Mapping the celebrity NFT complex
Where do celebrities even hear about “bored apes”? Who is recommending that they buy one? Is this really the best thing any of them can think to do with their money and fame?
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Have you seen this profoundly unsettling video of Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon discussing their purchases of "Bored Ape Yacht Club" NFTs on The Tonight Show? Bored Ape Yacht Club, in case you don't know about it, is a collection of computer-drawn images of apes in human clothes, sold as NFTs on marketplaces like the website OpenSea; for a significant sum, you can purchase a Bored Ape image — technically, what you're purchasing is a record on the blockchain that assigns your blockchain address exclusive ownership of that image — and use it as your Twitter avatar and role-play as an ape, or whatever. And now Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton each have one, as they explain in the above video.
Fallon and Hilton are only two of the many celebrities who have purchased BAYC NFTs: Gwyneth Paltrow, Logan Paul, Eminem, and the dreaded Chainsmokers all own apes. Justin Bieber has one, though the precise purchase mechanism and ownership of his is somewhat unclear. Other celebrities have gotten into different NFT collections: Reese Witherspoon, for example, is a collector and promoter of the "World of Women" NFT collection, which Gus Wenner's Rolling Stone tells me is "cracking crypto's boys-cub image." (Witherspoon is, overall, an apparently intense enthusiast for the blockchain-based "web3" vision of the future of the internet, in which NFTs are predicted to play a prominent role.)
I find the world of NFT-flogging celebrities fascinating, both because of the visceral, skin-crawling embarrassment I feel when I see people like Fallon and Hilton half-heartedly try to express enthusiasm for their expensive new Twitter avatars, and also because it gives me the sense that there is something going on behind the scenes here that I am not quite privy to. Where does a person like Paris Hilton or Eminem even hear about “bored apes”? Who is recommending that they buy one? Is this really the best thing any of them can think to do with their money and fame?
If you pay attention to both the Hollywood trades and the crypto press, and smoke enough weed, you can begin to pick out the contours of an expanding, interconnected, celebrity-based web3 financial-cultural complex: Did you know, for example, that Jimmy Fallon is represented by CAA, which is an investor in the NFT marketplace OpenSea, and which recently signed a deal to represent the NFT collector 0xb1, who owns NFTs from Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women? Did you know that another CAA client, Ashton Kutcher1, is also an investor in OpenSea, through his company Sound Ventures? Or that Kutcher will be starring in a Netflix romcom called Your Place or Mine with Reese Witherspoon, the most prominent owner of World of Women NFTs, who also happens to be married to a CAA agent? Or that the people behind World of Women and Bored Ape Yacht Club are both represented by Kutcher's partner in Sound Ventures, the music manager Guy Oseary? Did you know that Oseary's other major venture these days is pearpop, a platform for connecting Tiktok influencers to celebrities for collaborations — a platform used by none other than Paris Hilton?
If you have access to a free trial of some chart-making software, you can even begin to make a corkboard map of this emerging web of ownership, business relationships, and incredibly bad art:
I don't quite know what to make of this. Is it a … scam? A dodge? A conspiracy? One of the funny things that the world of web3 seems intent on revealing is the extent to which the boundaries between concepts like "Ponzi scam," "pyramid scheme," "multi-level marketing," "conspiracy," and "just regular old financial capitalism working as intended" are not really as clear as we might like or hope.
In which case, maybe it’s just … a bunch of rich people and companies in the same couple businesses forming close ties? (An “NFT keiretsu,” as Malcolm Harris puts it.) If you took a close look at the upper echelons of any industry you could probably make a map like that one; there is lots of money in Hollywood and not always, during a transitional era, a clear place to put it. Celebrities are a natural fit for the web3 world: More than anything else, the value of a given NFT is a function of its perceived exclusivity, coolness, and prominence, and so a halfway decent celebrity should be able to generate capital gains on their NFT holdings simply by going on a popular nightly talk show and discussing their NFT portfolio with the host. One reason the clip is so weird and funny is that it's not all that different from Hilton going on The Tonight Show and talking about her favorite penny stocks, while Fallon enthusiastically confirms that he's invested, too.
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Did you know, for that matter, that Ashton Kutcher is starring, with his wife Mila Kunis, in a web series called Stoner Cats, which is accessible only if you own NFTs of its characters? And that Vitalik Buterin, creator of the Ethereum blockchain, has been a guest star? What else are these people keeping from us??