Crowdfunding and Elon Musk

The Oatmeal, the hilarious webcomic you’d know from all over the damn place, recently did something pretty cool, which I also thought was pretty depressing.

You can read the whole story here, but the gist is that Matthew Inman wrote a long, incredibly glowing comic about Elon Musk and the Tesla Model S, which ended with a personal plea for Musk to fund construction of a Nikola Tesla Museum that Inman is heavily involved with. A few days later, Musk agreed to fork over a million dollars.

First let me say I have nothing against this particular case. I like the Oatmeal, I like Nikola Tesla, and both Musk and the Model S seem pretty cool.

What makes me a little sad is that this is the follow up to an earlier Oatmeal crowdfunding pitch that raised $1.6 million to buy the site of the museum,  an old Tesla lab. So Inman was able to raise comparable amounts of money in two ways: first a huge crowdfunding effort that brought in tons of small donations, and then second a very specific plea to one billionaire.

This time the billionaire in question turns out to largely deserve the praise heaped on him in the comic, but that’s not really a necessary part of the process. Most billionaires are not like Musk, investing their money in electric cars and spaceships and whatnot, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look kindly towards artists who glorify them in hopes of getting some patronage.

What’s worse is that this accompanies a trend towards regular people being able to get their entertainment for free or near free online. I’m mostly all for this trend, but on the other hand I don’t want to end up in a world where entertainment is really just marketed to potential billionaire patrons, with everyone else getting it for free, but just being along for the ride so far as content goes.

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