Crania Anatomica Filigre: the third-most funded arts project ever supported on the site, Kickstarter. Image and sculpture (2011) © by Joshua Harker.
On Kickstarter the crowd-funding site, if you can dream just about anything up and successfully pitch it, you will likely get enough financial support to do it. Despite worries about fragmented societies becoming more violent and corrupt, the Internet fosters new connections. Kickstarter donors display remarkable generosity when it comes to helping other people achieve their personal dreams. The notion that anyone can be a celebrity or can take a stab at greatness is partly a lifestyles trope developed by post World War II mass media and marketing minds. Nonetheless, the enormous appeal of this self-serving forumla ironically ensures the rebirth of collective well-being in online communities. Shopping for and supporting other people's dreams with small donations is its own reward (although Kickstarter project managers typically offer project-based rewards at each donation level) because it perpetuates the post-war mantra that you can be anything you want to be.
Video Source: Kickstarter.
This democratization of the Self via marketed universal egotism is as problematic as it is revolutionary. Contrary to all appearances, it was a delayed revolution. Although the Baby Boomers, popularly known in the media as the 'Me Generation,' would appear to embody the credo of self-discovery through capitalism, they in fact profited from establishment structures which pre-existed them, and had not fully collapsed until the late 2000s. In short, they were still rebellious children of an earlier economic system and era.
As we climb through financial wreckage, we are only now starting to see how economies will evolve. It's rough, but not all gloomy. As traditional charities struggle through the recession just when they are most needed, enterprising individuals are readily raising cash for their personal projects. The great strain of the recession inspires new kinds of generosity, a reappraisal of values, a return to the drawing board. Priorities once implemented via capitalistic vanities are being expressed through different types of donation and consumption. Novel modes of survival create innovative trades with altered rules.
The engine of systemic economic change is a shift in collective psychology. The cult of materialism requires a collective belief in the myth that one can express the Self through buying things. At one time, it was a magical belief that allowed materialist illusions to become realities; it was a faith in appearances, which - as Charlie Sheen put it in one of his crazed rants - turned "tin cans into solid gold."
Recessions and depressions debunk that myth. I have seen consumers described in the financial papers as a lover who is no longer in the mood. Consumers don't want to spend money on piles of mostly useless stuff which ultimately makes them feel empty. Economists wonder what it will take to reengage consumers' materialism.
Maybe the search for the Self has moved on. Hard times oblige people to change their spending habits. Really hard times force a sea change in mentalities. This recession has become a marathon in collective psychological misery. People don't want to hear about hard choices and grinding cutbacks. They want to support causes which are forward-looking and optimistic. They want new answers. 'Hope' and 'change' were the simple words which saw Obama elected in 2008.
In mentioning Obama, I am not talking about the political rights or wrongs of different fiscal policies. This is about the collective popular attitudes, about how people react when pushed too hard for too long. It is not that they have stopped spending. Rather, to some degree, they have stopped spending money on the things the media and marketing machines tell them to buy. Their financial support migrates to projects which constitute alternatives. They support causes which promise something different, no matter how unlikely, radical, unusual, unrealistic, ludicrous, or in some cases - alarming. They also begin using money in different ways. Businessweek recently worried about the revival of barter economies. People begin to work outside the confines of traditional economic systems. Trade becomes unpredictable. It won't trend back to the formula. New economic behaviours and associated systems of trade won't confirm economists' theories because emerging economic realities are anti-theoretical; they exist in the No Man's Land beyond traditional economic expectations.
Kickstarter is a niche example. But it illustrates how the Internet channels new demand - and then transcends the whole concept of demand. There's the guy who is making a documentary about taking his 60+ parents to Burning Man (above). There's another guy who sought rent for a year while he worked on movie sets for nothing to support the indie film business. Another guy wants funding to set up a micro-brewery. There is someone who has come up with an anti-Big Bang theory of the cosmos, and wants $2,000 to publish it. A company seeks support to design a spacesuit for the commercial space industry. Artist Joshua Harker sought $500 to make a sculpture - and he raised $75,691.
As far as the ego-raising experiments of the 1950s to 1990s go, which were intended by marketers to control and pacify the masses, the penny has finally dropped. Real outcomes generated around mass-magnified subjectivities now appear. Crowd-funding is about the micro-realities poised between old-fashioned and new-style economies.
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