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The real story behind last year's infamous 'Jiffy Lube incident.' Was it art censorship? Homophobia? Or just one really uppity queen?
by Adrian Roberts

Last year, in what has become known around Black Rock City as the 'Jiffy Lube Incident,' there was a protest. Not a fake, 'Burning Man performance art' protest, but a real, bona fide demonstration.

Why? Because, as you probably already know, the Pershing County Sheriff requested that camp Jiffy Lube remove a sign from the front of their camp. The sign in question -- some would call it 'art' -- was twelve feet tall, brightly painted, and cut out of plywood. Oh yeah, and it portrayed two cartoon men happily engaging in anal intercourse. Did we mention that Jiffy Lube is a gay sex theme camp? Provocative, funny, silly, campy -- the mechanized sign was many things, not the least of which a lightning rod for controversy.

The story goes like this: last year, on Thursday, the sheriff's department stopped by Jiffy Lube and asked them to remove the sign, intimating that there had been complaints from the nearby family camp, although no one with Kid's Camp has ever come forward to admit they made a complaint. The police claimed the sign was 'a violation of prevailing community standards.'

At first, Jiffy Lube refused to remove the sign. The next day, the Black Rock Rangers got involved, attempting to mediate the dispute. They organized a meeting between Jiffy Lube, the county police, and BLM officials. During the meeting, Jiffy Lube was told that if an arrest were made over the art issue, it would be difficult to convince the BLM to allow a permit for next year's Burning Man.

So a compromise was reached, stating that the sign would indeed be removed from public view. However, a protest march would be staged at noon Saturday, parading through the city and ending in Center Camp.

After attracting a crowd of a few hundred, the protest's organizer, Bradley Jordan, took the art back to Jiffy Lube, put it in the back of a pickup truck, and continued the march to Larry Harvey's camp, where he berated Harvey with a bullhorn until he addressed the crowd. Harvey attempted to placate the protesters by saying that the mores of a rural community like Pershing County needed to be understood. 'These cowboys are so far in the closet, they can't find a way out,' he said.

Oh, what a big ol' mess it was! The sign was eventually stashed behind the Jiffy Lube tents, the Man burned, and everyone went home. End of story? Not quite.

Joe Olivier, aka Exact Lee, is the Facilities Director for Jiffy Lube. He was there during the debacle, and in this exclusive exposé for Piss Clear, he details the whole sordid affair. And of course, it's not so much about art censorship. It's actually more about sex.

by Joe Olivier

Over the course of the year, the so-called 'Jiffy Lube incident' has spawned numerous discussions, rumors, and media attention, none of which accurately reflect what really happened. I should know. I was there.

First things first, shall we? The art piece in question is entitled 'Men in Action,' and it was created by California artist Mark Canepa as an adaptation of an earlier piece displayed at the Daddy Love's theme camp back in 1995. J.D. Petras, one of the founders of Jiffy Lube, had a Polaroid of the piece in Center Camp and he asked Mark to create something similar.

Mark added his own artistic vision to it, and definitely took it to a new level. I have to admit that when I first saw it on the playa, I was surprised - even as a gay man. It left no doubt as to what was being depicted.

We set it up, lit it with spotlights, and got it running - no easy task, as it was powered by a 12-volt DC motor. It was an instant hit though, quickly becoming the 'Kodak picture spot' of Black Rock City. We were proud.

Things were fine until Friday afternoon. I first heard of the trouble as I was mixing early cocktails for my camp.

A messenger came by from the Jiffy Lube tents and said that the sheriff had come by the previous day and told us that we had to move 'Men in Action' behind the tents. I asked my attorney, who happened to be camping with us, what our options were. (Never travel without legal counsel is what I always say.) 'Listen to the person with the weapon,' he said. 'Do you want to litigate a case out here in bum-fuck Nevada?'

Hmmm ... confrontation, litigation, possible arrest? My mind reeled. No, this wasn't the vision that brought us to Burning Man. Would moving the piece somehow lessen Jiffy Lube? From what I had seen, Jiffy Lube hardly needed any advertisement of what was going on inside the tents. Did we want The Man to raid Jiffy Lube's tents and arrest everyone on sodomy charges? No. To keep the party going, we thought it would be better to follow the sheriff's directive and move the sign behind the tents.

