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This “Campaign” Is “Raising $7 Billion” To Build A Wall To Separate San Francisco From Burning Man

The burners can leave to go the desert, but when they come back, they’ll find only a giant wall.

It’s a running joke in San Francisco: The week before Labor Day is the best week of the year, because all the Burners have packed up their yurts and headed to Burning Man. Suddenly there’s parking in the Mission and room to sit at Dolores Park. So a (fake) crowdfunding campaign is trying to make the sentiment permanent: Why not build a wall around the Bay Area to keep Burners from coming back?

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The campaign has raised well over $2 million of fake money so far.

“Initially the actual idea was to build a giant wall around Black Rock City, put a dome over it, and lock you in,” says Craig Cannon, product director of Cultivated Wit, the San Francisco-based team behind the project. “But I think we departed from that because we found that was the easier joke to make.”

Instead, they took it a little further, with meta-commentary on the Burning Man ideal of building community. “We kind of toed the line of like, what if we continued the thought process that creating this ideal community is actually impossible,” Cannon says. “And what if the people in San Francisco thought they could also create an ideal community by creating a wall in their little isolated area.”

They also liked the fact that a 300-mile wall just felt dumber. “The notion has complete idiocy built into it,” he says. “With enough people you could build a wall around Black Rock City in a week. There’s literally no way a 300-foot wall that’s 30 feet tall could be constructed in a week. That notion is so dumb.”

The crowdfunding campaign is a pitch-perfect send off of the typical Kickstarter video. The writers drew on their own experience using Kickstarter, and also watched more crowdfunding videos as they researched the project. “We ended up seeing a lot of crowdfunding campaigns for Burning Man–dozens and dozens if not hundreds of people saying, ‘Can you fund my car that I want to turn into a geodesic dragon dome?’ or whatever,” says Brian Janosch, creative director for Cultivated Wit. “But we didn’t want to make an easy sort of mimicry.”

In fact, the biggest referrer for their website has been Burning Man’s own Facebook page. “I have one friend who’s gone to Burning Man several times–I don’t hold it against her–and she was like, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but I think a lot of Burners are going to like this,'” Janosch says. “That’s good. We don’t really try to be alienating. We don’t want it to be us-versus-them sort of stuff.”

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One complaint has come from people playing along with the joke: If you build a wall around the Bay Area, then Burners will go everywhere else. And there’s a flaw in the plan, as one Redditor pointed out. “There was a comment with Kevin Costner from SeaWorld, operating a steam-punk hand-crank-powered sailboat,” Cannon says. “He’s like, ‘Guys, you need to put the wall up in the ocean or they’re just going to come in.'”

Some people also made knee-jerk assumptions that the person in the video was a rich, techie gentrifier. “At first I was like, it’s weird that you wouldn’t just assume that it’s a comedy person doing comedy,” Janosch says. “But in thinking about it, it’s a crowdfunding campaign, it’s a hare-brained idea, it has to do with money–I don’t hold it against San Francisco for that immediate visceral reaction. I think it’s hard for San Francisco to know what is real and what’s a joke.”

Culivated Wit, which also produced another San Francisco-inspired video that takes on the idea of Bay Area privilege and startup culture, is hoping to bring more comedy to the city. “For all the booms that have occurred in Silicon Valley, there’s not necessarily a bubble of comedy there as well, or at least not this breed of it,” says Janosch. “So it’s been fun to fill that void a little bit.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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