NFTs are a Failure at Every Single Level
The title for this Hangover is a tricky bastard, similar to long-time contributor Tricky Dick, who is notably tricky and less notable in dick. I bounced around various ideas such as “I’m here to see NFT DOOM”, “NFT, NTR, and YOU”, “Money is Fake and Society isn’t Real”, and “Buying the Clown World on Blockchain”. But the title that was swiftly NTR’d from me, courtesy of James “Motherfucker” “Stephanie” “Thank God For” Sterling, is “They’re Just Selling Nothing Now”. This is the title of their associated Jimquisition episode, and holy fuck, it is perfect. They really do be just selling nothing now, and if you’re wondering what the hell type of value “nothing” possesses these days, try the order of $69,000,000. Yes, $69,000,000 for absolute nothing, absolute fucking dick, not clickbait, real currency changed hands at an actual reputable auction house, somebody actually paid sex number million USD for a string of bytes that mean absolute fucking dick. And if you’re wondering how we got to this state of affairs, and what I mean when someone would pay $69,000,000 for absolute fucking dick, welcome to the brave new world of NFTs.
What’s an NFT? In simplest terms, it’s, uh, a scam. That’s really the summation of what this whole NFT thing is, but to get to that conclusion, we must know what the hell an NFT is. It stands for “non-fungible token”, and basically it represents a digital item which is one-of-a-kind as verified by blockchain technology. Except it isn’t one-off because anyone can copy that digital item since all transactions and data are publicly available, which is the whole point of a blockchain. The technology was invented around 2015 and has gained traction in 2021 due to real people paying $69,000,000 for absolute fucking dick. Look, here’s an auction site where people are paying thousands of dollars for digital trinkets you can literally right-click on and save to your computer. Here’s another site with live NFT transactions and people losing all their money. Currently, Wikipedia’s article on “Non-fungible token” has a whopping three paragraphs under its “uses” section, all of which were problems already solved by existing solutions that also didn’t have the side effect of literally destroying our fucking planet. Also, some guy gave the $69,000,000 picture three stars out of five. What a steal.
This is all a bit confusing, innit, so let’s do a good old question-and-answer session and clear up some of the issues you might be having with the fungus of non-fungible tokens:
Do I get copyright and trademark rights when I buy an NFT?
Do I get physical prints of artwork when I buy an NFT?
Do I get creative control of art when I buy an NFT?
Can I stop people from copying the art I bought an NFT of?
If I signed away copyright to my art, can I stop the copyright holder from selling NFTs?
Is the sale of NFTs regulated?
For tax purposes, yes. Otherwise, no.
What, exactly, do I get when I purchase an NFT for $69,000,000?
You get an NFT.
What does an NFT do?
It proves you own an NFT.
So this is basically the monetary equivalent of a snake eating its own tail?
Yes, except there is no snake.
Why do people buy NFTs then?
I’ll give you three magic words that will get you through every single tough question you’ll ever have for the rest of your life: People. Are. Stupid.
The concept of assigning arbitrary value to increasingly meaningless concepts is nothing new. Fiat currency itself is merely pieces of polyester and metal we all collectively agreed on the value of, and in our digital age our net worth is represented solely as numbers in some server somewhere which dictates how much purchasing power we possess. We don’t even get the multi-coloured pieces of clown money which rule over our lives, and instead we get to stare at our bank account balance and wonder why a single number dictates how much happiness we are allowed to feel, and why we work for the purposes of increasing that number as opposed to anything else. Economics is the dismal science, as is known, and unlike the harder sciences which analyses the world through objective measurements, economics is fundamentally make-believe as the collective delusions of nearly every human being on Earth rules the state of the globe. But bitching about it won’t make ends meet, and until the world becomes a Marxist paradise and the value of our labour is reflected in the common ownership of the property of the proletariat, we get to watch numbers go up like the world’s most retarded game of Cookie Clicker. And we all get to feel like shit because of that.
