Kickstarter Review: Pics and It Didn’t Happen

From the Run Free Facebook page

From the Run Free Facebook page

Back in November, I was browsing popular Kickstarter projects and I came across “Run Free 2013,” a fake marathon. In the project’s introductory video, Kyle Scheele, director of Ridiculo.us, the company behind Run Free, explains that they were inspired by  the internet-age adage “Pics or it didn’t happen.” “What if something didn’t actually happen, but there are still pictures of it?” he wonders. This is the central premise of the “marathon”: participants wearing race bibs and branded t-shirts would, on the appointed date of February 2, flood the internet with pictures of themselves pretending to run. “How many photographs does it take before something fake becomes real?” asks the narrator.

Run Free achieved its funding goal of $999 just 48 minutes after the project went live.  I checked back around the time the campaign ended, and it had raised an astounding $23,098 from 592 backers. Clearly, the project struck a nerve.

In the age of Photoshop, the idea of a photograph lacking an indexical relationship to reality is hardly revolutionary. That’s not exactly the case here – the people in the photograph above, which won “Best Team Picture” on the Run Free Facebook page, really stood there garbed in T-shirts and headbands, looking enthused. The guy on the right really wore his ironic pink short-shorts.

The project is not meant to deceive – as the creators point out, a quick Google search of “Run Free” reveals the nature of the event. In an interview with the New York Observer, Scheele compared the project to The Onion: “They are quite openly a satirical, fake news organization, yet they have repeatedly had their articles re-posted as fact by people who are seemingly incapable of operating a search engine.” Rather than operating as an epic prank, like the many funny projects with huge participation created by Improv Everywhere, Run Free taps into our ironic zeitgeist. It gives the participants an opportunity to make fun of their enthusiastic marathon friends and to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, all without going any further than their own backyards.

Aside from the Kickstarter campaign, I found a Groupon deal for registration — advertised as “$20 for Run Free Fake Marathon Registration and Gear ($40 Value)”. I find the $40 figure somewhat mystifying: it included registration, a numbered racing bib, sticker, race program, bracelet, and T-shirt, and a predetermined result time” listed on the race’s website, all of which sold for $25 on the Kickstarter page. Groupon turns out to have been a sponsor of the race, along with a handful of other companies, giving them the privilege of having their logo printed on the back of the race T-shirts.

Like many Kickstarter projects, Run Free could benefit from a lot more transparency. The project is openly absurd, and backers understand they are donating to something intangible – the creation of a virtual record of an imaginary race. I can’t help but wonder where the $23k, plus the money from sponsorships, went. In the FAQ section of the Kickstarter page, they write, “If there are any proceeds left over, then we will consider ways to give back to the community.” Run Free is a participant in Kicking it Forward, an honor-system pledge to donate some of the proceeds back to other Kickstarter projects – but again, this lacks transparency.

Of course, they never pretended to be non-profit, and as a moneymaking venture, then, Run Free is kind of brilliant. In a medium—the internet—where so many struggle to monetize, the folks at Ridiculo.us have done just that, by harnessing the ironic, ambivalent spirit of our time.

Check out Run Free’s official site here. Registration for Run Free 2014 open in just 239 days.

07. March 2013 by Ginia Sweeney
Categories: Kickstarter Reviews | Leave a comment

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