Thursday, February 10, 2022

We'll give Cartman the last word

[For those not familiar with the layered awfulness of Web3, see here, here, here, and here]

You might have expected people to come out of 2008 more cautious about scams and too-good-to-be-true investments, but for whatever reason (Joseph has some ideas), exactly the opposite happened. Unicorns with laughable business plans can lose hundreds of millions and still be held up as models for their industries. Rumors and pump-and-dump schemes can send the stock of even bankrupt companies through the roof. In this world, crypto seems the next logical step with NFTs the inevitable conclusion. 

After money laundering, the thing NFTs are best at is monetizing fame. The profit potential is huge and since the press, including supposedly sober and responsible publications like the NYT, have largely decided to play along, there is little to no reputational hit for celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, and Jimmy Fallon, and of course, Gwyneth Paltrow joining in on the grift. 

At least we still have South Park.

Sonia Rao writing for the Washington Post.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who promises a better life through items sold by her luxury wellness brand [I would have changed "items" to "dangerous new-age snake oil" but that's just me -- MP], is now promoting digital artwork of a blinking cartoon ape. Matt Damon pops up during commercial breaks to compare the act of investing in cryptocurrency to scaling Mount Everest or exploring space. Reese Witherspoon recently took a break from chatting about her book club and production company to share an ominous prophecy.

“In the (near) future, every person will have a parallel digital identity,” Witherspoon tweeted from her personal account in January. “Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?”


Of course, wealthier celebrities have little to lose, as the dollar-sign appeal of these endorsements is the same as any other. The price of bitcoin is surely a small fraction of what Damon took home to place crypto investors on a pedestal beside the Wright brothers. But influential figures attaching their names — and finances, in some cases — to the burgeoning form of currency carries implications beyond their own padded wallets, physical or digital.


Now, back to Matt Damon. His one-minute spot for, the company after which the Staples Center was renamed, frames investing in cryptocurrency as a holy crusade. Its YouTube description paints Web3 — the vague concept of a decentralized World Wide Web, based on the blockchain — as our inevitable future. “Fortune favors the brave,” the actor pronounces, tracing the proverb back to the ancient Romans.

Damon is a storyteller by trade; his job, in many ways, is to sell ideas to the public. But many considered it ludicrous and unsettling for a man with such deep pockets to place himself on an even playing field with the average viewer — as he does while referring to historic figures as “mere mortals, just like you and me” — before encouraging them to direct their money toward what his grandiose calls for courage imply is a risky investment.

Even “South Park” made a mockery of Damon’s endorsement in its season premiere this week.

“What does Matt Damon say on that bitcoin commercial? Fortune favors the brave,” Cartman says in an effort to get classmates to join him in rebelling against their school principal. Clyde notes that his father “listened to Matt Damon and lost all his money,” which Cartman quickly brushes off.

“Yes, everyone did! But they were brave in doing so!”

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