ePANHANDLING

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 4th, 2012 by Ed

No one should reach adulthood without being given in earnest the sage advice, "Never lend money to friends or family." It's genuine wisdom, although not a hard-and-fast rule. For example, if someone I know well was fired or had cancer or (fill in the tragedy) I would certainly give them whatever assistance I could muster, and if they did not ask I would offer. But for less life shattering reasons, there is something unavoidably uncomfortable about being solicited by people we know well.

Your brother-in-law who tries to sell you a timeshare. The guy with a "great idea" for a business that requires your start-up capital. Your friend who has candle / makeup / jewelry / etc parties at which guests are expected to make purchases on which she gets commissions. The co-worker who corners you with Amway pitches and endless requests to buy candy for little so-and-so's school fund raiser. Or the people who just flat-out ask for money for no discernible reason beyond suspecting that you might be willing. They are all violating one of the basic rules of interpersonal relationships: We are friends/family, not business partners. I am your co-worker, not your customer. I am your friend, not a venture capital fund.

At this point many of you are wise to the imminent Kickstarter rant. I have done what I can to make it less rant-y. In all honesty, it sounded like a great idea when I first heard of it. It did not take me long to sour on it, though, aided substantially by the half-dozen weekly requests that float across social media. Part of the problem is that the vast majority of my friends are writers, artists, comedians, musicians, or wannabes of any of the preceding. This is Kickstarter's prime demographic. I understand this. That does not make the constant panhandling any less irritating.

In the past two weeks, I have received requests from:

The Baffler, which is basically my favorite thing in the history of the written word, asking subscribers (who already pay over $10/issue for the privilege) to fork over more money to meet some nebulous $20,000 "goal".

– Two local musicians with $5,000 and $10,000 goals, respectively, to record an album. Aside from the Andy Rooney-ish "Get the money the old fashioned way – play shows, you ingrates!" response, please note that it costs nofuckingwhere near that much money for a local band to record an album. My old band recorded two, both of extremely high technical quality, at a studio used by Big Time Bands, with an engineer who is well respected in the field, and with mastering by an indie rock legend. I don't think it cost us $3,000 combined. And we could have cut some corners, too.

– An artist, also aiming for $5,000, who appears to have all of the necessary supplies to produce a series of paintings and who apparently wants to raise the money to pay rent and utilities so she can paint in lieu of working. As opposed to the rest of us, who enjoy working and cannot think of any way we'd prefer to spend our time.

– A guy trying to jump on the Food Truck bandwagon. Good luck, pal.

Yes, in an ideal world we would simply throw open our palms and have people give us money to pursue our ambitions. I would certainly like it if a bunch of people sent me $50,000 so I could devote all of my time to writing and telling jokes. What, however, would lead me to believe I've earned that? Where does one get the self-confidence and complacency to ask one's social circle – most of whom are just as hard up for cash, mind you – for financial support? Were other sources of potential funding exhausted before resorting to friends as a last plea, or was the Kickstarter set up first because it's so easy?

This brings us to the second problem: People who don't actually need the money asking for it. Why would actor and director Colin Hanks, son of bajillionaire Tom, waste $50,000 of his pocket change to fund a documentary project when he could just ask his fans to give it to him? It's not like he shits money or anything! Does Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls) need a Kickstarter-record $460,000 to record a fucking album? It's good to hear her whine/note that this is hundreds of thousands more than the mere $100,000 her old record label offered her as a recording budget. I feel for you, my little lamb.

Tacky, gaudy, crass, and other words come to mind when I see things like this. Yes, I know, free will and open access and no one forces anyone to give and yadda yadda yadda. This is one of those issues in which can and should are two very different questions with, in the vast majority of cases, two different answers. I'm specifically NOT claiming that no one can/should ever ask for money; what bothers me is the ease with which it can be done now and the lack of forethought that appears to go into it. "I'd like to record an album. Let's just ask our friends to give us money." Requests for money, as any fund raiser can tell you, have rapidly diminishing returns. Whatever potential Kickstarter might have had to fund the next great inventor or the next great artist has been diluted rapidly in a crowd of outstretched hands, palms up and open.