The thing about NFTs is they are not real. You own a version of an image that exists inside your computer. What NFTs really are, though, is the culmination of rich people shaving the art industry down into a place for them to flaunt their own wealth or hide it. There’s nothing more to it. It’s not interesting. It’s killing the planet. It’s a game for people with so much money that they can afford to toss $500,000 in the trash for fun.
But you probably know all of this. NFTs have been boring and annoying, but I have tried for the most part to avoid looking straight at them because I knew that the moment my eyes met with one I would transform into a fiery ball of rage and be unable to put myself out.
Unfortunately, I was forced to look at NFTs in the form of a friendly chat between Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. Here is that clip:
Most of this clip could be translated as You’re rich or We are rich. Let’s take the first sentence. Jimmy Fallon says, “Forbes has named you one of the Top 50 most influential people in the NFT space.” This is true. Paris Hilton is ranked seventh. But it is also a sentence that means absolutely nothing. This is the equivalent of saying, “Rich People Magazine has named you, Paris Hilton, someone who has never not known a life of wealth, as a very influential person in spending money in a space invented for rich people to spend money frivolously.” Sure, whatever.
The audience is then, clearly, given an applause sign because they hoot and holler for this. It is nothing worth applauding. If I were a millionaire heiress whose family money sprung from a chain of hotels all over the world, I, too, would be influential in every space, because I would be rich and that’s exactly how wealth works.
Hilton then says a bunch of stuff that is meaningless about loving the community of NFTs? Which, OK, sure? It’s nice to have hobbies, I guess? Rich people do love to get together where no one can remind them that poor people exist, so this makes sense. Now they can just do it in the metaverse without having to summon a car or charter a jet to an island that can’t be found on Google Maps.
But the part that sent me into a rage spiral, though, is when Fallon says, “We’re part of the same community. We’re both apes!”
This is such a dystopian clip. It’s so fucking bleak. I mean, look at their eyes. Both of their eyes, throughout this entire segment, are dead. You can see the matte black of their pupils, the muted smiles. The jokes are scripted. The laughs are scripted. They can’t even fake it! And these are professional entertainers! They don’t need to go on television and talk about the things they have invested money in. They have chosen to, and yet it is absolutely clear as day that they don’t want to. They aren’t talking about these apes because they like them, or think they’re cute, or genuinely want to talk about this. Their whole job is to fake it and make even more money in the process! The entire role we have now created of “influencer” is to convince people to buy things. What’s hard about that job is that people have to believe that you use the product or at the very least endorse it.
Both Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton are rich enough that they don’t even need to do that! Talking about these Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, neither of them can even feign interest. We’ve spent a minimum of $224,000 to own these weird monkeys because someone told us they would add more money to our pile of money, their body language says, please applaud us for our investments.
It’s almost like they are only flaunting this expensive, stupid monkey—that none of us could ever afford—in front of a live studio audience to get applause and remind themselves that they are richer than us, and therefore better than us, and that one moment will give them a tiny hit of dopamine and fulfill the purpose of people like us: to make them happier.
But it’s even stupider than that. Investments do not actually pay off until you have managed to sell it to someone else. Rich people investing in art have made it a much more stable world to turn a profit than it probably should be, but this is by no means foolproof, or morally defensible. The reason people collect art instead of stocks or jewels or gold bars is because it is beautiful. Because art whispers something special in your ear that transforms you and the ways you see this world. Art moves people so much they call it priceless, not because they haven’t had it properly appraised, but because of immeasurable personal value. At the very least you are supposed to buy art you actually fucking like! What’s so embarrassing to me about this clip is that they don’t even seem to care about their apes at all. They have no interest in them. They barely even see their apes, probably because all they own is an expensive screenshot of their ape and the promise that it—and the people who own these apeshots—are unique and breathtaking.
The whole time this little fragment was going on, I kept imagining a real piece of art in Fallon’s hand. Imagine if they had both invested in some artist’s work because they really liked the way that it looked and found it interesting. Imagine if they’d both bought a piece they found because they simply wanted something beautiful and now, on The Tonight Show of all places, they could introduce this artist to the world. They would still be doing the same thing: increasing the value of their investment by artificially inflating the demand. But at least there might be a glimmer of passion there, a sense that they are investing in the arts because they love this piece and not just because their accountant told them to move money around.
A celebrity endorsement or promotion could completely change a young artist’s life. The attention and money that could could flow to an artist would create countless ripple effects. It could allow someone to make art for the rest of their life. But instead we get this: a group of celebrities so rich and so boring that even their attempts to be interesting fall flat.