Ever heard the term? It's a fairly popular meme in burner culture. Urban Dictionary defines it as "A high maintenance person at the Burning Man Festival who is unprepared for the harsh camping environment and becomes a burden to their campmates." That might be fine for a Black Rock City definition, but can that also apply to Mosaic Experiment? If so, how do we acculturate such a person into being better prepared and more participatory? How does a person become a "Sparkle Pony" to begin with?
We asked our Facebook Community what a Mosaic Sparkle Pony would be, asked for suggestions to minimize their presence, or best practices to teach those who are already on site. Here are some of our favorite responses:
"To me it means anyone who believes in "the burn will provide" and/or is not radically self-reliant. I will always help when I can no matter if the person is sparkling like Edward Cullen in the sun or not. Everyone needs help some days... and next year, it might be you that left all your water at home."
"Sparkle Ponies are people that take all the radical self-reliance they're not doing and put it into radical self-expression. Because looking good is more important than not getting dehydrated."
"I've never heard of it in the context of burns. In previous experiences it meant someone high on their horse out of place. In the context of this, I take it to mean someone unprepared for camping/living for 4 days. I would render them aid as best I can without causing myself/my camp to also need aid."
"I had not heard the term, but as to unprepared people I'd help them to the best of my abilities without harming my own camp/family..."
"Sparkle ponies also leave ungodly amounts of inconceivably wrong and destructive moop, and have no concept of the amount of work that goes into cleaning up, let alone the build, prep, and maintenance of these crazy things we call home."
"Sparkle pony has become the hipster of Burning. Often times used beyond the intended context to express derision towards an 'other'."
"There's always more to go around than what any one person could need, so it seems to even out in my experiences. Sparkle Ponies seem to come away from it better off and better learned. I find it's more often out of ignorance or just poor planning skills (planning is tough, I'm serious), so I don't hate."
"Although the word dates back to at least 2008, it was popularized by the Sparkle Pony Corral, a theme camp present in Black Rock City from 2009-2010. Frustrated participants could drop off their camp’s sparkle ponies at the corral where they would be fed, watered, and have their egos stroked by “certifiable experts.” Sparkle ponies received much-needed attention while campmates received a much-needed break. See also: Tourist."
"You can call them tourists or accuse them of not beholden the spirit of burner culture, however sparkle pony seems to just be a burner name for a way to approach life that is cross-cultural...see user or leech. Sometimes it is ignorance and sometimes it is a sincerely planned thing. Regardless of how you love or don't love sparkle ponies, they are here in this radically inclusive society because no matter how hard you try utopia, it is still made of humans with all their glory and faults. Sparkle pony corral idea cracks me up, by the way."
"If I see someone struggling, I'll help them to the best of my ability without harming myself or others."
"There is a difference in the 'oh crap I forgot something' and the I 'I just didn't pack anything'. For the first type I help if we can spare, for the second, I will share the things we brought specifically for sharing but wont risk running out of things for me and my mates."
"If people want to dip into my supplies, I'm more than happy having them help me with our numerous construction projects...."
"I appreciate definitions that differentiate between ignorance and willful entitlement."
"I did as much research as I could before my first burn this Spring, but there were still things that I missed and probably could not anticipate before actually going to one. Self-reliance is wonderful, but everyone has to start somewhere and I don't think punishing ignorance is a good solution. The people who were most helpful to me in learning self-reliance, who I will try to emulate in the future, were the ones who demonstrated it positively in their own actions, and kindly reached out and shared that knowledge with others."
"Maybe Sparkle Ponies could be people lacking in self-reliance, who never have any intention of growing out of it. Sparkle Foals can be people who haven't quite learned it yet, but will some day grow into Sparkle Steeds, awesome examples for everyone."
"I personally believe there is a difference between a Sparkle Pony and someone who needs help because they were mildly unprepared."
"Being mildly unprepared is one thing. That's happened to everyone at some point. Hell, my bedding was left behind when we went to Burning Man. Luckily, I was able to procure extra blankets and pillows. That's not being a Sparkle Pony. Mishaps and failed planning happen."
"A Sparkle Pony is someone who take Radical Self-Reliance and tosses it out the window. Who expects to be able to use the community as a crutch, and there be nothing wrong with that (when there most definitely is). As for how to deal with them, I'm honestly torn. The snarky burner in me says 'fuck 'em', but letting them starve isn't particularly nice either."
