In the Heart of Coachella

“Limited amount available. Secluded area includes separate check-in location, furnished Shakir style tents with air conditioning, private restrooms & showers, golf cart shuttles to and from stages, free private parking lot, drop off area, breakfast and late night snacks, added security, outdoor chairs, shade tents + outdoor lighting, games and more!” (sic)

The above description is for the priciest of Coachella tickets, the Safari Package. They cost $6,500 for two people and $1,500 for each additional guest. If you saw the TSL Special Features section last week on Claremont Colleges party culture, please note that three people sharing a Safari package at Coachella costs as much as the total expense of Club Two300, a party at Harvey Mudd College.

There are a lot of things I can see wrong with this über-commercialized species of entertainment. It’s kind of odd in the first place for tents to have air-conditioning, private restrooms and showers. It’s also strange to say a four-figure ticket price includes a “free private parking lot.” It seems bizarre to have a secluded campsite that also needs extra, personal security. I wonder what games I would play if I had one of these tickets. Would they be worth my tuition? What is a “Shakir style tent,” and how is this anything like a safari? What “more” is there?

So, with a plethora of questions, I tried to work backwards. I went to Coachella’s site to read its mission statement. I couldn’t find it. So I used my handy find-function-hot-key-code and typed in “about.” All I found on the homepage was “about wristbands.”

What I did find about Coachella’s mission statement was only offered through a subtitle on its promotional poster. It claims to be a “Music and Arts Festival.” As I tuned in to the YouTube feed of the final Coachella headline act, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, I was wondering whom they would bring on as guests. Eminem, 50 Cent, Wiz Khalifa were all predictable, as was Snoop’s relentless marketing of his new, ahem, tobacco rolling papers. What I did not expect was for Tupac Shakur to make an appearance. When the lifelike Shakur took stage to do not one, but two duets with Snoop, I have to admit, I was digging it. I also wasn’t paying for it.

So, like, what’s the point, really? For one, Tupac Shakur is dead.

We can talk about Shakir tents and safaris, too. Wikipedia doesn’t know what a Shakir tent is, but from Coachella promotional images they look like something Xerxes might drink a nightcap in. The name brings up a couple of Google results: a translator of the Qu’ran, several Egyptian scholars, an Iraqi soccer player and an Indian politician.

I’ll venture this: Shakir is a word that sounds Middle Easternesque to most people and Coachella used it to tag a gratuitously expensive lodging option. I’ll hazard that they wanted to delude people into thinking they were in and of the festival, not stratified and isolated from normal, non-safari guests. 

I’ll then just go ahead and say that that fantasy, imbued with ethnic/racial/cultural nomenclature, is wrong. It is emblematic of the ways dominant groups avoid hard questions. It is also a glaring example of the way dominant cultures can crib ideas from marginal ones and monetize them into sublimation.

This leads to the last, hardest, question: what exactly is Coachella, really? 

I don’t think it can call itself a Music and Arts Festival any more than those displaced VIP suites can call themselves “Shakir tents.” I personally think Music and Art thrive best in the open collaborative spaces of demonetized culture. I think when you put price tags on creative energies you inherently redirect creativity to specific ends and goals dictated by whoever holds the most fiat currency. That might be why Dre’s set ultimately sounded like a Rolling Stone History of Rap article. It was a palatable rehash of platinum record hits that the audience could jam to like a kid’s sing-a-long track. 

“A festival is an event, usually and ordinarily staged by a local community, which centers on and celebrates some unique aspect of that community…”

Thus speaks Wikipedia. It goes on to say that festivals are often religious and involve some kind of worship. We might say Coachella worships something like an amalgamation of Tupac Shakur, Shakir Tents, safaris, Music and Art.

The desert in Coachella Valley is gorgeous, but it is gouged out for hedonism once a year. Worse yet, it is conflated with Middle Eastern traditions, which, in some freaky twist of logic, then connote safaris, Africana music and Krunk, VIP money-raining and conspicuous consumerism.

These things are bad. I don’t know how else to convince you. Maybe the fact that Dre didn’t touch the mic for over 75 percent of his headliner set. Maybe the fact that the cheapest tickets at Coachella this year ran around $300. Maybe the fact that Coachella is thriving in its orgiastic glut while other festivals that try to keep the concepts of collaboration, local celebration and equality are quickly dying. 

Really, in the end, it’s up to you. For me, simulacra don’t taste as good as the real stuff. I can listen to pre-recorded Tupac for a lot less scratch, and I don’t have to feel like I’m dancing with ghosts.

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