Let’s play word association: Kony. If your mind rushed to “child enslaver”, congratulations: you haven’t been on the internet in the past two weeks. If your mind rushed to “drunken public masturbator on a California sidewalk at three in the afternoon”, don’t bother cutting yourself because you already know you bleed the stars and stripes. Therein lays the problem with any message of substance in the United States: it has to be about us. It has to be memetic or it is flawed from the get-go. A congressman’s message doesn’t get across until he inadvertently offends someone. South Park can break through the serious barrier as long as the laughs, pointed at the dumb society we live in, outweigh the somber reflections. A charity doesn’t help Africa; we help the charity help Africa. A news article posted on facebook or Twitter must be preceded by a one to three sentence quip.
This isn’t news – David Foster Wallace gave his famous commencement speech on the subject of hardwired perspective long ago – but that three word phrase itself now has a new meaning. “This isn’t news” if we can’t angle it toward us. Think about the prospect of international news requiring Americanism. It seems spatially absurd, but I believe that’s where we are now. If you weren’t retweeting the Kony video with your own one-liner, you were probably dissecting the validity of Invisible Children as an organization and/or the futility of going after Kony instead of worse offenders.
Certain phrases should just be allowed without any explication as to why they are being said. “Hello” is one. “Good morning” is another. These are tolerable, even to strangers, but say something as equally cheery as “love one another” or “stop the hate” and the interpretation wormhole opens up. To the person who says love one another: do you mean gays? Is that what you’re after? What’s your agenda, man? To the person who says stop the hate: that’s exactly what I’d expect an enemy of the United States to say. The assumption of an agenda will always deflect donations like an atmosphere. It is the east, and Juliet ain’t havin’ it.
Since “shut up about yourself for a second” isn’t on cheery par with “hello”, the problem must be approached from a different angle, and the most effective angle is disturbing. Rocking a pair of Toms, for instance, isn’t effective, even though Toms does great work for Africa, because the perception, whether you like it or not, is that you’re nearing hipster territory and you have a fixie to match the shade of your shoes. It’s sad because talking about the unique shoes was the exact gameplan of Toms. They weren’t just shoes; they were a mobile message irrespective of the wearer. Then the message was about the wearer being irrespective of the shoes’ intent. So how do we keep the purpose of Toms going without the shoes developing an identity beyond the creator’s control? Take the brand out of the product, but make sure it’s still solipsistic. You’ll notice that Kickstarter is a company like Twitter or Facebook: it is only perceived by the light of its effectiveness. Being a part of the Kickstarter “brand” is not likely to stir up any polarizing shit like wearing Nike would.
But Twitter, Facebook and YouTube come with their own stigmas — shocker: they’re annoying. Fortunately, with Kickstarter, I’m not begging to be perceived as a good person by posting a video and hoping for comments, likes, favorites, replies, shares, tags, retweets, trophies, upvotes, reblogs, and ohgodarewedoneyet. I’m telling everyone that I donated to a cause that I deemed worthy, and I don’t care about whether or not they agree with me because I already have a quantifiable dollar amount of people that agree with me. These aren’t YouTubers who thought my racial slur was totes lolsy; these are people who were serious enough about the cause that they delayed buying Mass Effect 3 for another week. But on top of that, and this is undoubtedly the most important part (that I buried in the ninetieth paragraph because I dropped my Journalism major two years ago), I could be the world’s biggest jackass and they still might donate because of how Kickstarter is designed. Initially, my attention is directed to the site via someone’s utter lack of donation humility, but unlike YouTube, where I find like-minded commenters, the Winfreysian boasting of charity ends there. Go on to Kickstarter and look for comments. They’re there, but you actually have to be looking for them. In prime display is what exactly your donation gets you and the artist’s own description of the project and its goals. The design is simple, but it’s also genius: we have to be drawn in by the project being related to us through a friend’s interest, but then we realize there are people infinitely more talented than us and we forget about ourselves, if only for a second.
How does Kickstarter stack up against other online charities? It doesn’t. As weird as it is to say this, given the long existence of charity and relatively quick development of the Internet, a collaborative fundraising site was previously non-existent. If I want to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it’s not personal, even though the matter of breast cancer affects my life in a personal way. I’m basically writing a check to the Church of the Pink Ribbon. I want the foundation to succeed with my money, but how is not up to me. People that head the foundation — not just the ones that needlessly sparked outrage on the Internet over withholding funding due to political issues — know what they’re doing. But that’s not enough for me, the donor. If a family member of mine were cured of breast cancer by an alternative treatment, I would want to invest specifically in that treatment; I can’t do that with the website, and even if I could, to what extent? Maybe they’re pitching a project with a solid, multi-phase outline. Those projects that relate to me — the end all, be all of everything ever — come along maybe once a year. A collection of projects to increase the odds of Chris-centrism seems almost embarrassingly obvious in 2008 (the year of the company’s birth).
For now, Kickstarter focuses on creative projects, but you know it won’t stop there. (Or so I hope.) As the site grows or an off-shoot site pops up, the next step is the funding for tangible charity projects, like clean drinking water in underdeveloped countries. So, it would appear that, in our storm of inflated self-importance and the need to be “unique”, we arrived at the most important platform for charity to date. Go… us?
This article was published by Chris O’Toole on his own website named after himself.
P.S. Reddit also rocks at charity, but they have way too much opinionated content to be a primary platform.