"My experience is that Sparkle Ponies think that the burn is a big party. Everybody gives them something for nothing. They have no ideas about the principles or just don't care about them. I have seen them show up at burns and give things out expecting something in return. I have seen them show up with no food because 'I heard people were cooking for everybody'. I have helped explain moop-y activities to some of them, especially the confetti with glitter throwing, cig butt throwing, etc. I try to help them learn and if they really need something and I have enough I share."
"I agree that Sparkle Ponies can be described as those who disregard the principles, namely radical self-reliance. I think it's important to be aware of what that phrase represents and to remember to not use it loosely or in a manner that makes someone feel attacked. I know there's obvious playful attacks but I'm cautioning against using it like a derogatory insult. Sometimes a newb doesn't even realize they're offending or falling short of a standard. I like the help them within reason fix, as long as it's accompanied with an explanation (principle lesson) that isn't beating them up. I would hold off on frustration or letting the blood pressure rise until they show themselves to be a serial sparkler. Then give them shit. I'd also like to caution using that phrase for someone if you are certain it fits. One of my friends who came to an event felt very alienated because she overheard people calling her a Sparkle Pony (not sure if they knew she could hear) and it felt like exactly the opposite of what I love about and brag about at a burn or from burners. It felt like judgement and like she wasn't welcomed. Not everyone fully gets the culture yet and not everyone nails it on the first couple tries. Please stay considerate before pointing fingers. We're all growing in our storylines. Thanks again everybody!!! You mo fo's are tits awesome."
"If I know that someone is new I usually try to help and explain more. I have seen the same group of people show up more than once with nothing, wearing feathers and glitter, throwing butts everywhere and begging for food or something warm or something cold or somewhere to sleep. Those are definite Sparkleys!"
"As someone who's been around burners forever, but is not a burner yet, I'm in love with it. All of it."
"No where else in the world can I go and KNOW that I won't be responsible for everyone else. Everyone knows I'm always prepared and you can come to me if you've forgotten something, just about anything. It's become a problem, I'm suddenly feeding/watering/clothing more then myself and my kids are grown."
"For me, when i hang out with my burner friends, it's like getting to be with a group of respectful, fun, grown ups, who have all taken the time to plan (in advance even!) for the event."
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I've raised my kids, and they were taught to plan ahead. Taking on the responsibility of another person, maybe even a stranger, is no fun. And can be extremely frustrating and a total inconvenience."
"My point is this, respect for yourself and others is taught. Most kids and/or adults don't show respect because they've never seen it. It's shameful."
"If you respect your peers, or in this case, fellow burner community, you wouldn't be a sparkle pony. You'd respect yourself enough to take care of you, and then respect the rest of us enough to not be a burden. As an adult you are responsible for yourself, we may understand that, but I've dealt with many that haven't learned that lesson."
"Sleeping in a cold wet sleeping bag and other "environmental" problems were hardships. I have dealt with such before and I know it's just a matter of enduring them. They have little effect on my world. "Sparkle Ponyism" is what broke me. I tried to contribute to the burn... because I believe that is much of what a burn is about. Not because of fear of some label. After I arrived it seemed like there was a continual mantra chanting around me: "Don't be a Sparkle Pony.' It was clear to me that it wasn't enough not to be a Sparkle Pony. I could not APPEAR to be a Sparkle Pony to anyone. I specifically came because the tenant of radical inclusion. I quickly found I wouldn't be excluded due to my mental illness, but every time I tried to be on the receiving end of gifting... I faced people who might view my need for food, etc. as 'wanting more than I was giving'. I believe there are a lot of first time burners who've never known a burner. Whether you admit it or not, you have built a society with built-in pressures to conform. Most people don't see that because they know from other burners the difference between 'right & rude'. I had no one to teach me by example. I tried every method I could think of to convey 'Yes, you have wonderful food... but I don't want to just talk about it and look at it... I need to eat some.' It was probably just bad luck that my first attempts were viewed as 'Waiter? serve me some food.' It took a lot of passive observation just to learn that I needed to bring my own vessel and utensils. This problem of knowing how to be a burner went far beyond your traditions surrounding communal eating. I could have lived with eating my cookies and chips for 4 days. It was that I felt excluded from most burner activities (and therefore burner society as a whole) because I couldn't figure out how to not step on people's toes. I don't care if I piss off someone, but I came for acceptance from burners in general. What I found was that if I could wait for people to come to me and step into my environment; then there was no problem. When I tried to step out into your society... I couldn't tell the difference between not being liked and not being accepted. Instead of drumming in what behaviors are not okay. How about a simple course in how to fit in and what IS acceptable? My burn ended with me overjoyed. It wasn't just the outpouring of love. It's because I believe I now know the basics in how to be part of the 'all inclusive' burner society. I've learned enough of your subtle language that I can just relax and enjoy the next burn."
