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.

Surviving the Third Floor

I live on the top floor of a three-story building in Studio City. I’ve lived here with my girlfriend and my cat for close to a year now. On the surface, it’s a pretty great arrangement. Studio City is nice, we have good Italian food and tacos within walking distance, the neighbors here are friendly, our apartment manager kind of reminds me of Lou Reed… All good things. At first, being on the top floor felt like being on top of the world a bit, or at least at the top of the apartment social ladder. We could stand outside our front doorway, which opens above the courtyard, or from our back balcony and look down on our kingdom and all who lived within it, like some sort of minor lord in a Hawaiian shirt.

And then summer hit.

All of you who live in upper level apartments in warm areas know what I’m talking about. Every evening, the sun sets, the world cools and the Southern California weather turns brisk. By early morning, there’s dew on the grass and a sweet, kale-scented breeze in the air. (Everything in LA smells like kale. Haven’t you heard?) It’s mild and comfortable. Except for in our apartment, where it’s a balmy 85 degrees and has been since the prior afternoon.

Look, I know hot air rises. Everyone knows that. But what I didn’t expect was for this apartment to hold onto that heat like a tea partier holding on to outdated ideals. There are about five different windows in this place, and opening them doesn’t seem to make much of a difference at all. Fans don’t seem to help move the air around. Short of moving our bed out onto the balcony, there doesn’t seem to be much that works when it comes to cooling the place down.

Of course, there IS the air conditioner. We do have one. I always feel guilty about turning it on, though. I’m not an overly guilt prone person, but there are two things that seem to do it to me. One is eating greasy, unhealthy food. The other is turning on the air conditioner. The first has everything to do with my high cholesterol, but my guilt over air conditioning can almost entirely be pinned on an ex.

A few years ago, I dated a woman who was heavy into environmentalism. Now, before anyone gets started, I’m a firm believer in environmentalism. I try to impact the environment as little as possible, but I’m not perfect about it. I know I could be doing a lot more and for some reason, all of that guilt has decided to target my use of indoor climate controls. I resist turning the air on until all of us here are on the brink of passing out, and when I finally do, it’s with thoughts of how disappointed my mother would be and how I’m a terrible, terrible father for leaving my son and his children a Mad Max world to inherit. (Let’s face it. As much as you may love Mad Max, you don’t really want him as a son.)

I know it’s stupid. I’ve even brought it up with my therapist a few times, and how much it makes me dread the heat every year. He didn’t tell me it was stupid, but I certainly felt dumb after realizing I had just dropped $20 to spend an hour literally talking about the weather.

So stupid or not, the air conditioner isn’t going on until the heat becomes intolerable, and currently the heat’s not there yet. But it’s enough to make living at the top of the world not seem like such a great thing anymore. More often than not, I find myself getting out of my home and castle to mingle with the masses in an air conditioned movie theater or café, leaving my cat to look down on our kingdom since she’s the only one of us who doesn’t seem to mind the heat. I suspect one of her ancestors may have belonged to a Pharoah or some other renowned Egyptian. In fact, if the cats in Egypt handled the heat as well as she does, I think I understand why the Egyptians revered them. My cat’s ability to tolerate the hot weather is worthy of admiration, and I can totally seeing that leaping up to worship if the temperature were to hit 120 degrees with any regularity. So yeah, maybe the Egyptians were on to something. Maybe instead of turning cats into memes and viral videos, we should be seeking their wisdom for dealing with the heat.

They’d probably just tell us to turn on the damn air.