Now it's important to note here that we were never told to completely dismantle the piece. The sheriff simply asked that we move it from what was a very visible corner in our city to a spot behind the tents where it could still be viewed. Art censorship? Homophobia? Not by my definition!

Now if the sheriff had hauled away our piece, that, for me, would have been censorship! But since ours wasn't the only installation asked to tone it down - a camp projecting hardcore straight porn on a large screen on the Esplanade was paid a visit by the cops as well - it hardly seemed like homophobia on the part of the sheriff. At the time, I didn't see this as a big deal. But little did I know that we had an activist 'sleeper cell' lurking in our camp, waiting to be activated. That 'sleeper cell' was an annoying Burning Man newbie from San Diego. His name was Bradley Jordan. I had observed Bradley cruising the Jiffy Lube tents very soon after we had gotten it all set up. The reason I noticed him wasn't because he was good-looking (he wasn't) but because as hard as this guy tried, he couldn't seem to hook up with any of the other guys at Jiffy Lube! In this highly-charged sexual atmosphere, this guy couldn't get laid to save his life!

(Two of my friends later told me that Bradley had tied his dick off with a piece of string to make it seem like he was uncircumcised - and that's why no one wanted to have sex with him. But I digress.)

Here's where the second sign of trouble comes in. Friday night, as I cruised through the Jiffy Lube tents on my way to the playa, I see Bradley Jordan handing out flyers for a protest on Saturday at high noon!

Where the hell did he print up these flyers? Is there a Kinko's somewhere in Black Rock City that I don't know about?

The flyers intimated that the next move for the sheriff was to 'shut down our gay camp!' It seemed Bradley finally found something to focus on, since he obviously couldn't get laid at Jiffy Lube.

The protest march at noon had been agreed upon at a meeting with the authorities. Obviously, no one really thought that a protest at noon would attract anyone - I mean, aren't most of us asleep at that time?

The protest happened, and paraded around the city to Center Camp. Then, it veered off to Larry Harvey's camp. This was not part of the agreed-upon plan. There, Bradley bellowed from a bullhorn, insisting that Larry address the group. Larry was gracious enough to improvise a response and the protest march headed back to Jiffy Lube.

Bradley announced that the signs wouldn't be moved, and that he was going to chain himself to it and be arrested. Never mind that we had already agreed to move the sign. Bradley had taken it upon himself to speak for the whole camp - despite the fact that he had absolutely nothing to do with organizing Jiffy Lube, and was basically freeloading in our space.

Once again, while mixing afternoon cocktails, a messenger came to tell me that things were getting out of hand over in the Jiffy Lube tents, with protesters insisting that they be chained to the sign. The Black Rock Rangers were there, and tensions were running high. It was time to put a stop to this shit. This whole protest movement was impinging on my experience at Burning Man, and I had had enough!

I went to the Jiffy Lube tents where the confrontation was taking place. I met Big Bear, the Head Ranger - a prince of a man - who was at wits end dealing with Bradley. I pulled J.D. out of his RV - where he was holed up with some trick - and we moved the sign behind the tents, with Bradley kicking and screaming the whole way. After we got the piece stowed behind our tents, I kicked Bradley out of our camp.

If only I had gotten the guy laid, maybe none of this would have happened! In my opinion, Bradley Jordan's activist sentiments were misplaced and out of context. We had created Jiffy Lube to be a happy place, where gay and curious males could meet and see what the Universe had in store for them. His diatribes about the evils of the BMorg, the Rangers, and the sheriff, along with his grandstanding about censorship and homophobia, had detracted Jiffy Lube from our mission on the playa.
In short, he had become a bore.
Yes, Burning Man is about radical self-expression. But I don't think that self-expression should infringe upon another's experience. To me, that is not an unreasonable request.

If I have a piece of art that disturbs others, I can respect those people by giving them the choice of whether or not to view it. I'm all for choice, and for giving people the opportunity to choose. In short, it's not about censorship - it's about building community.

Props to the B-52's for the headline of this article.

2002 Piss Clear
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