For the past few days a brilliant and hilarious parody video, mashing up the characters from the dystopian adolescent Mazerunner movies series and the Burning Man experience has been blowing up the Internet, racking up over a million views in just a matter of days. While in the end it’s revealed to be an advertisement for sandwich brand Quiznos, the first two minutes and thirty seconds of it are a bitingly precise mockumentary of all things stereotypical to the annual arts festival / billionaire playground in the Nevada desert.
Claiming to be all about “radical self expression,” “radical inclusion,” and a “culture of possibility” that promotes free thought and judgment-free creative expression, Burning Man has for decades been a haven from the norms of the outside society, a place for artists to go and let their freak flag fly. Now, it looks like theirs may be one little hitch to all that freedom: only if it doesn’t disparage or make fun of the brand that is Burning Man. Burning Man’s website lays claim to anyone using their “most recognizable words, symbols and designs,” an admonishment that seems akin to Taylor Swift’s secret police locking down phrases like “one sick beat” and tracking down any use of lyrics or likeness and serving up a cease and desist. Except that Swift is openly a commercial being, without the faux foundation of freedom and anti-capitalism the dusty festival claims to hold above all else.
Yes, Burning Man Inc. is bummed at the mockery, and they’re doing what any multi million dollar corporation does when they feel their brand is being besmirched – calling in the lawyers.
"We'll be coordinating with our legal team to see what action we can take,” festival spokesman Jim Graham told sfgate.com, noting that Quiznos never requested official permission to parody the festival.
Graham explained that it’s their policy not to ever allow any brand parings.
"We get a quite a number of requests each year from companies wanting to gift participants with their product or to capture imagery or video of their products at the event, and we turn them all down," he said.
Yet there are products out there – from photo books to documentaries – that were created at the event, and it’s apparent that the Quiznos video was not created on site. It’s also worth noting that while Burning Man doesn’t officially endorse any products, it has also willingly become the hottest tech industry social mixer in the game, leading to masses swarming from Silicon Valley’s air conditioned recesses to the dusty expanse of Black Rock Playa every summer to make deals and flaunt their riches.
Even if they do manage to shut down the commercial – not that you can really ever completely erase something from the Internet – the cost to Quiznos is bound to be miniscule in comparison to the publicity they’ve already received by commissioning such a hilarious and, frankly, spot-on spot. Burning Man, however, may quickly realize that whatever they feel they saved by taking on one artfully done viral video actually wound up costing them something they can’t buy back with all the tech money in the world – a piece of their soul.