Having only recently become aware of the genius that is The Oatmeal, I’ve had to digest its wealth of top-shelf comics, as well as informative comics rivaling those of XKCD, in a relatively short time. My interest was first drawn when TO became embroiled in what is universally recognized as a frivolous suit filed on behalf of Funny Junk, a comedy-aggregating website, filed by Mr. Sex.com himself, Charles Carreon.
It is nothing new for a party caught red handed and exposed for making a cheap buck to get angry and sue, but what makes this story interesting is how TO redirected the venom of this blunder in a judo-like maneuver to utilize TO’s immense popularity for a charitable purpose. TO flipped Funny Junk’s demand for $20,000 on it’s head, calling on his fans to donate the money instead to WWF (not WWE for trademark fans out there) and ACS. Not only did TO’s fans pony up the asked-for 20 grand, they added 200 thousand more.
Intermixed in this tale of delicious retribution is the site indiegogo.com, a kind of Kickstarter for non-profits. This type of microfinancing, popularized by the likes of Prosper, LendingClub, and Kiva, has been adopted for the purpose of funding projects for the greater good.
It seems that, based on TO’s success in its earlier outing, he decided to take the next step by undertaking a bigger project, the creation of a museum honoring Nikola Tesla at his Wardenclyffe facility. In order to exceed a competing bid, TO set about collecting $850,000 in donations, which would be matched by the state of New York. Once again, TO’s fans answered the call, exceeding the desired amount by nearly $350,000.
We are in the midst of a shift, a realization of what the earliest internet visionaries imagined. Along with the much-reported use of social media as a vital means of communication in the Arab Spring, social change is occurring. More than that, its genesis is completely online. When a site like TO and its kind, including the likes of Penny Arcade, are able to create communities through common interest and spur action from that community. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’m just recently becoming aware of it, but this type of activism for causes generally unrelated to the reason for the formation of a group seems unprecedented. It’s like new societies are being created. Sure, the fact that they are created around a webcomic might make some doubt their sincerity or worth, but they would be ignoring the hard evidence, in the form of dollars and cents, that the communities are donating, taking worthwhile causes on their backs and acting out of nothing but interest in the cause. And that is something I am proud to be a part of. I encourage anyone reading this post to engage with the online communities that already exist around sites you likely visit every day, and join in their charitable efforts.