When push comes to shove, the rich and famous will choose NFTs over an inhabitable planet every time.
Every day, another one bites the dust. Just this week: Serena Williams tersely announced her foray into the Bored Ape NFT craze, Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon awkwardly advertised their own monkeys on late-night TV, Liam Payne made a Twitter account just for NFT talk, and it was revealed that late grunge legend Kurt Cobain’s 55th birthday will be commemorated with the sale of meaningless digital receipts of Nirvana photographs. 2021 was already the year in which celebrities began to cash in on the NFT game, but more recently, it’s as if all of the famous people in the country gathered together in a gilded lair and hashed out a collective rollout strategy announcing each of their entrances into the crypto pseudo-art-collecting game.
The degree to which celebrities have recently flocked in droves to the crypto offshoot and the ways they’ve marketed their involvement is particularly telling; especially considering the vast coverage of how inane, precarious, and environmentally devastating NFTs are. “Crypto is here to stay,” Reese Witherspoon, perhaps the most vocal A-list star within the recent celebrity crypto craze, tweeted in December. “I’m committed to supporting creators who have pioneered the NFT space, and encouraging more women to be a part of the conversation.” This week, Tinashe also staked her interest in the space, in part due to her desire to bring women into the world of this purportedly exciting new frontier of tech.
Some might see non-fungible tokens as a philosophically intriguing concept (i.e. what exactly determines that something has value to begin with?), a middle finger to the powers that be in the art world, or an opportunity to support underrepresented groups and creators in an emerging space. But none of that is, in fact, how it largely plays out in the real world — those with power, wealth, and influence are still the ones who have the actual pieces to what is a mostly made-up new digital game. Witherspoon, whether or not she realizes it, is just advocating for girlbossery in the latest iteration of a capitalist scheme.
Most NFTs, certainly those from small artists, are largely worthless, but they can be a guaranteed moneymaker if you are Tony Hawk or William Shatner, launching them to be eaten up by their fans. This is the implicit understanding that celebrities have of the NFT craze — it’s a fun, new cash cow if you’re famous — even if they might have convinced themselves that they’re buying into something more noble and exciting than that basic truth.
Of course, the fact that the rich are collectively investing in something that is financially promising isn’t exactly novel — there’s nothing surprising or particularly appalling about wealthy people using their influence to amass more wealth. But there is something stark and insidious about this specific investment relationship with NFTs, particularly in the dissonance between what NFTs are themselves — inane and full of ethical implications — and the hollow ways in which the celebrities seem to be publicly selling and trumpeting them as some sort of exciting, future-forward venture for humankind that they’re inviting us along the way for.
“Fortune favors the brave,” Matt Damon, the spokesperson for crypto and NFT platform Cypto.com, declares while comparing digital coins to the discovery of the new world and space exploration in an ad — one of the most high profile endorsements of crypto yet. Earlier this month, Witherspoon chimed in again on Twitter, to much ridicule: “In the near future, every person will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this? ”
The chorus of fan disappointment that comes with each star’s announcement of their entrance into the NFT space stems from this dissonance; as celebrities have essentially revealed themselves to be glorified influencers, shamelessly selling their version of a flat tummy tea while posing as tech bros (to be an actual tech bro, there should be an element of the new technology that is legitimately exciting, promising, or remotely interesting). It’s essentially a way for those with influence to shamelessly sell a napkin they’ve just used — except worse yet, it’s essentially just the idea of owning the napkin rather than the napkin itself — for exorbitant sums, but under the guise and prestige of “innovative technology.”
The craze has exposed the empty virtue-signaling, or at the very least contradictory thinking, of many of the same famous people who have claimed to be part of some sort of progressive vision of a better and more equitable, habitable world. The list of those who have both cashed in on the NFT game and are also involved in some sort of activism or campaign against climate change is long and egregious. Damon, for instance, recently announced the partnership between his nonprofit Water.org, whose mission is to improve water access in areas where things are only bound to get worse from climate change, and Crypto.com.
Unfortunately, as crypto promises to become bigger, the NFT-celebrity venn diagram is only going to grow. Another day, another digital ledge down this capitalist hellscape. If only more of our stars could just be like Brian Eno.