The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This Quiznos spoof ad is so real, the Burning Man festival is threatening to sue

Julia Kwinter dances on the Playa during the Burning Man “Carnival of Mirrors” arts and music festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada on Sept. 6, the last day of the sold-out festival that draws about 70,000 people from all over the world. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

One day after this year’s Burning Man festival came to an end, sandwich chain Quiznos released a more-than-two-minute-long video mocking the festival’s growing corporate influence, and Burning Man isn’t exactly amused.

The scathing spoof of the nine-day desert city reflects a critique that has grown louder in recent years as corporate executives put up elaborate “camps” in the Nevada desert to participate in a festival that at one time was intended to foster a radical, counterculture ethos.

The video is set as a movie trailer modeled off of the “The Maze Runner” series featuring a group of teens arriving at the city created each year by festival-goers to carry out their next adventure.

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“The world outside is hanging on by a very thin, non-GMO, cruelty-free organic hemp thread,” one character tells them, pointing to the doorway of a tent in the desert.

“I just saw a Google exec fire-jousting with P. Diddy,” another character says.

“They lied to us. They said it was an anti-establishment society based on radical self-expression,” notes another character, given the festival name “Moom Pony.” “It’s become a place for rich people to check off their bucket lists.”

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A representative for the festival, however, isn’t amused.

Spokesman Jim Graham told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the ad might violate one of the festival’s core principles, which Burning Man is rather aggressive about protecting.

“We are pretty proactive about protecting our 10 principles, one of which is decommodification,” Graham said. “We get quite a number of requests each year from companies wanting to gift participants with their products or to capture imagery or video of their products at the event, and we turn them all down.”

“We’ll be coordinating with our legal team to see what action we can take,” Graham added.

It’s unclear whether any of the imagery shown in the video represents any actual images of Burning Man. But the video clearly uses the words “Burning Man,” which is a big no-no, according to the festival, which lists using the festival name to sell products as one of the ways to violate the “decommodification” principle.

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And while the video is intended to elicit some chuckles, the subject matter is one that in real life has gotten the attention of the man who founded the annual event.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper earlier this year, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey noted that this year he planned to personally investigate allegations that the festival has become overrun with Silicon Valley executives clawing over one another to create the most outlandishly ostentatious camps.

“We’re not going to judge people in terms of the amount of wealth they bring to the event,” he noted. He added that the festival also didn’t intend to enforce an egalitarian society. “We’re not going to set up a Marxist state.”

“We see culture as a self-organizing thing. And we’re unwilling to impose and mandate behavior from the outside, we want to generate change from the inside,” he added.