Zach Braff (right) and Donald Faison in a $2 million Kickstarter video. (Credit: Kickstarter.com)
Crowdfunding is becoming more and more a fact of life in America. A Kickstarter for Zach Braff’s latest cinematic effort appeared this week, and it did not kick up quite the excitement that the Veronica Mars film did a little while ago. Braff, as a celebrity and/or creator, simply doesn’t command the kind of worshipful fandom the show did, nor the sense of injustice that a premature cancellation of a good show can bring. Yet, as of this writing, Braff has amassed $1.7 million for his Wish I Was Here. And counting.
You don’t have to have any opinion at all on Braff’s oeuvre to raise an eyebrow at the priorities here. We live in a country where Social Security is about to go bankrupt and serious scientific and medical research has been kneecapped by the sequester. Yet every two-bit marquee name with a tenuous claim to artistry can simply wake up in the morning, create a new webpage and draw in this kind of cash. Sure, “donations” and “taxes” aren’t precise equivalents, and keeping Social Security afloat does not have the panache of Hollywood. Still: Is there no way to have some of that generosity creep into American attitudes towards social programs?
This question becomes particularly hard to avoid in an era when crowdfunding efforts have diversified to include healthcare. I ran across one, recently, that aimed to get the retired actress Karen Black cancer treatment. Then, in the wake of the Marathon bombings of last week, I saw another that promised to cover the medical and rehabilitative expenses of a man, Jeff Bauman, who became famous last week because of a gory picture of his being wheeled away from the scene, minus his lower legs. (He was also the man who identified the bombers to authorities.) And The New York Times this morning informs me there are others, for Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, a mother and daughter pair who lost three legs altogether, and Christian Williams and Caroline Reinsch.
I realize this sort of thing has a long tradition here. When I first came to America I used to express horror at the prevalence of the healthcare fundraiser, a phenomenon that is rather unknown in my native country. “Oh Michelle,” said a liberal friend dryly, “You’re being Canadian again. Where else, other than healthcare fundraisers, would this delightful sense of community come from?” A decade later, I’m more acclimated to it. I’m not interested in slagging on either the desperation of those who need the money, or the charitable impulses of donors themselves, who are just trying to make the best of a really bad situation. So please don’t get me wrong: if you can afford it, I encourage you to click on the links and donate.