Blog Post

Blog Diss: LTP Chapter Description (Chapter Five)

Here's the final version (for draft one) of my chapter five description.

Revision history, thus far: Minor stylistic and mechanical changes.

 

In my final chapter, I will turn to an analysis of crowdfunding. This model involves the generation of capital for a project or product through the contribution a large pool of investors (or ‘backers’). While crowdfunding has been used to cover a range of projects, it has most recently been in the news due to two high-profile projects: the massively successful film adaptation of the television series Veronica Mars, and Zach Braff’s more controversial use of the model to fund his recent film, Wish I Was Here.

There have been several important critiques (Lawson, Lewit, Barshad) of how both have used the crowdfunding model, often imagined as a method for supporting independent and marginalized artists, in order to subsidize projects already enjoying the benefits of corporate affiliation and large fanbases. Braff’s project has additionally been criticized (Bailey) for failing to deliver promised rewards to backers in a timely fashion. My chapter will begin by recognizing that the scale and success of these projects cannot be overlooked, and that the Mars film in particular may herald a shift in how both television and film are produced and funded in the future. However, I will also suggest that recent emphasis on these two cases tends to overlook other crowdfunding campaigns, particularly those that have taken place on platforms other than Kickstarter. While Kickstarter is likely the most widely-used and influential crowdfunding site at present, there are in fact a wide array of alternative platforms. Their differential requirements produce, or at least accommodate, what I argue can be substantially different campaigns; Kickstarter’s restrictions against campaigns dedicated to raising money for personal causes (“What is Kickstarter?”), for instance, is not shared by all sites. As such, I argue a more robust consideration of crowdfunding must take up how these platforms are used not only for the production of aesthetic media objects, but for attempts to fund conditions directly impacting the very livability of life for members of precarious populations.

I direct my attention, then, to campaigns which have drawn less recent attention, but which I contend demonstrate both the range of different crowdfunding platforms as well as how this method has been taken up by marginalized persons and communities. My first set of case studies will consider the relationship between trans* persons and crowdfunding. Several campaigns on platforms such as Indiegogo and YouCaring[1] have seen trans* persons seeking gender/sexual reassignment surgeries request assistance from backers. These campaigns have experienced varying levels of support: an Indiegogo campaign undertaken on behalf of college student Donnie Collins by his frat brothers, who had recently learned insurance would not cover his upcoming top surgery, was wildly successful, garnering not only the necessary funding but international media attention. Other efforts, particularly Shakina Nayfack’s “KickstartHer” campaign on YouCaring, have been more controversial, drawing critiques from the owners of the platform (Evans) and generating only a fifth of Nayfack’s stated goal at the time of writing. My discussion, then, aims not to produce a general claim about crowdfunding as universally beneficial or harmful to trans* persons, but to consider how specific platforms and campaigns have drawn upon the affective labour of both backers and campaigners to produce specific effects on and for trans* bodies. I am especially interested in how explicit invocation of affect on sites like YouCaring at once risks individuating what are systemic issues of inequality at the same time as these affective conditions can also provoke action beyond the boundaries of particular campaigns. Collins’ case, for instance, resulted not just in the generation of funds far exceeding his aim, but in Emerson University’s healthcare provider changing its policy towards trans* students.

My discussion of a second case study, US student Jessica Padron’s crowdfunding of her unpaid internship with Senator Harry Reid, engages with many similar questions. Padron’s initial campaign, emphasizing her desire to be a role model and noting that she is the first in her family to attend college, relied heavily on an affective appeal that seemed to reinforce a common necessity for racialized and gendered bodies to present themselves as remarkable. However, her campaign not only generated the funding she requested, but became a crucial part of broader conversations and critiques surrounding the ethics of unpaid internships (Ehley, Olheiser). At the same time as this campaign can be read as an instrumentalization of affective labour in the service of upaid offline work, I will suggest that we might also understand it as producing effects (and affects) which troubled the conditions under which the funding request was made necessary in the first place.

Because crowdfunding is a relatively recent phenomenon, there are few academic sources I can currently engage with or cite. However, my argument in this chapter will be strongly influenced by crowd theory, particularly several texts (Butsch, Borch) emphasizing the historical links between crowds and affective intensity/alignment. While the link between crowds and funding risks monetizing the affectivity of crowds in service of capitalist structures, I will also contend that these cases seem to illustrate the ways in which the affective attunement of crowds in crowdfunding campaigns often threatens to exceed the specifically regulated conditions under which these groups are called upon to act.




[1] Indiegogo is an all-purpose crowdfunding site with very few restrictions on the types of campaigns permitted. YouCaring, meanwhile, is a platform specifically designated for raising funds for medical costs, funeral expenses, and education-related fees.

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