Zach Braff Doesn't Need Your Money

Rich people don't need donations from the public.

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It's understandable that not everyone gives money to the poor. Sometimes people can't spare enough from their own budgets to give to the needy. Some people believe their tax dollars should serve this purpose in a more targeted manner. And there are those who believe that we are all responsible for ourselves and should make our own economic futures.

What is more baffling is why people want to give money and gifts to rich people.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Hollywood celebrities have been benefiting from this for years, whether it's by wearing borrowed expensive designer gowns and jewelry to awards ceremonies or by accepting the bags of "swag" handed out at the same events. The theory is that if a famous person is seen wearing a certain piece of jewelry or drinking an expensive Scotch, that will provide priceless publicity for the product and its manufacturer. Where this strategy falls apart is in the fact that only the very wealthy can afford to buy the items to begin with – and why would they, when companies are giving them away from free? 

But that's corporate America and its executives. Why would the rest of the country behave similarly?

Fans have actually gone to a registry site to buy wedding gifts for Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins quarterback. We all wish him well, and it was kind of him to tweet his thanks to those who helped the happy couple get all their desired bedding from Bed, Bath & Beyond. But presumably the star professional athlete can afford the items himself. The idea of having a shower or even wedding gifts to help a young couple set up their home is getting a bit antiquated anyway. The idea that Griffin needs public house-furnishing support from people not even invited to the wedding is absurd.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Then we have actor Zach Braff, who has turned to crowdfunding to finance his movie, "Wish I Was Here." Braff, who makes pots of money as a well-known TV actor (he's in "Scrubs") has already raised nearly $2.7 million from individuals – well over the $2 million he sought – to make his film. He said he preferred this method of financing so he could have more artistic control over the product, and that's admirable. We all see what Hollywood produces when investors have marketing control – it's pretty much one movie after another featuring men with guns and pouty women walking around in their underwear.

Hollywood can and sometimes has done better, and if  "crowdfunding" can make it happen, all the better. But the small investors are not investors at all. If the movie becomes an enormous commercial hit, do they get a cut? Nope. Instead, they get benefits ranging from production notes from Braff to an invitation (no travel or hotel costs included) to an advance screening of the movie, followed by a Q and A with Braff. A lucky few can have their names appear in the movie – though the names may not be readable, Braff concedes.

That sounds benign (and a little pathetic for the person paying for the brief moment of fame), but isn't is just another form of odious product placement? And those who pony up $2,500 or more can be an extra in the film. That's a hell of an attitude for a working actor. Aren't actors supposed to be paid for their work, instead of the reverse? It's worse than websites that expect writers to work for "exposure."

But five people (the maximum allowed) coughed up $5,000 for the privilege of going to the premiere and to an after-party that Braff will attend. This verges on the tragic, but it explains all the instances of people giving money to rich people. They hope that by doing so, they can be nearer to them, and perhaps more like them. Give money to the wealthy, the thinking goes, and you too might be on the path to wealth. Or maybe you'll just have given a towel set or a $5,000 check to someone who can afford it on his own.

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