Burning Man

Burning Man Belongs to the People, Man

|

Those of you hip-deep in the world of Burning Man might already be aware that one of the event's early driving forces, John Law, last week filed a lawsuit against the two fellow owners of the Burning Man trademark, Larry Harvey and Michael Mikel.

Law insists his ultimate goal in the suit (which specifically argues that he has been defrauded of his own 1/3 share of the trademark's value over the years since he left the active management of the event in 1996) is to get the trademark out of his hands and those of the other already-feuding pair who helped turn the event from a beach burn to a huge desert festival–Mikel and Harvey were already heading to arbitration in a previous legal battle over compensation from Burning Man as an active institution to Paper Man, the LLC consisting of Law, Harvey, and Mikel that owns the trademark–and into the public domain.

This post from Laughing Squid.com has the best set of links to all the relevant legal documents and subsequent online brouhaha over whether or not the spirit of Burning Man can survive the public domain. John Law's own blog explaining himself here .

Newsweek's Jessica Bennett interviewed me last week for my thoughts on the lawsuit and the state of the Man–and here's their edited transcript of the conversation.

The background and issues are long and complicated, and for the whole decades-long saga and detailed reportage on the personalities involved, consult my 2004 book This is Burning Man, now out in paperback from BenBella Books.

NEXT: The Wheels of Justice

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The background story behind Burning Man is almost as interesting as the fact that John Law has a friend and supporter named “Reverend Hotcakes”.

  2. If John Law didn’t have a friend named ‘Reverend Hotcakes’ I would be surprised.

  3. I’m going for the first time this year. Anyone else going, or have any tips?

  4. Piotr,

    “Stay away from the blotter acid, man.”

  5. have any tips?

    Yeah, avoid the deathcap mushrooms.

  6. Once the lawsuits start it’s time to end it. Success ruins everything.

  7. You don’t know man!….You were there!

  8. piotr-

    You are welcome to e-mail me. But be warned, once you acquire a taste for playa-dust, you’ll never be the same.

  9. Piotr:

    Bring your own portapotty. Rent one and tow it out there. Really. Makes life so much simpler.

  10. What is so physically demanding about attending this event?

  11. Unless you bring an air conditioned RV, you are committing your self to a week in a place where temperatures can range from 110 in the day to freezing and night with no temperature control, prone to sudden and incredibly intense wind storms that fill the air with dust and debris reducing visibility to inches and very likely to dash whatever structure you’ve built to the ground, and the (rare) possibility of rain that pretty much makes even walking impossible, much less escaping in your vehicle, by reducting the ground beneath you to a thick impassable muck. And that’s leaving out all the lunatic surrounding you…(also, if you are sensitive to loud noise, sleep can be pretty much impossible as well)

  12. “Bring your own portapotty. Rent one and tow it out there. Really. Makes life so much simpler.”

    Better yet, rent a Porta-Potty and then charge people a usage fee during the festival. Get drunk, high, laid — and make some money too.

    Dex

  13. Oh hell, I’ve got an eighty year old grandmother who refuses to buy an air conditioner, and thus subjects herself to 100 plus temps for a week or two most summers, except without the benefit of low humidity. 104 with 70% humidity is a hell of lot more stressfull than what is experienced at 4000 feet, assuming one isn’t so silly as to fail to consume enough water. As to cold evenings, that’s why mankind invented the devices known as “clothes”. Wind is a pain in the neck, I’ll grant you that, and dangerous if strong enough. Staying up all night in a loud environment is what is also known as “freshman year”.

    Look, I’m mildly misanthropic regarding large crowds, so it ain’t my thing exactly, but I’ve got no beef with people who have different preferences. Geeze, though, let’s not make a spring break experience combined with camping, with moderately cold evenings and the possibility of some wind, into the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

  14. Will—I’m glad it will be no problem for you. It’s no problem for me either, and for those who gleefully return year after year. But I assure you, many Americans living in cities with air conditioning and heat and solid structures that rarely experience wind that knocks them down and who never experience white out dust storms find it a serious problem, and anyone who writes nice things about the event, as I do, has found it behooves us to make sure they understand these things.

