Comped tickets for “labor”?

There’s a conversation going on over at the Burning Man Theme Camp Organizers’ FB group. Someone asked a question about comping camp mates who “do more.”

While there are many nuances to the concept of “doing” and “more,” and while there are different camp cultures, sizes and expectations, for the camp I was mostly involved in, the answer was a flat “no” to this question about comping some people their camp fees if they came in early, helped build the camp, and so on. Here’s what I wrote.


Of course, each to their own. My TCO (Theme Camp Organizer, leader) experience was with a camp with 30-35 people max, More Carrot, a BRC Farmers Market. There were no slacker positions available, and if someone couldn’t arrive in Reno by the Friday before the gates opened to help with camp prep in Reno and camp build on Monday, then they couldn’t join our camp. No exceptions.

We also had 50% virgins each year and over half our camp came from overseas, so second- and third-years understood they’d be pulling more weight in terms of logistics, though, to this day, I’m still blown away by how capable and ready many a first-timer showed up and participated.

And I always worked with people overseas (some living in the Australian bush with little internet access, for example) to make sure they were contributing in ways they could beforehand, or explaining that they’d need to hold a bigger role on playa. That was part of our camp culture.

Mega-huge camps with vast infrastructure may decide their build and strike teams get comped camp fees, and they may use their size as a fundraiser for the camp, charging camp dues to 100+ people to cover all their costs. (Fundraisers are a drag.) But I wouldn’t want to be in a camp like that where people didn’t know each other, so my views in such regards are skewed.

I think, overall, it’s dangerous territory to apply higher value to one person’s contributions than another’s.

We had a total sparkle-pony veteran burner in our camp one year. (I’d never burned with him before, but others knew him.) He was a flake, someone always ready with an excuse for why he couldn’t do something, and amazingly adept at disappearing when work needed to be done. AND, in some bizarre set of circumstances involving a hurricane impacting flight travel into Reno, he ended up with a rented empty SUV that was — hands down — a critical piece for getting the last remaining members of our camp, and their gear, into the playa at the last minute. (PRICELESS. I mean, imagine trying to figure out who was going to rent a car or two, last minute, on the day the late-arrival crew was set to depart for the event?) So he “contributed” — not through intent, but by default — immensely. Plus, he had a nice, uplifting way of getting people moving and getting out to do things when people were often slouching around.

I remember thinking to myself (after days of him grating on my nerves as such a sparkle pony), “Hey, he adds value in the ways he does, Jessie. Chill. Everyone contributes if you just have eyes to see.”

For those who come in a week early, build, do and construct, no one — NO ONE — is making them do it. They’re not required. They chose. (And Build Week, to me, is one of the funnest times at Burning Man.)

But more importantly: Is it not of equal value, weeks after the Burn when everyone else is exhausted, for someone with bookkeeping skills to balance the camp’s budget, ensure all people who need reimbursements are paid, and that the camp’s records and inventory management are completed and ready for use the next year, etc.?

Is there not value in someone who manages a camp’s social media feeds throughout the year, helping with fundraising and attracting new camp members with the messaging and posts about the camp’s culture, vibe and experience?

Does it matter when someone’s hours are put in that count? Do 60 hours in two weeks count more than 80 hours over a year?

In all due respect, I think there is an element of chauvinism (not intentional) in valuing work done more easily by men (design, build, construct) then that often done by women.

For example, keeping a kitchen used by 30 people relatively clean over the course of 10 days is a Herculean effort and contributes to the health, good spirits and energy of the camp, and I’d bet significantly more women tend to such tasks that significant numbers of men conveniently ignore and not see as either important or “their” job. (Yeah, I know, stereotyping, but think about it.)

Just because someone is stronger and more physically able to do X or Y or Z doesn’t make their contribution more valuable in a community. It just makes it more visible.

And remember: EVERYONE’s actions are THEIR CHOICE. 100 percent.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.