As I am now a middle-aged blogger, I am contractually obligated to produce occasional pieces bemoaning the fallen state of the world. This is one of those posts. It is behind a cut for your convenience.

I'm off Tumblr now, but there are a few blogs from folks I enjoy that I still drop by every now and again. One of them is by an acquaintance who used to be in a few of the same fandoms as me. I checked their blog recently and found a series of posts understandably freaking out about COVID-related unemployment and a lack of money, worrying about the prospects of a second stimulus in the U.S. and reaching a fever pitch when the deal fell through. Very shortly after that, they had posted a call for donations to help cover vet bills for a sudden, previously-unmentioned pet illness.

Now, given my keen sense of human behavior and prodigious emotional intelligence, I thought the pet thing might be a ruse. But unemployment in these times is no joke, and if they needed money, they needed money, so I kicked in $20. The fundraiser ended up netting a bit over $400 for them. Flash to a week later, when I check in and find them bragging about...waiting for a $500 statue of one of their favorite gaming characters to arrive.

I don't think the fundraiser was for the statue, as you seemingly had to preorder this particular piece well in advance due to limited availability. I also can't say that if, oh, a $500 statue of Ghaleon were released, I might not try to make that happen regardless of my financial situation. (Maybe. It would depend on the likeness. $500 is a lot.) But I think that if I asked friends and strangers to give me money for an emergency I allegedly could not handle through my own financial resources, I wouldn't brag to the same friends and strangers about the extremely expensive discretionary purchase I just made.

I encountered a similar situation a couple years ago, where I tossed some bucks to a fellow Lunar fan claiming they needed help getting out of an abusive household, only for them to crow about their new purchase of a $100 Lunar CD set a few days later. It's not a huge thing, and it's not about the money - I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where a misplaced $20 isn't gonna hurt me. But some people aren't that fortunate, particularly in Tumblr's target audience, which consists disproportionately of teenagers and broke college students susceptible to tales of woe, and particularly in this economic climate. Scamming is never OK, but it's really not OK when you're targeting people who are likely to be in tenuous economic circumstances.

I think, though, that these people on a certain level don't understand that they're scamming and would actually get angry if so accused. What, because you gave me money, you oversee my budget now? I asked for money, so I don't have the right to buy stuff to make me happy, is that it?! They just don't understand, or care to understand, that there's a social contract about the system they're using: it's for emergencies. When you ask folks to give you money on the claim that you have a sudden, horrible situation on your hands you can't handle through your own resources, it's not about just the few bucks each person is sending your way; you're also impinging on their generosity and trust, and when you violate that contract by showing that, ha ha, I had the money all along, and I'm using yours for a fun purchase you yourself probably couldn't afford, you're abusing that generosity and trust and making things difficult for everyone down the road (including the person who *does* have a legit emergency and needs to rely on that system).

It's a very now moral failing, though. So many social contracts have fallen through that many would find it laughable that they themselves would be expected to abide by one. You can see a shift toward a me-first mindset in the popular approach to social justice, going from "there are social issues that are important but overlooked, and experiences by traditionally-marginalized groups that deserve consideration and centering" to "if I say these words, I will get attention, and I will also get the gratification of being able to yell at somebody." It's a very paradoxical yet modern phenomenon of communities like Tumblr that are defined by a commitment to ethical, progressive living using those ideals to defend poor behavior. Plus, to focus on the crowdfunding angle, if you look at the flagship of Kickstarter - particularly in the gaming sector, which has a disproportionate number of scamming-induced failures - you can see a transition from "this is a way for fans to fund projects that would find an audience but are difficult for lending institutions to grok" to "your donation does not entail an obligation to produce this product" (or, for established companies, "hey, this is a way to drum up publicity for a project we could easily have funded ourselves"). Again, there's a disrespect for the exigencies and inequalities of scale the system was established to address and the goodwill of donators. I can think of smaller disasters from niche creators I once followed: a high-profile horror blogger who raised four figures for a print edition of a webcomic but didn't deliver or respond to refund requests; a games journalist who misappropriated funds earmarked to keep a discussion forum up & running. Both were accomplished in their fields and would not otherwise seem disposed to fraud - but the temptation of readily-available cash was too great, I suppose. It's only natural for more personal crowdfunding to follow suit, going from "this is a way for people who need money for relatively small emergencies to get help from online friends" to "this is an easy way for me to get money; I have friends, so I deserve money from them."

I got thinking about all this after an e-mail I got this morning from the Gary Sinise Foundation, to which I donated after Sinise did a promotional AMA. The e-mails come once a month and detail the charity's activities - we sent these care packages, we got this fire department some psych help, we built this disabled veteran a smart house, etc. And, hey, they actually are doing things, and making people's lives better in demonstrable ways, and seem by the reports available online to be a responsible, efficient charity! I think we're relearning, despite the copious problems in recent years with both institutions, the necessary vetting function that banks and charities serve, in ensuring that donations and investment funds are effectively distributed to those who need them and will use them well. I think we're also learning that those who are blessed with creativity are seldom also blessed with money-management skills.

I think it's time for another donation to the Gary Sinise Foundation.

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