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Butch Hartman And His Fall From Grace

I've had some people reaching out to me about Butch Hartman and his Kickstarter.  They were curious why I wasn't supporting his endeavor with Oaxis.  Or they were thinking I was refusing to for the wrong reasons.  First up, I may be a Christian, but I don't support or oppose people simply because they are or aren't Christian -- faith in God does not automatically make you good or bad.  And the idea of Oaxis being a Christian site for evangelizing isn't my problem, either.  There are plenty of web sites, TV stations, books, movies, and so on that expound on the Christian faith and promote it, and I'm content to interact with what I'm comfortable with and to disregard what I'm not.  The problem with Hartman goes much deeper, and has to do with the fact that...well, no one knows what is really going on, and he's not talking.

Let's start with the basics -- Butch Hartman is a longtime animator and cartoonist.  As you may have surmized, he is also a Christian, which will factor into things later.  Graduating from the legendary CalArts school, he started off with work for Ruby Spears on their Punky Brewster cartoon.  Hartman eventually wound up in the modeling department at Hanna-Barbera.  When Cartoon Network decided to branch into original cartoons, they turned to the talent pool at HB.  Hartman created three shorts for the What A Cartoon! incubator, Phish And Chip and Gramps, before finding steady work as a writer, director, and storyboard artist on a variety of shows from Dexter's Lab to I Am Weasel.

Hartman would eventually leave HB and Cartoon Network, landing at Nickelodeon.  There he created The Fairly Oddparents, which became Nickelodeon's biggest show -- it even outdrew SpongeBob Squarepants for a while.  He also created Danny Phantom, and developed a rather large ego.

Cut to a few months ago.  Hartman decided to leave Nickelodeon and strike out on his own.  He had a YouTube channel for a couple of years by this point, and decided to try and leverage that to create a new platform.  He started a Kickstarter for something he called Oaxis, and was asking for $250K.

So what exactly is Oaxis?  ...well, that's a good question.  The Kickstarter promised pretty much every kind of media in existence (it promised sitcoms, family drama, animation, home and garden, reality, fitness, feature films, and documentaries), but also that people would be able to upload their own videos to the site.  He also emphasized that the site would be "family friendly."  I've been around long enough to know that "family friendly" means different things to different people (Ralph Bakshi said Wizards was his attempt to make a "family film."  Let's be polite and say it had some interesting choices for a family friendly film).  If you say "family friendly," you're going to have people asking you to be more specific.  But there was nothing there.  There was nothing saying what Oaxis would do that YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, or the huge variety of other streaming services couldn't.  There were no other names mentioned as being affiliated with the project other than Hartman himself, and no mention of a business plan or how content creator's rights would be handled.  Just a dream and passing the hat.

So, it's a Kickstarter.  There are usually tiers for people who pledge large amounts, sometimes a T-shirt to all sorts of exclusive swag if you cough up enough dough.  What were some of Hartman's tiers?  Well, for a $1,000 pledge, you got three free art academy lessons from Hartman himself.  $5,000 got you that, all lower tier rewards, and a one-hour group video call with Hartman himself.  $10,000 got you all the lower tier stuff plus your name as a producer credit on one Oaxis original production of your choice.  Even the horrible Growing Around Kickstarter at least put you in the background of a scene, not just a name in the credits.

...no, that is not enough information to know what you're getting for the money.

The vagueness caused a lot of people who had seen Kickstarters bust out (like, off the top of my head, Yogventures) to question the whole thing.  In response to this, Hartman uploaded a video to attempt to answer questions.  The video was approximately 2 minutes 16 seconds long.  His responses were aggressively vague, saying he knew it took more than a quarter mil to launch a streaming service, that was just the start-up funds.  He would get more money, but he never said where the money might be coming from.  He said there would be other people involved in Oaxis, but he never mentions who or where he's looking to find the talent from.  But then he tries to clarify "family focused," saying that the content would be for people from all walks of life and would appeal to everyone and that it won't be boring.  The last day of the Kickstarter, Hartman hosts a live stream to beat the drum.  He says he will answer all questions.  And he does.