Even outside this postmodern interpretation of monetary theory, the more pragmatic value we assign to things which some would call worthless do possess some value. The classic example is Magic: The Gathering. Look, this picture of a flower costs five hundred grand. This Black man costs $25. It’s all cardboard, but at least when you purchase a piece of cardboard for $25 or $511,100 or whatever, at least you possess it. At least it’s a game piece used in the world’s most popular card game, and the cards will remain useful as long as players keep an interest in Magic and the cards themselves aren’t banned for being racist. Even meaningless curios you purchase to fill up the void in your life like a magpie collects baubles for its nest, like baseball cards, fancy art prints, and your ever-increasing collection of empty vodka and whiskey bottles, can give you some aesthetic value to spruce up your tin shack, or sentimental value in the form of memories related to that time you blacked-out in the McDonald’s bathroom and got arrested for public nudity with vomit on your cock. Hell, even paying $2.50 for virtual fucking horse armour gives you the legal privilege to dress your virtual fucking horse up in gold tack that’s golden and tacky, even if that privilege is ephemeral and reliant on some company’s servers not dying out or them just taking it away from you.
But NFTs? NFTs give you fuck all.
Imagine if you were a ridiculously wealthy billionaire who wanted to buy the Mona Lisa — or failing that, hiring the Payday Gang to go in guns blazing and drill the cunt out of her bulletproof prison. When you purchase the painting, or have it pried out over three broken drills and 50 SWAT teams, you are in physical possession of the painting regardless of the cost. You own that painting. It’s yours to do what you like with it. It makes you feel big. But imagine, if instead of buying the Mona Lisa off those snooty Frenchmen, they offered to sell it to you through an NFT. They don’t sell you the painting, it remains in the same location, the museum retains full control of what they do with it, and hordes of tourists are free to keep taking pictures of it. But they sell you a little piece of paper — a certificate of authenticity, if you will — that says you do, in fact, own the Mona Lisa. Despite not being in possession of it. Or having any control over it. Or having any tangible proof that you own the Mona Lisa except for a multi-billion dollar piece of paper saying that you do. That’s an NFT. And that piece of paper, in tangible terms, can be assessed with a reasonable estimated value of fuck all. Also you don’t actually get a physical piece of paper. Because fuck you.
You’re probably wondering if this is all just a gigantic money laundering scheme. Maybe. The fine art world spent the past century perfecting the technique of converting illegal cash into pretty pictures through aristocratic and largely unregulated price-fixing, to the benefit of a small group of extremely-wealthy elites and to the detriment of the majority of the peasantry who actually, you know, make art. But the thing is, NFTs as a technology aren’t totally worthless. The whole scheme of an NFT being a way to confirm people “own” digital goods, as meaningless as the word is in this context, can actually be useful in the context of video games and virtual worlds as a way to ensure players actually own the digital goods they claim to possess. When a transaction is recorded through the blockchain and a digital product is minted as an NFT, that means the people running the game servers can’t just change the databases as they see fit and remove items for whatever reason. Once an NFT is minted, it’s there until the end of time — or at least until computing architecture changes to the point where our current conception of blockchain algorithms becomes extinct.
But NFTs are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Blockchain is basically just a read-only database, and outside of a few notorious examples such as the recent “EAGate” scandal where an Electronic Arts employee offered guaranteed lootbox results in exchange for cash, instances of malicious server operators manipulating in-game economies for their own profit are unheard of. Hell, if server operators weren’t able to change ownership of in-game items arbitrarily, we wouldn’t be able to reverse the results of disastrous economic glitches, such as RuneScape’s twisted bow glitch straight-up spawning a one-billion gold item for free, or Team Fortress 2’s “The Crate Depression” crashing its virtual hat simulator economy. And the notion of digital ownership of “cryptoart”, as has been explained through my Mona Lisa Money Heist example, is so fucking monumentally stupid that it not only wasn’t a problem to begin with, but the “problem” it purports to solve ended up creating dozens of other problems through a technology haphazardly shoehorned into unaccepting digital spaces which are then immediately ruined through its presence.
