Burnt Man

One of the founders of Burning Man is suing and makes a case for opening up the cultish event to more subversive fun

According to the Burning Man PR statement responding to Law's suit, "making Burning Man freely available to individuals who would only use it to make money would go against everything all of us have worked for over the years."

By another way of thinking, however, it's possible to see the idea of a public-domain Burning Man image as representing the worst possible threat to Larry Harvey's personal control over an event he and his former friends created.

In Larry Harvey's "movement," followers or "Burners" refer to him ironically as their "chief." Many pride themselves on their unique dress and worldview, and see themselves as guarding shared truths having something to do with ideas such as community, fungible identity, and escape. Harvey's speeches are recorded on the Burning Man Web site as significant historical documents. Every year he and his Burners create a temporary city laid out along lines seemingly inspired by Hitler's Nuremberg architect Albert Speer, with mock column-lined boulevards converging on a Mayanlike pyramid, upon which rests a 40-foot, humanoid, flaming icon.

I suspect that few of the lawyers, product managers, and other technorati who converge in the Nevada Desert every year pay much mind to the event's cultlike traits. For most people the event is an exhilarating party, where desert crops of artwork appear, then disappear, and a small city's worth of people strive to give each other a good time.

There's nothing wrong with that.

However, the corporation, and the marketing message that underpins the event, could benefit from subversion.

In that spirit, television ads promoting, say, KFC Burning Man frozen buffalo wings, might even rival anti-commercial subversion produced by the Diggers during the Summer of Love.

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