Nonstarters: this week's worst kickstarter video

"Mongolian beef".

San Francisco band "The Khans" made the offending video.

Kickstarter acts as a giant, low-risk dragon's den: a virtual boardroom where anyone can honk their ideas into the dark and see if they come back with money on them. Unlike the Den, however, there are no bollockings from Bannatyne, no garbled flipchart nighmares, and no brutal profitability criteria to satisfy - just the potential investor's sense of whimsy.

Some ideas turn out to be masterpieces that would otherwise have evaporated in a risk-averse economy. Others are creative endeavours that entice swarms of impulsive backers into territory no sane public or private body would consider.

Needless to say, these success stories are the tip of a decidedly iffy iceberg. Every plucky win wafts the smell of freshly baked money further into the internet, prompting a gold rush of would-be superstars, frustrated writers and post-pub entrepreneurs to try their luck. 

To rifle through this bag of offal with me, I invite you to switch on something I call "Failure Vision": activate the site’s "ending soon" filter, and cast your eye down the page looking for the most desperately stunted green progress bars. What emerges is a torrent of hopeless daydreams; mangled barks for charity growing faint and hoarse as they drift off the site with just a few dollars to their name.

Some, such as this man’s dream to publish a quarterly magazine containing only photographs of clouds taken in Southern Idaho, are thoroughly charming in their overestimation of the public appetite for the mundane.

Others, such as this frankly terrifying plea to fund a book detailing one woman’s obsession with the band Green Day (and, it transpires, accusing them of stealing her ideas along the way), are pitched with the sincere and unwavering belief that the world is waiting to share the author’s monomania.

Nevertheless, out of the mire of mediocrity, terrible judgement and marital aids made from human hair, some concepts rise gloriously and soar out of the failuresphere on wings of sheer Chutzpah; pitches so brazenly crap as to endear anyone with a few bucks to spare.

Meet the Khans, a band from San Francisco whose roaring, exclamatory passion for horde-era Mongolia was strong enough to blow away the funding target for their 7-inch vinyl without recourse to such dull tactics as comprehensible prose.

“ORDER UP A SMELLY Preview of THE KHANS Hit MONGOLIAN BEEF Now!!!!” howled their pitch. “Hunt with an Eagle!!! (not included)”, it promised, “Learn how THE KHANS strategize!”

Better yet is the accompanying video, (see above) in which someone who sounds like an out-of-work trailer voiceover artist after two bottles of scotch slurs menacingly over stock photos of Mongol horsemen, ordering the viewer to donate generously so the Khans can “put their musical captured treasures on round plastic discs”.

“A little horse milk money from your yurt won’t hurt…” concludes the voice, and neatly summarises exactly why Kickstarter works so well. Who wouldn’t spare a dollar for these people?

But this look into crowdfunding represents merely a cheap plastic net dipped into the stream of America’s subconscious. The Khans, Cloud Man and even Green Day’s Biggest Fan look like reasonable people with reasonable ideas compared to some of what lurks in the site’s depths.  

Next week, we’ll be going deeper. Bring your wallet.

Each week Fred Crawley will blunder through the underbelly of Kickstarter.com in search of the world’s most tragic, spectacular and incomprehensible online pleas for money. 

A still from San Francisco band "The Khans"'s kickstarter video. Source: kickstarter.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder