When A Startup Co-Opts A Community Event
Rewind to 2000. Napster was iTunes. Geocities was Facebook. The Pets.com sock puppet was appearing in Superbowl ads. Most people didn’t have cell phones yet. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, several friends and I were bored with the available entertainment options, and decided to create a roaming field trip and party, which we ended up calling Guerrilla Queer Bar. The name was available, and it fit. We didn’t know at the time we ended up creating a thing that would take on a life of its own.
UPDATE: a metaphysical, almost science fictional question. What would happen if Guerrilla Queer Bar went to Guerrilla Queer Bar? It’s going to be 90 degrees this Friday, 70s at night. Perfect weather for an intervention and celebration high above the city at the summit of Twin Peaks (the hill not the bar), from 9:30ish onward, Fri Oct 3rd. Art cars may be involved.
GQB was largely inspired by The Cacophony Society, along with the roaming theatre troupe Popcorn Anti-Theatre. One of the Popcorn bus trips to Half Moon Bay inspired us with the idea of carting drunken gays throughout the city’s environs. Both events were about getting outside your comfort zone, exploring your environs, and a bit of pranksterism. LA Cacophony’s Cement Cuddler prank is a personal favorite. Our idea with GQB was to define queer space that was not pre-programmed as such.
We rarely planned events in advance, beyond a vague idea of where we might be going, and we never told venues we were coming. This wasn’t so much about shock value, it’s just that things usually went off plan from the get go, and it was fun to see how people dealt with chaos. If you needed things to be on a strict itinerary with nothing left to chance, this was not the party for you. If being lost for hours on a Green Tortoise bus in the east bay hills with Squeaky Blonde in a gorilla suit sounds like fun, it was definitely the party for you.
Thousands of people attended the parties over the years, and most of San Francisco’s best queer artists and performers contributed. The party spread and manifested itself in various forms in cities around the world. Usually it would surface somewhere, thrive for a couple of years, and then dissipate. It was never an organized thing, and it definitely wasn’t a for profit business, and was never intended as such. It’s also evolved over time as the world at large as changed and generally become more accepting.
We were always happy to help people adapt the idea to their community, and more recently, created a tool to make it easy for people to organize ad hoc gay bars in towns everywhere, large and small. I guess this is the latest evolution of it. If you’re interested in creating LGBT space in your neighborhood check it out.
So we were surprised and disappointed to learn that a startup has co-opted the name and is marketing GQB as a packaged experience in San Francisco, where it was created (see above). Apparently they take a cut from the venues they “invade”. That’s a perfectly fine business model, nothing wrong with that, especially for events geared toward people who need their entertainment prepared for them, except it’s not what GQB is/was about.
The thing is the party’s name starts with “guerrilla”, as in totally random, seat of pants, maybe even a bit dangerous. Selling curated experiences where everything is pre-arranged is about as opposite of that as you can get. And besides that, we created it in San Francisco, in 2000, so ripping the name off in its home town where its community is still active is a douchebag move of the highest order. Not to mention it’s a great way to alienate people in the queer & arts community who might have otherwise been glad to help them out (most of the artists and performers here participated at some point).
And if that’s not bad enough, it is being billed as the official after party for an MBA (masters of business administration) networking event. Nothing screams “super fun underground party!” like “official after party of a business networking event.” Imagine being stuck on a Green Tortoise bus with these people. To their credit they do have a token woman on their board. Oh wait, her title is “secretary”. You really can’t make this shit up.
Here’s a bucket in case you need to throw up.
I guess this is all part of the new “sharing economy”, which is more aptly named the “freeloading and ripping people off, and if you don’t like it, GO FUCK YOURSELF! economy”. I am sure the organizers operating under the name we created are nice enough people, and it sounds like they have grand plans for their business (hell, it’s the headline party at an MBA conference called Reaching Out, which we would have re-branded Reaching Around). But, trading off the work people did in building a local community event here for over a decade and turning it into their business when they don’t even live here, that’s pretty fucking weak. It also displays a general lack of integrity and creativity.
But that seems to be the modus operandi in business today, to repackage something someone else made and pawn it off as “disruptive innovation”, “dynamic convergence” or whatever tech industry buzzword is being tossed about this week. Hopefully the bubble will burst soon, the MBAs will leave, and we can all go back to business as usual (and one can hope, a more reasonable cost of living). I think it’s safe to say that we are in the final stage of this business cycle where desperate third rate startups scrape the barrel for unexploited opportunities.
This sort of thing actually makes me nostalgic for the original dot bomb. The money was excessive and gross then, but there was an innocence about it too. Nobody, even the supposed wizards, had a clue what they were doing. Everyone was making shit up as they went along, and there was plenty of free food and free booze to be had at their launch parties. Today, it seems like all of these startups are run by John Galt wannabes who ironically can’t take care of basic personal needs, like feeding themselves.
There probably isn’t much we can do to prevent them from marketing themselves under the name, unfortunately, but legality aside, pawning yourself off under the guise of someone else, knowing that you’re trading off the goodwill they created long before you ever showed up in town is a douchey thing to do. The marketer of the cloned event doesn’t even live here, he’s a Harvard MBA (which says everything you need to know).
He should try doing this with Trannyshack, Heklina would gouge his eyes out with a spoon. One thing we can do is remind people that Guerrilla Queer Bar, while it was a wonderful, raucous moment in queer history, not unlike Queer Nation or Club Uranus, it’s a chain restaurant now. Dead, stick a fork in it, done. Don’t allow yourself or your friends to be associated with these opportunistic and uncreative tools.
What we find so offensive about this company, and the “sharing economy” in general is that people have developed an attitude that they can just take something without asking. That’s not sharing, that’s stealing. And that’s the basic problem with businesses that “build communities”. They just see people as a market segment and dollar signs, and take whatever isn’t nailed down.
But as anyone currently living in SF knows, the city is overrun with people who are only here for money and contribute absolutely nothing to the art and culture which make this city so special.
Here’s hoping this boom, along with the drought, ends soon. We need the rain, and maybe a sizeable earthquake.
Brian McConnell (aka Barney Schlockum, aka T. Wayne Pickering, aka Rube Suckerberg and various other fictitious identities that were murdered by Facebook) is a co-creator of Guerrilla Queer Bar, unrepentant Internet troll, and chairman emeritus of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco.
Sr Selma Soul (Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, Cacophonist, and Pink Saturday Chair Emeritus)
Tangie Rumors, Guerrilla Queer Bar co-creator and urban planning bad ass.