Friday, 22 March 2013

The Amanda Palmer Factor

By now you've no doubt heard about, if not seen, Amanda Palmer's TED Talk.  (She gives good TED Talk - you should see it if you haven't.  It's a nice little performance art piece in and of itself.)

And now, to add to that, we have the Veronica Mars $2 million dollar campaign - now having raised almost $4 million!

The blogosphere, the creative community and even Hollywood is buzzing about all this.

So.  What does it all mean?

It means that I sometimes can't get to sleep for thinking about the awful intersection of being a full-time creative and self promotion, self involvement, and possibly, over-ridingly, vanity.

It means that I have an urgent need to write this blog so that I can get more sleep and get back to what I need to do - self promoting my new book and funding a show I'm producing for The Brighton Fringe.


And let me tell you, it's mighty hard to want to do any of that when the poster children for all this are up in your face raising more money than they need for projects that would have been funded by the industries they represent so that their fans can pay not once, but twice, for the privilege of their creativity.  (Yes - you can give to the Veronica Mars crowd funding campaign AND pay for your ticket to see the movie when it maybe comes out in 2015.)

That sounded sooo Hater.  I'm not hating...them...I liked Veronica Mars.  And I've got nothing against Amanda Palmer.  It's the whole concept of using social media as a commercial for individual ego that gives me a kind of low-lying, daily Sartrean nausea.

If Amanda Palmer thinks she crowd-surfed and trusted her audience, well, pretty sure I'd be dead without my community.  Certainly I'd never have stayed in a surprising squat - a green oasis half a block from a tube station - slept in a hostel, barbecued with 2 houses of South African ex-pats or been Batgirl on a canal boat. Sure - bad things have happened, too.  Some really bad things.  But the truth is, trusting in that way - being honest about what you're asking for and what you can and cannot give in return - has led to experiences and insights I never could have had any other way.  It has made me a person who carries the experiences of others in a heartfelt way.  It has given me a confidence in the power of my art and words to create deeper feeling - to connect others more deeply to themselves.  That kind of trust creates love.  It's also the place where art emerges consistently and the elusive inspiration is a fact of daily living.

I'd like to think that if one of the people who've put Amanda Palmer up while she was on tour tweeted her that they needed a place to crash, she'd oblige.  But I have a needling inside me that says there's a secret equation underneath all of this, and that's not part of it.

No one owns crowd funding.  It's an open source medium.  Like the internet, which started as a way to connect people to information and information to people, then quickly became a gateway for the delivery of pornography, or Craig's List which started as a way to buy, sell, recycle, and re-use resources and is now, well, a place where you really don't want to be, in rather short order, crowd funding has been redefined as a way to make celebrities more famous and make them seem vulnerable, which makes us like them more, which makes them more famous.

What we are seeing in this moment is a shift in the public perception of crowd funding - away from community, from shared values and things that promote global progress and toward yet another (yawn) area of the exploration of entertainment, fame, and fans.  There's no reason that these projects need crowd funding. These artists want validation to be sure, and that elusive idea of control.  (The fact that the 2 biggest stars of this new show are women is probably not coincidental.  Routinely marginalized by the entertainment industry, female-driven projects often get 2nd tier treatment - even when you're an established recording and performance artist, or a TV star.  Flexing a little muscle, defining your footprint - these have to be important to both Palmer and Bell.  Everybody puts Baby in a corner until she breaks out and takes stage.)

When crowd funding began, it embodied the idea of having your six-degrees community lift you up to do something positive and rewarding for everyone within your reach.  What it is now, not even five years later, is a way to measure your fan base, increase project exposure and bolster your vanity.  It's no longer crowd funding; it's fan funding.

I'm not sure if I'm resentful of this shift, though I know a lot of artists are.  It's a little sad and a little disappointing. What worries me is that a technology that was developed in order to circumvent a type of greed has fallen prey to exactly that type of greed.

We can't reclaim what never belonged to us.  Open source is just that - available to all; adaptable to current needs.  What we can do is build another sandbox.  And then another.  And another.

(So, this turned out to be two blogs - stay tuned for part 2...)

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