The management of the Burning Man event is a complex undertaking which grew up over a period of time as the event gained in popularity. It involves on the one hand coordinating the many tasks related to construction and removal of the temporary installation of Black Rock City itself. Event organizers deal with BLM, law enforcement, emergency services, communications, gate and box office, a staff commissary, café and ice concessions, the Man installation with supporting structures, transportation and heavy equipment logistics, storage and fabrication, and more of this sort of infrastructure support. On the other hand, there are the tasks related to representing the event to the world at large, and to prepare and organize the various events encapsulated within the event. There are logistics specific to the event that take up all the rest of the year-- ticket sales management and fulfillment, theme camp placement, art support, regional event support, property management, vendor contracts, website management, and on and on.
The task of representing the event to the outside world is certainly difficult, since the event means different things to different people. Whether it's the ten principles, a newsletter, an interview with Larry Harvey, or a statement of the organization's position on some issue, the message has to be vetted to make sure that there is a consistent, accurate message. These communications serve to prepare participants for the experience, to let them know what to expect, and also try to explain what is going on to people who do not plan to attend. Believe it or not, there are people in the world who see fit to tell other people that they should not engage in an activity which they themselves find objectionable, where there is no demonstrable harm to anyone. Often communications are geared to defend the entire enterprise, including the individual contribution of participants, from ad hominem attack.
Burning Man invites people to inject their own value into the event, and then seeks to describe the net value. All of the efforts above create the “bottle” of the event, and efforts to define the event may work like the “recipe,” but the people who attend the event invariably alter the recipe to their own taste, the result being the “beer” which we all enjoy. When I talk about the event as a business, I am not talking about the flavor of the beer, or the accuracy of the recipe. I would not want to be misunderstood that I believe the organizers are only interested in the business aspects and rewards of the event. They are very interested in the flavor of the beer, and not only because they want to sell more beer, but also because they are beer aficionados. But if you drink a lager, and I drink a stout, and we argue about what the beer tastes like, it's just silly. And, to describe “beer” generically will always fall short of the experience of drinking beer.
People who get too drunk on the “beer” that is Burning Man should take heed of the classic alcoholic credo: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I have cynically said before that Burning Man tricks people into entertaining each other and takes a fee. It's a pretty neat trick-- a cornerstone of theater. It's suspense of disbelief, and the “trick” is willingly believed by the audience. Burning Man is improv theater in the round where the lines between entertainer and audience have been largely removed. Even the production crew, historically invisible “men behind the curtain,” have an opportunity to stand in the limelight. This creates unique issues about what reward people expect from their contribution, whether as an artist or a worker. These span the continuum from real professional expertise which is donated to coarse physical labor which is compensated, and vice versa. At this point in Burning Man's evolution, I think that if someone does not figure that out for themselves, they have no one to blame but themselves. I do warn people who get swept up in the thrill of that suspense of disbelief that reality is always at least a step away from the ideal. Don't put Burning Man up on a pedestal (oops, too late). Do the organizers exploit that tendency? Absolutely. You might call it pride or vanity, but it seems to be a world wide pandemic, much to the delight of mirror manufacturers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Seek and ye shall find-- if injustice is what you seek, it will surround you. If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will deliver you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. There are simple solutions to these invented problems. Participation is not mandated, or mandatory, it is already completely within your control.
The business that is Burning Man was formed by having to deal with all of these issues. The right that the organizers have to decide what to do with the fee money is derived directly from their efforts to provide all the infrastructure that they are spending it on. They are the experts in spending that money, and if they abuse the privilege, they are the ones most sensitive to it. The suggestions to democratize the business of Burning Man are all ceiling-down approaches-- I would advocate enacting change from the floor-up. Chicken John and Jim Mason did that with their Borg2 project, and I admire them for it. C'mon! Blow my mind! Be the person who came up with the best theme camp ever (ever!). Start your own “regional event” and do it better! Or, if you feel that these things just feed the Burning Man cancer, go find a cure for cancer. Burning Man may change your world for a week, but it's up to you to change it for the other 51. Fixating too much on the minutiae of the event production squanders that opportunity. Take a deep breath and look at the big world outside.