Welcome back to Lady Things, the column where we plumb the dark depths of the feminine, and therefore the human, soul. This week, as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus or to act out the pagan winter solstice ritual, in the spirit of the holiday and not picking sides in the gender war, we explore the true joy of the season: other people's misery.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Today: GoFundMe and that feeling of relief one feels when reading about other's hardships.
GoFundMe, the website where people can set up fundraisers that don't have any tangible rewards for givers or goals for the creators, is, in a lot of ways, the perfect and necessary opposite of Facebook.
If Facebook is the place where we go to create our dream identities, where we post pictures of the highlights of our lives, the perfect selfie with children/husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/Christmas tree/recognizable monument, where we share links to stories that show how smart and interesting and fun and engaged we are (like this one! HINT!), GoFundMe is the direct inverse of that.
GoFundMe is a land of sad tales: cancers of all types, housing disasters, personal tragedies. Instead of a competition for who can have the most enviable life, it's a graveyard in which the saddest tombstone gets the biggest financial reward.
And oh, what a graveyard it is. I am not a totally horrible person. I am telling you that because at this point, you probably think I am. And also because my new hypnotherapist (spoiler: future Lady Thing) told me last week—apropos of nothing—that I wasn't "broken."
I am not making fun of people's hardships. I'm just saying, if Facebook is getting you down this season, if those pictures by the fire, those toddlers who aren't yours, those winter tropical vacations you can't take, are giving you pangs in the uterus and black feelings in the heart, click on the next GoFundMe page that appears on your Timeline. Someone else's tragedy is bound to cheer you up, at least a little.
Don't see one? Go straight to the Portland page.
Look, I'm not saying that I am pro-cancer, or pro- getting a briefcase of cash stolen out of your car (?!). I don't condone gutter cat spinal problems. I respect art school dreams. However, if people are going to create these narrative sob stories online in hopes of getting cash, is it not our right as Americans to read them and feel better about our own lives? Is that not the promise of capitalism?
Asking for money is hard and painful and humiliating. I know–I once got like $8,000 on Kickstarter and bought a boat.
And it must be extra difficult to do it in such a public way when you're actually suffering. Because a lot of people are actually suffering. But is this really the best possible way we have for people to get relief? So many of these problems could have been solved by universal healthcare, fully funded schools, and—on a personal note—renter's insurance. Also, and let's not forget, GoFundMe is a great place for scammers. And obviously, because they are a company, GoFundMe takes some of your donations.
Add to that, and this is cynical but it's Christmas so let me have it: If you're an actually poor, suffering person and you or your friends create a GoFundMe page to help you offset the cost of some horrible thing, isn't it likely that most of your friends and friends friends will be poor, too? And so by that logic, isn't it more likely that it's the wealthier people that reap the benefits of GoFundMe, a site that reaches out to their networks of other rich people, and not the people who really need it most?
Okay, fine, I'll admit it. I'm basically a socialist who spends too much time on the internet. I think GoFundMe plays to our human inclination towards voyeuristic rubbernecking.
Maybe it helps some people in the short term but ultimately, it puts horror on display and lets us gawk and say, "Thank god that's not me."
Ninety percent of the GoFundMe pages I read aren't for people I actually know, that's how social media works. If my friends needed help paying for say, art school, I'd be like, cool, I'm broke but good for you. Best of luck. But when I see strangers asking for money for something like that and I am not invested in their lives, I'm pretty fucking judgmental about it. Like, "Oh you need ME to give YOU money so you can bring more terrible art into this world??? Feel free to write as many vague artists statements you want, but don't crowd fund your bad choices."
Similarly, when I see a friend has cancer, I feel sad. But when I see a stranger has cancer, I feel curious.
But, I don't know. This system is terrible, unfair and based on self-shaming. But what if, in this new just pre-apocalyptic hellscape of value based solely on how well you can market yourself, this is all we've got? What if your cancer treatment is in the hands of thousands of strangers judging whether or not you deserve to live? How pathetic can you make yourself? How much do you want it?
In a way, GoFundMe operates on the gossip model: People put a secret out in the world because they need to talk about it. Saying "I'm cheating on my wife" or "When I was 16, I had sex with my basketball coach," out loud to a trusted friend makes you feel better. And you tell your trusted friend because they can support you; they're invested, they help and they care. But then your trusted friend tells a friend who tells a friend who tells a friend until a group of mean girls is in the corner of the cafeteria looking at you and sniggering.
But at least, I guess, the more people laughing at you, the more people who know who you are. No press is bad press when it comes to bad news.
On that note, Merry Christmas from Lady Things! May you have a year in which none of your problems require crowdfunding!