NFTs are effectively a way to assign arbitrary scarcity to digital goods through requiring a shit-ton of electricity and computational power to be wasted through the process of minting one. Although this effort completely fucking fails considering you can just copy and paste whatever the hell the NFT is representing, this idea of artificial scarcity being a good thing is so cynically greedy and obviously designed to create products for sale where none would otherwise exist that its only current purpose is in making a quick buck for the already-privileged and well-off on the basis of a technological fad which solves no actual problems and has no current useful applications. In digital art, being able to spread artwork wherever the fuck you want — which you already can because NFTs have no mechanism to stop you from copying whatever the NFT represents — is the single most important means of allowing artists to sell their talents, and if artists aren’t shared on the Internet, they might as well not exist. And if computing technology ends up creating an ecosystem where every single image and digital file are not allowed to be copied outside of paying thousands of dollars for the privilege… why the utter fuck would we ever want that anywhere near our open and free Internet? The technological and societal implications of an Internet where every single item on it is essentially encumbered with DRM are so disastrous and dystopian that anyone seriously considering NFT technology as the future of the Internet is in equal measures monumentally stupid and morally bankrupt.
You might wonder how this NFT nonsense differs from the rampant speculation and largely-unregulated gambling that Bitcoin blockchain-based memes have been promoting for the past decade, or even how this differs from the time-tested rampant speculation and imaginary value of the stock market. Well, consider that you can actually gamble with real-world money to buy NFTs that aren’t even valuable outside of having an NFT, such as selling virtual NBA video clips through imaginary booster packs which you can already watch on YouTube for $0.00 (“Blockchain Losers Are Spending Millions On What Are Basically Useless Loot Boxes”). The difference between NFTs and other cryptocurrencies is that it turns out non-fungibility is a huge fucking deal in terms of how valuable the thing you paid millions of dollars for has as an intrinsic unit. Bitcoin generates its value as a result of wasting terawatts of energy on increasingly difficult computational tasks; it converts wastefulness to profit, which is essentially capitalism itself, and you’re able to split up fractions of that wastefulness into increasingly infinitesimal-amounts so that you have a working currency which can be traded for other goods and services (even if its practicality as a currency is objectively terrible). A stock gets its value based on how many people are are buying that stock based on how much profit its issuing company has earned up to that point, losing value when the company loses profits (please ignore Gamestop for the sake of this definition), and so you can speculate on a stock in the hopes its issuing company will become more profitable on the basis of public information, being able to sell it as a result of the work put the company put into increasing the stock’s value.
These things have real value because environmental circumstances determine that they do, even if that value becomes ever-more abstract as we get into the digital world. But NFTs embody the worst aspects of both Bitcoin and stocks. Minting one requires huge amounts of energy, yet are worthless upon conception because you can’t divide that work into subunits which can be easily traded, and there’s no company with thousands of employees backing a particular NFT and making sure its value increases alongside their profits. Even if NFTs possessed any intrinsic value and one really was worth $69,000,000, good luck converting your cryptocash back to fiat currency through the unregulated marketplace. Even something as stupid as Magic: The Gathering cards, which again are little pieces of cardboard, have actual value and can be sold at ridiculous prices because there are only so many copies of genuine Magic cards in existence and only so many times the same copy of a card can be reprinted — including a list of cards which the issuing company will never, ever reprint. NFTs can be reminted anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and they’ll be just as worthless as when they were first minted.
Purchasing an NFT then, absent of the circumstances which determine the value of a good, is even worse than straight-up gambling. At least when you burn all your money at casino slot machines, statistically, you have a non-zero chance of winning the jackpot even if your total losses are deep in the red. You have a chance, however small, of gaining a lot of money — the value comes from the number of people willing to put money in the machine in the hopes of a statistically-insignificant, albeit guaranteed over a long enough period of time, gigantic payout. NFTs have none of that hope, none of that guarantee, and none of the regulatory backing behind it which ensures their potential as an investment worthy of putting real-world money — derived from real-world work — into. When you speculate on the stock market, even a monkey can pick stocks by taping them to a dartboard and still have a good chance of making a profit. When you speculate on NFTs, you get nothing, nothing, nothing, and you will always get nothing, nothing, nothing, because an NFT itself is nothing, nothing, nothing, and will be until the end of time.
