Kickstarting a Conversation: Why I Won’t Be Paying For Potato Salad

As everyone on the Internet surely knows, Kickstarter’s currently hosting a campaign to raise money for a guy in Ohio to make potato salad. He was asking for $10. He’s made $43,000 so far. And there are still 23 days to go.

The world is a crazy, crazy place, kids.

People do stupid things on the Internet all the time, and my thinking has typically been (probably very erroneously) that most people view the web as a place where they don’t have to think. Much like TV, it’s a source of entertainment and information that doesn’t require a lot of thought. It’s interactive, but only in the most base-level sense. That’s always been my view, and while it may be completely off the mark, it’s allowed me to create content for the web in good conscious. Because believe me, if I thought my work was truly fostering stupidity, I would stop.

But for some reason, this potato salad thing was really rubbing me the wrong way, and I couldn’t figure out why. At least, until I read this tweet.

I think that’s pretty spot-on. It’s also sad and unfortunate, and I wonder if crowdfunding will ever fully recover.

The problem is that there shouldn’t BE an ironic age when it comes to Kickstarter. When art enters an ironic age, it’s due to oversaturation. But when a business prompts irony, and Kickstarter is at its heart a business, it’s almost always due to a failure in their core mission. If people are now using Kickstarter ironically and having success with that, it’s because the public has become so bored and fed up with sincere Kickstarters that they’re now supporting projects that are in essence mocking them. It’s oversaturation, but the difference between art and business is that a business can set limits. I learned working at Tokyopop that just because you can create more and flood the shelves doesn’t mean you should because then nothing stands out. Not a day goes by that I don’t get at least one Kickstarter or other crowdfunding appeal in my Twitter or Facebook feed. Not a day. I’d imagine most of you are the same way.

I don’t know how many campaigns Kickstarter allows to run at the same time, but no matter the number, that’s a whole lot of noise. Kickstarter approves all of their projects, and yes, it benefits them to have a healthy amount, but for a while now it’s seemed that they could really do with a lot more restraint, and I think this potato salad campaign removes all doubt. Someone over there approved this thing (despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to adhere to their terms of use).

So why do I care? Why is this a problem? Because I believe crowdfunding is one of the best trends I’ve seen come along in my lifetime. In an age where costs are rising and money’s tighter than ever, it’s extremely difficult to make money from creativity. Crowdfunding has made that viable for so many people, and it would be a real loss to see it devolve into a joke.

I’m not going to speculate as to the potato salad guy’s motivations. Obviously he put at least a little effort into creating this campaign, but at the same time, his Twitter feed and this Good Morning America YouTube clip seem to suggest he’s very down to earth and genuinely surprised by it all. (He certainly doesn’t seem like some sort of smug or winking shock artist laughing his way to the bank.) He talks and tweets about wanting to do good with the money he’s raised, but hasn’t gone into too much detail about what he means by that and in pure GMA style, every question he’s asked in that clip is a soft one. Plus, who the hell creates an entire Kickstarter campaign just to create potato salad? If he’s not pulling a huge one over on everyone, then he’s one of the biggest cheapskates I’ve ever seen.

Either way, I kinda hope he chokes a little on the first bite.