  15. Hey, Brian, I wasn’t being critical of accurately describing the environment to people who may want to attend. I just thought the the description of “extreme physical hardship” was a little over the top. But I don’t get paid to write, so what do I know? No offense intended.

  16. If John Law didn’t have a friend named ‘Reverend Hotcakes’ I would be surprised.

    If John Law didn’t have a friend named ‘Reverend Hotcakes’ they would have to be invented.

  17. Will,

    I’d say Brian’s description of the physical environment was right on target. Like Brian, I enjoy the extreme envoronment, and with the proper preparations humans can deal pretty well with almost any environment, but there’s no doubt it is extreme. “Moderately cold evenings with the possibility of some wind” doesn’t really cover it.

  18. Brian, I don’t want to get into a semantic debate about what conditions entail “extreme physical hardship”, so if you want to maintain that a short camping trip with hot, dry, days, moderately cold nights, with occasional high winds, is consistent with “extreme physical hardship”, you just go right ahead. It seems to be of some importance to the participants.

  19. I’m going for the first time this year. Anyone else going, or have any tips?

    “Stay away from the blotter acid, man.”

    Yeah, avoid the deathcap mushrooms.

    And weird hippy chicks named “Raven” or “Storm”.

  20. Brian, I don’t want to get into a semantic debate about what conditions entail “extreme physical hardship”, so if you want to maintain that a short camping trip with hot, dry, days, moderately cold nights, with occasional high winds, is consistent with “extreme physical hardship”, you just go right ahead.

    I’d have to go with Brian on this. I teach hunter education and other wilderness-related subjects. There are lots of city dwellers today for whom “extreme physical hardship” is a communal hot shower without individual stalls. Many have never used a portapotty.

    Warn ’em early, warn ’em often. Maybe you can get them to take a sweatshirt for the freezing night.

  21. Will,

    You may be right that “extreme physical hardship” is a little over the top (though I can’t find where it was said previously on this thread, so I can’t tell from the context if I’d necessarily agree), but having done plenty of camping, both in the Colorado and other western mountains and southwestern deserts, I’d say Black Rock City is a lot more physically challenging than most camping trips. Well, most car camping trips, anyway… (But at least there’s no mosquitoes!!)

  22. fyodor, geeze, I didn’t mean for this to be big point of contention, but the term was used by Brian in the linked Newsweek interview, and, of course, if “extreme physical hardship” covers anything more than a car camping trip, it is entirely accurate.

    Larry, if the term was being used as means of getting people who have never experienced any physical hardship of any kind to do some preparation, fine. I was viewing the term through a longer historical lens, meaning going back past 1970, perhaps 1960, or so.

  23. In any case, it is kind of interesting to me, because I have had thoghts similar to Brian’s in describing physical realities. I spent a few weeks living among Bedouin tribes in the Middle East when I was younger, in what was to me an exotically beautiful setting. Sometimes, when I was talking to these folks, my romantic perception of living primitively in this unforgiving environment, in many ways unchanged for thousands of years, would become apparent. The tribesmen would respond with an attitude that we express by rolling of eyes. To them, it was just mundane life, and not worth any time for reflection. I guess I just recognized some of myself in Brian’s choice of words.

  24. Thanks for the tips. Is towing a portapotty really feasible? Do many people do it?

    And the blotter acid is part of the reason I’m going 😉

  25. Q: How has Burning Man changed over the years? Is it still as cool as it was?
    A: There’s only one Burning Man, and it’s really good!

  26. Oh hell, I’ve got an eighty year old grandmother who refuses to buy an air conditioner,

    That is because she is waiting for one of her no-good grandchildren to buy her one!

  27. I think it’s more the lack of sleep and recreational toxins that make people feel like they just braved something life threatening.

  28. I’ve been twice, a few years ago.

    Every year several people are medivaced out, mostly due to dehydration and drug over doses. These medical costs are your responsibility, so it’s cheaper to be prepared than try to pay the hospital bill later.

    You are in the middle of nowhere and what you don’t bring you don’t have. Money is not accepted for anything, so dropping into the local 7/11 is not feasible. You may find others willing to feed and water you, but that is not the point.

    Take water, take food, and take precautions. And leave no trace. (Towing and renting a porta potty is a childs joke. Don’t do it.).

    Wish I were going this year too.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.