An Ohio man seeking $10 to fund his first attempt at potato salad has received more than $40,ooo in pledges via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, prompting the deepest and most wrenching national soul-searching since the launch of Sputnik.
What kind of country are we? What kind of people would fund a side dish whose composition is as flexible as the international region where it’s being served? What are our picnic food priorities when research towards an edible form of America’s own ambrosia salad goes completely unfunded? Is it time for the United States, or at least the Internet, to close up shop on the whole thing?
“I never thought it would go this far,” Zack Brown, the man behind the simple carbs Kickstarter, said in a recent Reddit AMA. “$10 seemed like a good, conservative goal. I think the thing people are responding to is the opportunity to come together around something equal parts absurd and mundane. Potato salad isn’t controversial, but it seems to unite us all.”
True, but this isn’t just about summer side salads. Americans will band together over any number of empty causes. The flotsam and Jetsons of popular culture also have the power to make us aimlessly commit. Take for example, “Detroit Needs a Robocop Statue,” a project kinda sorta connected to the revitalization of the blighted city.
Three years after this project—the first worthless Kickstarter of note—surpassed its $50,000 goal, Detroit still needs a lot of things … least of all a Robocop statue. Good thing, too, given that the statue has yet to see light of day (though it’s supposedly getting close). Nevertheless, one needn’t be Cassandra to foresee this homage to the fictional OmniCorp product as the harbinger of the crowdfunding site’s inevitable pivot.
Hey, it happens to the best of startups.
And So It Goes
Before it became the app that launched a zillion duckfaces, a nascent Instagram sought to combine the unholy attributes of Foursquare and Mafia Wars. Prior to its success as the prefered delivery system of Justin Bieber-related death threats and outlet for the unhinged, proto-Twitter just wanted to help you find podcasts. Once the would-be savior of such quaint pursuits as journalism and video games, Kickstarter is now a wildly successful money pit of irony and nostalgia.
As the Verge notes, the site’s new-fangled rules welcome most all folderol:
While the company formerly vetted campaigns before letting them through, they’ve since adopted a more laissez-faire approach: projects can move through without approval, although Kickstarter reserves the right to shut them down.
This includes, but is not limited to, mayonnaise-based side dishes; that Veronica Mars movie fans wanted, at least in theory; something involving Zach Braff; and future Facebook cash cow, Oculus Rift.
As the United States settles comfortably into late-stage capitalism, we Americans have the right to piss away our money on any random Kickstarter we want to fund, and/or mock others for their irresponsible monetary decisions via our Apple iPhones as we sip delicious Starbucks half-caf mocha lattes.
No one argues the right. Nobody’s saying that $40k-plus would’ve gone to a more noble cause throughly researched via CharityWatch, but for potato salad. (If they are, they really don’t know a whole lot about how humans work.) The question is, should we squander cash on idiocy while arguably more deserving causes and/or fun foods go lacking? What about our moral responsibility not to waste precious resources, especially during a time of rising need driven by worsening income inequality?
If we learned anything from from LeVar Burton’s recent record-breaking Kickstarter for “Reading Rainbow,” it’s that nobody actually reads Kickstarter proposals for comprehension. (Oh, the irony.) Burton, who predictably hit his $1 million goal within 12 hours of asking, wasn’t looking to bring back his beloved show to TV, but to the Web.
Still, all the Internet saw was a simple calculation: Geordi Laforge plus the “Reading Rainbow” theme song equals: “TAKE MY MONEY!”
With 24 days left to his potato salad Kickstarter campaign, Brown seems oblivious to criticism from purists of both the crowdfunding and picnic-food persuasion. Instead, he continues to recklessly update his Kickstarter page with increasingly outlandish “stretch goals,” including—but not limited to—a live stream of the potato salad-making process, if and when it should occur ($1,000); a thank-you video for backers ($1,200); and a hall to host the entire Internet for an epic potato salad party ($3,000).
And yet, the infamous potato salad fundraiser lacks the single premium that makes any Kickstarter worthwhile: T-shirts.
America funds the potato salad it deserves.
Lead image by Flickr user NatalieMaynor, CC 2.0