We expect art cars and art provided for us. We expect the ability to afford tickets and entry. We expect that because we are a community, we can do whatever the majority of what people want to do. This is Burningman?

    I’m sorry but I do not think this is Burningman. This is unhealthy in my eyes. I’m not trying to tell others how to burn, I’m saying I’m tired of other telling me how they want to burn. Burningman to me shows up one week out of the year and reminds me to celebrate temporariness. That change is not only inevitable but worth celebrating. I want to be challenged. I want to be thrown into chaos and discover something I did not expect. I want to be thrown into the unknown and have to meet new people and create new camps and adjust my projects and I think this is Burningman. The guy who shows up, once a year to remind me to value the gifts of chaos. For they are many and profound.

    Otherwise. Burningman becomes predictable. The format is predictable, the people become predictable and the experience becomes predictable. And for this, I will kick, scream and drag “My” Burningman experience till it is not so.

    I don’t expect people to agree with me, only ask that they consider it. As I considered whining to that I did not get my ticket. But instead, I decided to do something else. Something that will matter a year from now. I stood up for Chaos.

    • leighshulman

      While I agree that, yes, Burning Man is about change. It’s also about community. If the community is not happy about something, they have a right to work toward changing it.

      And please note. I’m not really complaining. I’m mainly joking. In fact, most I know are taking this with a grain of salt, albeit, they’re a bit frustrated.

      I agree with this note in many ways. And perhaps, if we let the chips fall and see who ends up going to Burning Man, that would be interesting as well. I mean, since something like 60% or more of the major theme camps did not get tickets, how different would BM be? It would most definitely shake up an experience that I agree, has probably become too predictable.

      The heart of the problem remains, though. The BMORG is still a part of the community. They are not separate from the community, but the ticket process has not really included the community. Now that people are complaining, it does.

      So what, exactly, Ian, do you disagree with?

      • leighshulman

        I guess I also think it’s kind of ironic that this whoever wrote this is complaining about the complainers. Bottom line for me… Let’s just find a way past this and go on with our lives. Debating where the philosophy in it lies seems pointless.

      • Ian MacKenzie

        I feel that you’re approaching it from an attitude of entitlement that colours your constructive criticism.  I’m thinking it’s the same as experiencing an art project on the playa, and pointing out to the creators all the things they could have done better with the same flavour of entitlement… the lottery was another sincere experiment… clearly flawed, but let’s honour the attempt without cutting them down. 

        • leighshulman

          I think you are perhaps taking what I wrote far too seriously.  We are, after all, talking about Burning Man tickets.

          Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable. Ok. I can live with that.

    • Humanp9428

      “#1 It is pointless to complain, because it solves nothing.”???? It is not pointless to complain… How would people know the magnitude of their actions in hurting others or disrupting others if no one ever complained. Complaining serves a purpose.  When I complain to the landlord that the upstairs neighbor is tweaking or doing who knows what consistently at 3 am in the morning every night so we are not able to sleep.  He serves him eviction papers.  I live in the the physical world, and complaining has a purpose.  one could ponder the great wheel of life till they’re blue in the face, but please buddy innerstand…it is important that people complain and yes even that serves a purpose…I doubt BMORG’s goal was to expose people’s character through a lottery….If it was they are assholes trying to play god. I doubt that was their intention. They failed to protect tickets from scalpers that is all. Nothing more nothing less. I agree that chaos is the result of that….and yes, now its all a matter of one choosing it to serve you or not.  For me again the lesson is that those on top making the decision are ultimately controlled by those on the bottom.  Not vice versa…wether BMORG will learns this lesson, is not clear yet.

  • John Styn

    Awesome article.  But do you think that scalping is the problem? Or simply a small part of the real issue: MANY more people want to participate than are able. 

    I’m not sure how any distribution system will remedy this.

    • leighshulman

      Honestly, John. I’m not sure how many tickets have gone to scalpers. I’m also not sure to what extent the hype of Burning Man outweighs the actual need for tickets.

      I see this ticket thing as the natural result of a community that started in one place and has grown to another. Burning Man now is not what it was 5 or 10 or 15 years ago. Which isn’t a bad thing, it just is.

  • Jonathan Steigman

    Trust me: a LOT of tickets went to the professional scalping organizations. They have thousands of identities & credit cards available and they KNEW BM would sell out. They will sell whatever they can at a large profit and write off whatever tickets are left.

    The margins on BM tickets are much larger than on the average concert.

    These guys are pros and they have the expertise to manipulate the system in their favor. Non-transferable tickets with names on them is the only way to prevent this kind of BS.


    • leighshulman

      The thing I wonder, though, is how much BMORG took this into account. Clearly scalpers have been an issue until now. I heard discussion about how it played directly to scalpers long before people began to register.

      It would be really unfortunate to have to resort to non-transferable tickets. Every year, I buy extras and always sell them at face value to people who otherwise would not have gone. And were it just the tickets, that would be fine, but it also makes me question in what other ways will Burning Man be limited because of people who want to profit from it.

      So it goes. We shall see.

      • Jonathan Steigman

        I assume you meant that scalpers have NOT been an issue until now. The event only sold out for the first time late in the process last year. Until then, scalpers had nothing to gain by buying up tickets for resale.

        This year, everyone knew it would sell out immediately. Hence, scalper companies drawn to the “lottery” like mosquitoes to blood. The result: only 20-25% (maybe a lot less) of the folks in the established camps have their tickets.

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  • rossdborden

    Interesting to hear from a BM board member, some concrete numbers and figures about demand this year vs last year’s population. Sounds to me like the problem is just that there are too many people who want to go.

    Maybe I should stop telling everyone how fucking fun it is out there..

  • uniquename72

    I assume the article title is linkbait, since the article itself doesn’t address why the lottery failed.

  • Mary

    Talk about entitlement – so many of the commenters below just don’t get it.  We are talking about the great American corporitization (is that a word?  It sure is a necrosis.) of everything that starts out wild and beautiful and filled with juice.  There is a simple answer:  start your own Burning Man or Dissolving Woman or Leaping About and Making Beauty festival.  You won’t be able to do it on the internet, on FB, even on Matador – you’ll need to leave your computer, your desk and your room.  It’ll be messy.  It’ll be scary.  And, it’ll be yours. 

  • Mary

    Oh.  I love your sensibility, Leigh.

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