What about the environmental impact? This 5,500 word article, titled “HERE IS THE ARTICLE YOU CAN SEND TO PEOPLE WHEN THEY SAY ‘BUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES WITH CRYPTOART WILL BE SOLVED SOON, RIGHT?’”, is extremely blunt about the disasterous impacts of NFTs on our increasingly-fragile natural environment and the fundamental problems with NFTs as a concept at every level of resolution. As it turns out, creating artificial value through generating absolute fucktons of electricity waste is a poorly-considered idea whose detriments to our environments and economies are immediate and will eventually snowball into the total absorption of our planet’s resources. Not only is this particular implementation of NFTs flawed, but every other scheme used to create “value” in a digital space disproportionately benefits those who are already well-off and are able to spend tons of money on computer hardware beyond the GPUs which are typically used to mine Bitcoin, such as hard disks and smart devices. In essence, the wonders of digital technology where everyone has equal access to all information on the Internet is now being used to reinforce the same old boys’ club which gives power to the powerful and steals it from the powerless. The wealthy destroy our planet at the same time the vast majority of people will never see any value gained from NFTs whatsoever, and when our trees are barren and our rivers run black with oil, you will find you cannot eat Bitcoin.
Then there’s the damage to Internet subcultures who have been performing business just fine without the existence of this technological parasite, including independent artists who have traditionally operated through egalitarian markets. There is currently a schism among artists firing the first warning shots of an NFT-fueled civil war, with one side taking the moral high ground and saying NFTs are representative of the worst excesses of an already-exclusionary and fragile career which benefits the elites of the art world and becomes a liability for everyone else struggling to get by, and the other side saying “SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND LOOK AT MY WAD”. ArtStation, the most popular platform for commercial artists of all stripes, announced plans to create a proof-of-concept for selling NFTs to potential buyers. This lasted three hours before they immediately walked it back. Is there any further proof of the divisiveness of this technology that it took three fucking hours for a group of Twitter shitflingers to bully a corporation into releasing an apology letter?
One side is in favour of equal opportunity to profit off their work through fair marketplaces which have already existed for decades in a manner which doesn’t destroy the planet they inhabit, using the power of the Internet to share their works with their fans and trading money through negotiated commissions instead of rampant, exclusionary speculation of unregulated digital goods. The other side is in favour of Logan Fucking Paul. And Logan Fucking Paul, I will note, sold 44 copies of a $38,500 GIF of him as a boxer despite his professional record of 0 wins and 1 loss. That’s $1,640,000 in the pockets of the Web’s most notorious narcissist for absolute fucking dick, money which could have been better spent on literally — yes, the no-bullshit, unexaggerated form of the word “literally” — any other endeavour and it would have contributed more to the improvement of our dismal world than giving $1,640,000 to a sociopathic Internet clown whose most notable contribution to world culture is molesting a fish and tazing dead rats.
All of this, this unholy combining of valueless speculation, planetary destruction, and cultural dividing, all on an unregulated and currently-useless technology not even six years old… what is it in service of? What’s the point of any of this shit? And here we go back to my three magic words: People. Are. Stupid. No sane or rational human being would ever purchase an NFT, and the ones who are selling them are immoral bastards who are cashing out on a quick buck off $69,000,000 JPGs that won’t even exist after a few years. Believe it or not, while NFTs can mint anything digital, most implementations on auction websites don’t actually mint the picture itself. They mint a JSON file which points to the picture somewhere on the house’s servers — so, in essence, a $69,000,000 piece of metadata. Not only is this current technological fad completely fucking stupid, but the stupidity won’t even be documented once the servers for the auction houses are taken offline, giving all current NFTs minted using this method a shelf-life of however the hell long it takes for the auction house to go bankrupt. One auction site’s tagline currently says “We will not rest until 1 billion people are collecting NFTs”, which is less “unchecked optimism” and more “narcissistic delusion”. Yes, as hard as it is to believe a highly-speculative unregulated Internet startup operating in a market which was invented last month is likely to go bankrupt, that fancy picture you just bought is not only not a picture, but you also only have a decade to enjoy it. When that happens, you will have bought… nothing. Literally nothing.