"To me, a sparkle pony is one who willfully disregards self-reliance, assuming others will take of the boring things. It's not someone who tries hard even while making mistakes. If once you know better, you do better: not a sparkle pony. Just a new burner getting your bearings."
"I experienced massive culture shock at my first burn as I quickly realized that I had an enormous amount of behavior to study and emulate if I wanted to be accepted. Each principle has it's own meaning for every individual but they still project a basic picture of the whole. I'm sorry you were made to feel like you stepped on toes or weren't welcome... thankfully that's something I didn't experience. No one person ever made me to feel unwelcome, but I quickly learned which behaviors or actions didn't really fly with those around. As an example, I didn't know about radical self-expression for my first burn. I just thought it was a simple camping trip so I brought the most grungy and raggedy clothes. No one ever said or did ANYTHING negative to me about it, but I quickly felt out of place. Now I'm all bright and shiny, lol."
"It's a problem with culture in general. It's a living breathing entity. Visiting a burn is like going to a country where everyone speaks the same-ish language but all the customs and practices are completely different. There can be a harsh learning curve at times, but most burners are more than willing to help educate you in a positive way... or at least a tongue in cheek-snarky one! This place really is removed from the default world."
"Stewardship! Stepping up and picking up trash because it's there (LNT), helping a child find his camp (Civic Responsibility), welcoming people home for 2 hours (Volunteering), making naked bacon pancakes for people (Immediacy, Decommodification), telling a fart joke or being a shoulder to cry on (Gifting), n etc... When you become responsible, when you think beyond yourself, you cant help but incorporate the 10 Principles. If you forget, or you are new: pick up after yourself and others, don't put it in the porto if it did not come outta your body, engage people, try new things, don't be a dick! Oh, don't be a shirt cocker. Dudes walk around with just a shirt n their junk hanging out. That's just dumb. Unless, you are in Camp Shirt Cocker and then it would be kinda cool..."
"My first burn I was 'involved' with the effigy team but didn't do much to actually help. Why this happened is a long story for another day. I came and absorbed anything and everything people offered. I enjoyed meals in camps and they expected nothing in return. Nobody ever asked me not to do this, nor gave me a hard time because I was hungry or thirsty, or needed something. They were just stoked that it was my first time and I was trying. Maybe a little bit of 'fuck yer burn' flavor, but nothing that wasn't taken jokingly."
"By Friday night I was hooked and I got it. Walking high fives, giving of myself, reaching out to people."
"All of us, whether we put time into the build, have been here a week earlier setting up, or even helped maintain camp and cook meals - we are all a part of this, big or small. We all play a role."
"I feel like this thread may of scared some people into asking for help when they genuinely need it. Every noob is a Sparkle Pony in their own way (including myself). We all need to remember our first time and how much you may of had planned or prepared already for you. The community helped tame my wild oats and turned me into a being that just sparkles now."
"I'm glad that others reached out to help you when they did and that overall everything was a positive. Even in this environment it can be scary to ask questions or even interact. We only bite if you consent first though. <3"
"I find burn culture so interesting because there is no one definitive authority, and yet it still functions well. There is no one right answer to any of our questions about the principles, no static definition - only a collective idea and individual experiences and thoughts that define each one. The Hive Mind in action. The more we try to get it right, the clearer the buzzing becomes, I think."
"I have learned something new from each burn I have went to. We thought we were pretty prepared but some things got left unpacked and then we figured out our structure, while seeming pretty stable, didn't hold up against high winds and hail lol. But we walked away from this weekend not upset about our tent raft, but inspired to try a yurt next year and proud to have learned even more about tarping and packing."
We love our Mosaic Community and all the insightful comments into this very engaging thread!
From an organizer's perspective, we like to remind everyone to read and share the Survival Guide, and if you know someone you suspect will be a so-called "Sparkle Pony" please send them the link and ensure they also read it. Quiz them! :-)