I’m writing this from a coffee shop in downtown Round Rock. Four feet away from me, taped on the wall next to the front door, is a piece of paper asking people to help send a bowling team to a national competition. Instead of a labeled jar for cash donations below it, there’s a link to one of the many crowdfunding websites at the bottom of the paper.
Kickstarter and its multiplying competitors are omnipresent in today’s culture. And, as soon as the concept became popular, so too did the debates surrounding it.
Connection to this blog’s topic: A colleague and I are presenting this weekend at the Computers and Writing 2013 conference (Note to self: Never again with the proposals for papers that haven’t been written). Our topic is “Prosumer Backers and Self-marketing Projects: The Rhetoric of Crowdfunding.” Basically, I think crowdfunding is going to see an explosion of research and scholarly analysis in the next few years. Our panel aims to set the stage for that, specific to the rhetoric and composition fields. A smattering of relevant questions (which might be relevant for their answers, or for an analysis of the debate around them): Does financial support constitute participation/production of content? What constitutes a project that’s seen as “appropriate” for crowdfunding by the online community (looking at both the purpose/product and the people behind it)? How does a project’s “marketing” differ when it’s being crowdfunded versus privately funded? What are the expectations of someone who participates in this process?
Relevant news items:
Penny Arcade crowdfunds the removal of advertisement and the expected backlash.
Zach Braff crowdfunds a new movie project, Ken Levine’s criticism of it, and a response to that line of criticism from a techdirt blog.
Veronica Mars movie crowdfunded.
Kickstarter’s word on the above two.
Relevant academic reading:
Pretty much anything by Henry Jenkins (his site, Wikipedia), but specifically his work on Participatory Culture (this book – full text PDF courtesy MacArthur Foundation) and Convergence Culture (this book).
“Owning Up: Exploring the Kickstarter Restaurant” – Kaitlyn Goalen, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 11(4) – Currently the only academic publication focused on crowdfunding I could find. Sorry for the JSTOR paywall.
Personally, I find the whole scene very interesting, which is why I ended up on a panel about it. I’ve only crowdfunded two projects: an album by a friend’s band, and a card game based on the book Moby Dick. Despite my lack of participation, I see huge value in the process, no matter who is using it. There are so many ventures out there that just don’t work in the current system. I am going to be using the example of My So-Called Life in my presentation, and I think it fits well. The show was basically cancelled despite having a big audience and good reviews because advertisers didn’t want to touch it. The current system failed that content and its consumers. Crowdfunding gives a way for it to happen. Obviously, it requires consumers (or producing consumers, prosumers, if you swing that way) to do more investigation in order to ensure they’re making a sound investment, but the trade-off is that they’re cutting a middle-person out of the process. That middle-person could be a stifling gatekeeper keeping projects from seeing the light of day, or it could be an entity soaking up part of the revenue that the producers of content want to cut out. Does it matter which it is?
I don’t know the answer. It reminds me of the constant debate in /r/cinemagraphs over what exactly a cinemagraph is. I have a hard time finding the motivation for being so heavily invested in the debate. Is there some sort of intrinsic need to try to protect other people from a perceived “incorrect” consumption? I think the more intriguing debate is over how quickly producers are forking over 8-10% of their project to Kickstarter and Amazon for the privilege of using their site, as well as some of the legal/tax obligations of the whole process. But I suppose that’s a little less emotional.
It’s the end of the semester, which explains my terrible absence from updates, but it also brings up the subject for this blog. This time of year is one for listening to people give talks–at graduation, awards ceremonies, conferences, etc. I’ve had to sit through several of them recently, and I’ve noticed two things that are repeated over and over again: 1) We need to value everyone’s voice, regardless of their background or identity. 2) The modern world is getting all of its reading from the internet, and that’s a bad thing.
To me, I feel like these things have a certain amount of dissonance between them. In fact, I would argue that by putting down the “literature” available digitally is a continuation of classist/elitist attitudes that put us in the position to need to issue statements like Students’ Right to Their Own Language.
But before needing to go even that far, just a reminder that several prominent publications are online only.
- McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
- Slate Magazine
- Texas State’s own Front Porch Journal
- The Onion has a print version available, but is largely online-oriented.
Of course, I think the typical response would be “that’s not what I’m talking about!” The digital disparager will cite things like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as examples of things that might be dumbing down the reading of the young masses. But I think the truth is more complicated than that.
When I log onto Facebook, I usually see a slew of news articles from friends, family, professors, and classmates. These articles come from the New York Times, feminist blogs, foreign publications, and a slew of others. They are sources that I probably wouldn’t be reading if not for the internet connection into my home. I log onto Reddit and am part of a book club; we’re discussing Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman this month. On Twitter, I find out what topics come up at conferences I can’t attend, and I learn about what events authors and publications I enjoy are taking part in.
And I also look at pictures of cats.
Again, the digital disparager might say, “that’s not what I’m talking about.” After all, the circles I travel in lean toward academia already, so it’s not fair to use them as representatives of the vast online world, is it?
But the truth of the matter is that the segment of the population who shies away from intellectual reading online are people who probably would be shying away from these things even if they weren’t online. The other truth in the matter is that there are some big literary/intellectual achievements out there, online, that are pretty far removed from the traditional, canonical world of ivory towers and leather-bound covers. Laugh if you’d like, but I would argue that things like The Book of Brodin, this dramatic recut of The Big Lebowski trailer (or, slightly more entertaining, this Gran Torino / Up mash-up), or this collection of movie still cinemagraphs are just as worthy of our critical and popular attention as book award finalists. Yes, their audience is different, and yes, their authorship is different, but in artistic terms, why would we even begin to consider them as somehow less than their pre-digital predecessors?
Henry James once said that “We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest of the madness is art.” To discredit the products of the digital world is to discredit the passions of a group of people solely because their lived experience and products are different from what you have come to expect of art.
Once again, do you see some parallels between this and the need for Students’ Right to Their Own Language?
Analyze the collage of Harry Potter scenes present in this musical YouTube mashup. For our next class, bring in a 3-4 page commentary on why these scenes might have been chosen, and what it achieves for the audience. You may also critique the use of autotune, especially as it varies between characters.