Dear artists, scholars, good-deed-doers, what if I offered to pay you money to let me place my name in front of yours on everything you do. Every time your name gets mentioned from now on, my name will be mentioned too, usually first. Keep in mind, I'm willing to PAY you for this. You can make some money by letting me brand your work product from now on with my name. I won't do anything else (like help you in any way), but every time you get noticed for your efforts, I'll pay you one time right now to forever let my name be a part of your public notice. All newspaper articles written about you, all magazine profiles, even on any official bios you may post online or in print, my name will now be there, alongside yours.
My question is, how much would you charge me for this? Would the right price be higher than $1,000? $10,000? $500,000?
This is my perspective on the MacArthur Fellowship (aka the Genius Grant).
I don't see the difference between what the MacArthur foundation does and the offer I made above, with one crucial exception: I gave you a choice, they didn't.
The MacArthur foundation never asks you if you want to be branded with their name for the rest of your life. In fact, they don't even tell you that you are a target of their branding campaign until it's too late. And what's the fellows' compensation? A tidy sum, but couched in the offer I make above, I'm guessing almost every single MacArthur fellow would seriously hesitate before agreeing to it, and many would say no.
Am I being cynical? A curmudgeon? Too clever for my own good?
Or is The MacArthur foundation the most wickedly clever viral branding campaign ever? One could argue that they get nothing out of this ... then again, I didn't claim to get anything out of the above proposal either. In the end, I gave you a choice, they didn't.