What in the world could be the psychological motivations that would compel a person to purchase absolute fucking dick? We know the people selling them are grifters, but purchasing them is another set of psychological motivators. The only article I saw on the subject is titled “Why would anyone buy crypto art – let alone spend millions on what’s essentially a link to a JPEG file?”. What’s most telling is the first subheader: “Art is inherently social”. This is conspicuous consumption; you spend money on worthless crap to prove to other people you have enough wealth and status to spend money on useless crap, which is why Supreme got away with selling a fucking brick. Without going into a 490-page rant like No Logo, human beings have such little going on in their lives they seek approval from random idiots for their stupid decisions because they aren’t brave enough to be confident in themselves. If you create a brand that says you are a very special individual, you can gather other very special individuals around each other to create a community of very special individuals who will then buy your fucking brick. This has been going on for the past century and nothing in the human condition has changed. The evolution of purchasing increasingly specious objects to make you believe you have any worth in the world has culminated in, uh, this. Spending $69,000,000 on absolute fucking dick.
Alright, what if you like the art? What if you’re a total fucking idiot who actually cares about independent artists and the shit they make, which is why all the NFT speculators care so much about the arts that they all coincidentally started commissioning unique artworks from the artists they admire after someone spent $69,000,000 on absolute fucking dick just two weeks ago, as opposed to rushing to purchase NFTs from barely-legal auction houses for the purposes of speculation on goods that never existed in the first place and will double-not-exist after the auction servers are unplugged and we realise that NFTs were basically a pyramid scheme. If you somehow found yourself unsatisfied with the already-existing infrastructure that websites like ArtStation, DeviantART, Patreon, OnlyFans, Fur Affinity, and Pornhub have implemented for the purposes of allowing clients to connect with artists and negotiate prices from there, and you want to waste a ton of money in an extremely short period of time on a digital URL that represents a picture which gives you zero sentimental value or creative control whatsoever, then instead of destroying the fucking planet by purchasing an NFT representing a picture which can be infinitely minted over-and-over again anyway, why don’t you just send them a donation? Oh, but then you can’t pretend to own something you possess no copyright, physical prints, or meaningful exclusivity over. Because that makes you more of a man than giving charity does. Because you’re scum.
My own research into this NFT business has been surreal. This concept is so fucking stupid at every conceivable level that I cannot wrap my head around why anyone would ever be a part of this technology. This is like a fucked-up absurdist satire of the banality of human existence, where when we have already exhausted every material good we can fritter our lives away in the meaningless pursuit of collecting — from $14,000 Funko Pop purchases to Beanie Baby Divorces — we now turn our lives towards spending millions upon millions of dollars on virtual goods, absent of any value beyond the money we already wasted, attempting to find meaning in the virtual where the endless excesses of the physical has none. The more I look into this technology, the more disconnected from it I become, with my brain rejecting it as a legitimate concept due to its intrinsic banality and as a result putting me in this state of unreality where I’ve written thousands of words of criticism on the topic and yet still cannot fully understand it as a real concept that actually exists alongside everything I’ve come to learn about through my decades of existence as a living human being. The ending of that prior all-caps article summarises my feelings: “I will not be taking any questions on this or any platform because I’ve never been more bored of and depressed by a topic that I’ve written 5000 words on in my entire life”. Bored and depressed. This is what I’ve come to in my writings.
To sum it all up, I will present the first and only time I have ever agreed with Kotaku on anything: “Crypto Art Belongs In The Trash”. Or perhaps the toilet, as a toilet paper brand is now selling toilet paper-themed NFTs, right after Taco Bell got in on the action and sold out within 30 minutes. Taco Bell, toilet paper, trash culture, and the destruction of our global ecosystem. Amen, based retards. Amen.