Except for one.  And this is where the problems really began.

One viewer asks if Oaxis will be LGBT-friendly.

Hartman ignores the question.

Others in the chat pick up on this and begin spamming the question.  Hartman continues to ignore it.

And this is the problem.  Hartman promises that the service will appeal to people across all walks of life, but he is staying strangely silent on what has become a make-or-break social issue.  Who else is going to be involved, and what are their stances going to be?  This isn't Hartman's personal YouTube channel where he can ignore LGBT issues if he chooses to.  This is a business that will forge a cultural identity.  Hartman clearly knows the identity he wants, but he's not saying what key parts of it will be.  Red flag.

Then, the next little problem.  One streamer asks if Oaxis is going to be a Christian service.  Hartman says no, but it will rely heavily on Christian values.  And THIS is where I have a problem with the whole endeavor.  Setting aside his curious silence on LGBT stuff (and how that ties in with radical conservative Christians).  Relying on Christian values, surprise, is an identity.  It is what will shape the content of your network and how it is seen.  And up to this point, "Christian values" have not been mentioned ONCE.  Not on the Kickstarter page.  Not in any press.  This is the first time it has come up, just before the campaign ends and most people aren't paying attention to remove their support.  "Christian values" opens up more quesitons than "family friendly" -- does he support gay rights or does he go the Kirk Cameron-Kevin Sorbo route of saying supporting gays will cause God to destroy America?  Does he believe, as an unfortunately number of people do, that Donald Trump was chosen by God to save America from secularism, or does he see Trump as an exploiter of Christianity?  Does he support interfaith and coexistence, or does he believe that Christianity is IT and anyone who isn't Christian is an enemy of God?  And which particular branch of Christianity does he allign himself with, and what values does that inform?  For him to slide this detail in so casually, combined with the hot button issue of gay rights, makes the whole thing look manipulative, like he was hiding this detail because he knew nothing good would come of it.

The last few hours of the campaign had the pledges just below $200K.  But then suddenly, he gets past the $250K goal, landing at about $268K raised.

Then, someone dug up a video of Hartman speaking at a religious conference.  In it, he talks about Oaxis and how he definitely wants to infuse Christian values into the shows he puts on Oaxis.  Now, it is possible that, when he talks about infusing Christian messages, he means Davey And Goliath stuff about being a good person, being honest, helping others, and all that stuff.  No harm in that.  But the overall impression from the talk is that Oaxis is supposed to be a means to evangelize and convert non-believers -- he doesn't say this, but his silences on issues while opening stating his desires creates a context for the speech that comes across as very very questionable.  After all, it's not like he's been descriptive about what Oaxis is supposed to be.  He is creating a situation where people have to guess, where what they are guessing isn't good, and he's doing NOTHING to correct assumptions.

A Kickstarter backer named Matthew Brock started having misgivings about the whole thing.  Contacting Kickstarter about withdrawing his support, he was told that, with the campaign over, he would have to get the money back from Hartman himself.  Unable to make contact with him, Brock posted that he felt misled and wanted his money back.  The comment was deleted in short order.  Brock tried again.  It was deleted again.

And Hartman hasn't said anything since the live stream. No new videos.  No updates regarding criticism.  Nothing.

Now, it is possible that Hartman really does have noble goals and ideals, and that these things are much ado about nothing.

But I can't help it.

This looks shady.  Something is wrong.  And whatever negative image the whole thing has, Hartman is content to let it continue instead of trying to fix it up.

And until he answers some hard questions, I want no part of this.

Comments

sinetimore
Jul. 23rd, 2018 06:11 am (UTC)
Which is a shame. Hartman created some great stuff. You hate to think someone who makes so much wonderful stuff could be so dodgy. But you never really know about some people, I guess.

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