Zack Danger Brown created a satirical Kickstarter to fund him creating potato salad. Reactions to this started off with amusement and befuddlement but soon changed to frustration and outrage. I also went through different thoughts on the situation that I summarized into a few points: 1 good, and 3 bad.
Good: It’s funny!
In the Kickstarter’s construction and presentation, this is dead on a funny parody of so many elements of common Kickstarters. The goal is ridiculously silly to need funding, but the rewards for different levels of donation are perfect satirizations. Rewards are hilarious copies of well-known funding drives, like being mentioned or thought of during the making of the product, having your name on a giant list of names in some credits page, all the way up to being at the event or contributing ideas to its creation.
The plan for making the potato salad is also painfully undecided. This seems like a criticism of many Kickstarter projects and their half-baked plan of action or unlikely fulfillment strategy. Even campaigns I thought were run by respectable groups struggled to fulfill all the rewards, for example.
This Kickstarter is funny. It takes itself seriously in going online to fund a personal cooking effort.
Bad: People are spending significant money on a joke.
The Kickstarter has raised tens of thousands of dollars with plenty of time left in the campaign’s run. This is wildly out of the scope the creator intended, I’d wager. But it does collect into a large, visible number that makes one wonder if this collective willingness to give to be a part of a comedy experience could be better spent helping those in need.
People all over the world spend small or even decent amounts of money on frivolous, personal things. That’s a fact that isn’t called out because of its scattered nature. But when thousands of people donate to a joke Kickstarter, people’s collective willingness to give to something silly seems to stand in contrast to the many in real need.
This isn’t a new concept. Whenever millions or billions of dollars are mentioned moving or lost or wasted or spent between governments or corporations, these comments arise, and with legitimacy. But this situation ignited renewed fervor, because it’s on the ground level, open to anyone, funded by regular individuals. And they are on a website ostensibly about donations to struggling artists.
Bad: The creator hasn’t announced a charity donation yet.
Brown could keep most of the cash (minus what it takes to host a party and make lots of potato salad) and be hilarious and infamous. Or he could donate a huge portion to charity that isn’t needed for his plans and still be hilarious, but positively famous.
I haven’t donated, so I don’t know what is being shared behind the scenes, and whether Brown is giving more information about what he plans to do with the funds he’s raised. But if he doesn’t give a lot of this away, it won’t look good on him, really. If he doesn’t cancel the whole Kickstarter before the end, how will that money even feel when he gets it? Was the joke really of the size and scope warranting this amount of money?
Of course he has full right to keep it all. He won the Internet attention lottery for a few days and had an outlet to earn money from it. But does it feel right? And is it the best course of action?
Bad: Depending on the tone, this could be a very pessimistic and destructive critique of Kickstarter.
I don’t want this Kickstarter to be the beginning of the end for the website and the idea of crowdfunding. I’m worried that crowdfunding is a fad that will shrink away when Kickstarter or Indiegogo becomes less cool, and that disappoints me when many great projects I’ve donated to only happened because of support from fans. You can check out my profile on KS and see that great web series, films, video games, and even an NPR T-shirt were all funded to success through Kickstarter.
It can be abused, absolutely. There are disturbing statistics about what percentage of these projects have actually made it through to completion. Not all of them are transparent about where money is spent. That’s an argument for Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, RocketJump, and GoFundMe to step up and warn users about responsible giving. To attempt to enact controls over crowdfunding money use. It may dissuade people slightly, but it would be healthy for the longevity of the concept.
This joke and the mentioned issues are not arguments to abandon the idea of crowdfunding, yet that’s what I fear may happen. Some of the elements and tone of this potato salad Kickstarter can be taken to be very negative and cynical towards the idea of crowdfunding in its current form, such as the unclear goal, vapid rewards, and simply asking for money to accomplish something that could be done without help. Again, the fact that Brown hasn’t announced plans to put the money to better use only adds to the cynical (maybe even manipulative) hypothesis.
This digital event created a stir of different reactions from people, and certainly made me feel a variety of different emotions while watching it dominate social media and news for a time, all while gaining funding. Maybe it doesn’t mean as much as I worry, but it’s definitely striking at a concern I have about content creators’ viable options for making great things. At its best, I’ve seen crowdfunding enable people to do what they’ve wanted to do for a long while. I’ve seen it blow away expectations and lift spirits.
It’s not perfect, and there are flaws. It’s a shame when projects fall through, people are dishonest, or funds seem like they could have been more wisely placed. But I feel it’s an overall very strong force for good that I don’t want tarnished by questionable satire.
Maybe I shouldn’t worry much at all given that a fantastically creative counter to this Kickstarter was created on GoFundMe called, “I need some white privilege!” Spot-on. We’ll see how it does in comparison.
(2 August 2014) Edit: The Kickstarter ended, and he is donating significant portions to charity.