Jumping the Shark

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”
– Noel Coward

“Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”(1)

The phrase comes from an episode of the television show “Happy Days” when the Cunningham family, along with Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), flew from Wisconsin to Southern California for a vacation. While the exact plot escapes me and I really don’t wanna go down an IMDB rabbit hole, I can tell you it was a two part episode where The Fonz ended up having to water ski and jump over a shark (in his leather jacket of course), ergo the phrase.

For better or for worse, but mostly better, the phrase has entered the vernacular of American culture.

Well, I am here to say officially that crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark. Yesterday it was announced that actor James Franco has created an Indie Gogo campaign to raise $500,000 to fund three films based on his short stories. While incredibly selfish, Franco’s campaign only highlights the true nature of this actors narcissism. According to celebrity net worth, Franco has an estimated net worth of $20 million dollars. While I doubt that figure is completely accurate, it certainly is in the ballpark. Nonetheless, fluck you James Franco.

Crowdfunding, or microfinancing for the nonprofits, was created for a variety of reasons, but at its core was the principle of  leveling the playing field to provide people access to funds so they can pursue their dreams, whether it was a tech start up or a short film. In what will come as no great shock, the majority of the world doesn’t have access to a major studio, or venture capital or come from a wealthy tailored pedigree. This certainly doesn’t make them any less talented or creative. So, Kickstarter and Indie Gogo were born (and I am deliberately ignoring Donald Trump’s foray into it).

And they both highlighted what makes the Internet so incredibly egalitarian!

Earlier this year, the creators of the television show “Veronica Mars” created a Kickstarter and raised over 1 million dollars to fund a feature length movie. And while I was a bit taken aback, it made a little sense because the show was cancelled and despite a rabid fan base had no potential of ever being brought back. And no studio, in this day and age, would ever back a movie. So the creators decided to do it on their own. Kudos to them. It seemed to make sense.

Then Zach Braff (net worth 22 million dollars) started a KickStarter campaign to raise capital for a feature film he wrote. To date, he has raised in excess of 3 million dollars.

And now James Franco? Come on!

I used Kickstarter a year ago to fund a web series I created. And through the kindness of so many supportive people, I was able to reach my goal and realize my vision. These guys have a combined net worth of 40+million dollars and you are telling me that they don’t believe enough in their ideas to pony up their own money?! And even if they don’t have enough money, they don’t have the access to people who do have the money? Come on!

Crowdfunding is not a bank.

I don’t know these guys but what they are doing strikes me as extremely predatory. They are tapping into their fan base asking them to pony up their hard earned dollars when they themselves are sitting on enough dough to fund their projects. And what happens should they sell their films and then they go on to make a handsome profit? Is whatever reward you got really going to pacify you? To me, what Franco and Braff are doing is extremely uncool.

They may be perfectly nice guys who are simply looking for alternative ways to fund their creativity. That is what Kickstarter and Indie Gogo are there for, but how egalitarian is this? How would you feel if GE started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for research and development on a new airplane engine? Sure, not as flashy as some movie star, but its the same God damn principle!

It’s pretty manipulative and disingenuous when you have the money to fund your project yourself and yet you are asking your fan base, whom I am guessing are not millionaires, to cough up a portion of their hard earned money.

One could argue that they are bringing attention to the crowdfunding cause by starting their own campaign. And to that I have to call bullsh*t.

There are certainly mid to lower level celebs who could easily use Kickstarter and Indie Gogo to fund their own endeavors  who would be less irritating. The Whitest Kids U’ Know* come to mind because their fan base is rabid and I suspect mainstream access to funds for them would be pretty challenging. Even the “Veronica Mars” thing I get. But two wealthy actors using it to fund their own pet projects? Nope, sorry. It just seems like a crappy thing to do.

From where I sit, if their projects were really worth funding, they should finance it themselves! And if they don’t want to, I get that too, but these guys have access to resources to help them fund it! Why is it incumbent upon their fans finance their pet projects? It’s not.

Crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark.


1 – http://tinyurl.com/82qca

* – I know these guys and would like to see them do more stuff.

Art imitates art when Barry Zuckerhorn, the Henry Winkler character on “Arrested Development”, physically jumped over a shark in an episode of AD as a nod to the phrase.

In an interesting display of irony, Hein sold his company Jump the Shark, Inc to Gemstar (the owners of TV Guide).