On October 2, 1984, author and media theorist Neil Postman gave the keynote address at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In that address, Postman presented an essay entitled “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness.” During his talk, he surprised the crowd by saying he thought the fair’s theme, which was focused on George Orwell, was a mistake.
Of the two defining dystopian novels of the 20th century, Postman argued that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World got it right, not Orwell’s 1984.
“Orwell missed the mark completely,” he explained in a statement that remains, for some, as startling today as it was almost 40 years ago. Why was Orwell off base? According to Postman, he failed to accurately identify the thing that truly plagues humanity. “As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions,’” Postman explained in the essay.
And the NFT community is now dealing with one such distraction — possibly the biggest distraction it has ever seen, given the financial and cultural significance of the individuals and entities involved. And we have to talk about it, as we’ve all fallen for the very trap Postman so eloquently described in his keynote speech. And we must do better.
BAYC Nazi allegations
As you undoubtedly have heard by now, Yuga Labs, the founders of Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), have been accused of being racist nazis. The main proponent of this theory is an individual by the name of Ryder Ripps, a creative director who has worked with world-famous brands and stars as big as Kanye West.
Ripps, who was raised in a Jewish family, has been assembling his case for months, periodically pumping out what he views as evidence on Twitter and YouTube. His claims are obscure, tenuous, and (most importantly) have been largely discredited by experts from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization devoted to stopping the defamation of the Jewish people.
Just as an example, Ripps argues that BAYC’s symbol, a white ape skull bordered by white text on all sides, is a reference to the Nazi Totenkopf symbol. Except that, along with the other allegations that Ripps has made, the claim is baseless. In this particular case, the ADL Center on Extremism analyzed the logo claims, and they said they find nothing that backs up Ripps’ assertion. Speaking to Input, Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the ADL’s Center on Extremism who has been called as an expert in court cases, noted that there was no legitimate connection. “The Nazi Totenkopf is one very specific graphic design of a skull and crossbones….And the monkey skull resembles it in no way except insofar as all skulls resemble each other to a certain degree,” he said.
We aren’t going to go through and debunk all the claims, as there are many articles and organizations that have already done so.
Either way, on June 24, after being at the receiving end of months of Nazi accusations, Gordon Goner (Wylie Aronow), one of BAYC’s co-founders, took to Medium to put to rest the rumors and set the record straight once and for all. The post, which you can make up your own mind about, is relatively short and directly addresses the four main assertions brought against them.
The most recent development in this sorry saga came on June 25, when the founders of BAYC announced a lawsuit against Ripps, claiming that he has made deliberate efforts to devalue the original BAYC collection. We will have to see how that plays out, but whatever the outcome of the trial, it’s largely beside the point.
The NFT community needs to do better
The point is that the Bored Ape Yacht Club accusations and the noises surrounding them are a distraction and a smokescreen. Perhaps not an intentionally engineered one (we don’t pretend to know exactly what Ripps’ intent is) but one that exists nonetheless. And you should pay it the little amount of attention it deserves.
Because here’s the thing: We’re having the wrong discussion. Spectacles like these feed into our Huxleyian desire for distraction. And the fact is that scandals like this are a complete waste of everyone’s time — the founders’, Ripps’, the legal systems’, and yours and mine.
There are legitimate criticisms that can and should be levied against the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Yuga Labs, like how the company is exceptionally centralized and recreating many of the problems we see with Big Tech companies in Web 2.0. Also, of course, there are other issues in the NFT space that are systemic in nature and cause individuals (particularly people of color) actual, objective harm. And that’s just the start of the laundry list of issues we have to tackle. The crypto bear market has sent NFT creators into a descending spiral of mental health, anonymity in Web3 has some frightening drawbacks, and the list goes on and on.
Issues like these require (and 100 percent deserve) the attention of everyone involved or interested in Web3, and nonsense like conspiracy theories detract from these crucial conversations. The most upsetting thing about all of this is how such a vacant affair steals our attention from the very real problems and issues affecting the NFT community as a whole, which are numerous.
We don’t have time for tabloid fodder. We all have work to do, and the NFT community needs to do better. But of course, this isn’t a finger-pointing game. nft now also has some lessons to learn and improvements to make.
We need to do better
When the news initially started making the rounds, we opted to cover it with a post on Instagram. We did so because we didn’t want to devote too many editorial resources to a story that is, at best, a tabloid conspiracy theory.
That was a mistake. We shouldn’t have covered it at all.
Instead, we should have used that space to uplift an artist, highlight an innovative project, or even just post something that makes people smile. Or even better, we could have used the space to highlight real inequities that plague the community.
We are a news publisher, and we owe it to ourselves and our readers to carefully select what news is worthy of coverage. We owe it to ourselves and our readers to focus our attention on the news that matters — on the stories that uplift, inspire, or highlight legitimate concerns and real-world harms. So today, we are rolling out new editorial policies to help guide better decision-making in the future.
Moving forward, we aren’t going to cover conspiracy theories or gossip — not in articles, social posts, videos, or any other medium. How do we determine what is and is not a conspiracy theory or gossip?
The most critical thing is that experts from the industry or community in question (like the ADL) should be active in discussing the topic or, at the very least, have not dismissed the claims. The broader policy is the following: If any claims being made are overly tenuous and rely on obscure references and puzzles, aren’t endorsed by relevant experts, are only backed by an exceptionally niche subset of the community, or lack what is widely understood to be “objective evidence” we will not give them our attention.
In such instances, please know that it’s not that we aren’t aware of breaking stories or don’t have our finger on the pulse. Rather, it’s that we are working to bring attention to the stories that truly matter. We encourage others in the community to adopt similar policies in relation to their channels and communications. And as always, we welcome feedback. Please head to our “Community” page to reach out.