image by Chad Essley
Simcerity: I’m Against NFTs (It doesn’t matter much to me)
1: WE ARE DUCHAMPIAN OF THE WORLD
When Marcel Duchamp — possibly at the suggestion of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven — dropped that urinal on an art gallery back in 1917, he signaled the world of art, contemporariness, galleries and capital that their was a new jest in town.
image by Jay Cornell
Value was to be an abject/object poke in the eye of the beholder. Bourgeois 20th Century was readymade for its closeup pisstake. Excrementalism would soon follow. Warhol branded it in the context of mediation — firing not the first but the most influential implication of infinite gesture into the rapidly virtualizing human condition. Now, this very year, someone has finally popped Jeff Koons balloon. Are we free yet?
2: SIMCERELY — MONDO VANILLI’S AUTHENTIC INAUTHENTICITY
CNN: “Vanderbilt University apologizes for using ChatGPT to write mass-shooting email.”
Simcerity has always been at least somewhat reflexive in the public arena. The medicine showmen who mounted the stage, the corporate publicists who still do… the countercultural media pranking yippies, and all the purchasable cultural products from recordings to cinematic experience — all have worked and hustled (and continue to) this tricksy interzone between direct lived experience and virtuality — an otherish imaginal space of work play and mutual infections.
In 1990, the fake band Milli Vanilli was busted in the media for lip-synching music they didn’t sing and that was recorded by by professional studio musicians. A preposterously bland piece of pap, one of the brands’ recording was rewarded with a Grammy by the wise persons of the music industry. When I read about the great lip-sinking crisis while editing a piece for MONDO 2000 about life in simulacra, I decided to form the band MONDO Vanilli. It was to be a VR band. We embraced authentic inauthenticity — taking the pretense out of pretense. If we would make music (and we weren’t sure whether actually engaging in activity other than gestural branding was a violation of our spirit), we would lip-sync without apologies. We would franchise MONDO Vanilli, allowing only performance artists and ultra-banal copy bands to use the moniker. Eventually we actually used $90,000 of Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records’ money to record an actual album. Nothing was released. Credit Reznor with being true to his brand.
Some years later… last year, in fact, two of the three MONDO Vanilli members reunited across 1000 California miles — and with help from punk rock madman Blag Dahlia — we recorded the song “I’m Against NFTs.” Now it’s being turned into a virtuality by our friends at PlayLa.bz …
We planned, of course, to offer our anti-NFT song as an NFT. (Will it happen on March 20? We don’t know.)
Flashing backwards to 1993, suffice it to say plans to make MONDO Vanilli a dadaist multinational corporation failed. Or maybe it succeeded but Musk — in his mad randomicity — captured the brand as part of his delirious career of evil.
3: REPLICABILITY, VALUATION & THE DIGITIZED VAGUENESS
In 1991, in MONDO 2000 magazine, Timothy Leary wrote a piece about the David Byrne produced book Reproduced Authentic. In his review (advocacy really) Leary celebrated the hoped-for death of the value of the “rarity” in favor of the (early) internet fueled aesthetic of replicability and direct person-to-person or group-to-group transmissibility of art without the intercession of stuffed shirt art establishment gallery owners or, presumably, capital.
Mostly borrowing from Walter Benjamin, Leary wrote “Transmissibility replaces rarity. According to German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, ‘The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning ranging from its substantive duration… to the history which it has experienced. ‘Rarity’ now is a… mask of art’s potential for meaning and no longer constitutes the criterion of authenticity. Art’s meaning then becomes socially (and politically) formed by the living.’
Leary continues, “…recreating the Mona Lisa. The 12 year-old inner city kid can slide the Mona Lisa onto her Mac screen, color the eyes green, modem it to her pal in Paris who adds purple lipstick and runs it through a laser copier which is then faxed to Joseph Kusuth for the next GALERIE VIA EIGHT show in Tokyo.” (Or as Bill Burroughs wrote, “LOOT THE LOUVRE!”)
Ahh, but the demands of capital remained static even as the signifiers started getting confused. Rent seekers still wanted some currency.
And so we accelerate into a darker cavern built by Mondo’s anarcho-capitalist pals (we were friendly sorts, perhaps too friendly) the cypherpunks. And with help from a cryptographically, quasi-democratized means of exchange, we sink at last into the unalloyed chaos of mass digitization as it merges with gold-rush obsessions with inauthentic/authentic/inauthentic cryptocurrencies. Spendable (or sometimes not) digits with Joker names and Riddler brandings like Shitcoin or Cumrocket pretending to have all the veracity of Bank of America or Well Fargo (i.e. not much) appeared and continue to. Some have the intent of running scams. Others are intent on keeping your stash (sort-of) hidden from the man. And the folks we love best are intent on giving opportunities to starving artists and excitable nerds.
R.U. Against NFTs?
Let me confess that I’m aware that I have many smart friends who have idealistic narratives around NFT, cryptocurrency and this whole web 3.0 shebang. I think it takes a certain kind of mind to want to grasp the complexities therein. Other smart friends just gaze at the offering and shrug. I can’t help but feel like it’s ultimately the same fascinating trickiness offered by finance capitalism with its derivatives and so forth. A distancing mechanism. But I’ll be learning.
Meanwhile, as a purely visceral observer hoping to offer “I’m Against NFTs” as an NFT, what baffled and befuddled this old ‘90s cyberculture guy was the question of why something rather clearly disappearingly abstract could be perceived as having a large capital valuation when captured by a buying individual.I mean, not even an upside down urinal or an exploded ballon animal necessary. Just some peculiar essence delivered in digits. And it clearly doesn’t even need to appeal to the sophistry or pretense of avant garde purchaser. NFTs are a populist playground for some adapters and offerings are often banal (and not in any self-conscious way.) Sometimes its the enthusiasm of the gamble or of the game and sometimes just… what?
As I questioned on various advisors who work the NFT market about how to bring our anti-NFT song out as an NFT (and I did feel that a successful one would be almost required for the gesture to be aesthetically complete), I learned that it wasn’t necessarily exclusive access (rarity) to our song that someone would be purchasing. Maybe/maybe not they told me. It appeared that I was truly in a kind of exploded space of valuation in which the rationale for a purchase would be individual and conjured from some peculiar sense that arose either from an absolute lack of content or all the content of the moments’ zeitgeist. Commodification of art at its most random decontextualized form. How very MONDO Vanilli. Dada eats its tail.
Today I write before you as a confounded old man staring down the barrel of crypto and the NFT in confusion. But all of this started with the original progenitors of crypto-cash, the crypto-anarchists who were named the cypherpunks by my frequent writing partner and MONDO 2000 Senior Editor St. Jude. The cypherpunks were in the (MONDO 2000) house. Family.
The cypherpunks or crypto-anarchists were intent on absolute lawlessness, at least in terms of the policing grasp of law enforcement, the taxman or curious fellow citizens. Cryptocash was to be untraceable by all except those engage in an exchange based on digitized anonymous trust. Today, law enforcement, journalists and other data seekers are able to penetrate that anonymity… sort of… with luck. The totalizing intentions of the original cypherpunks have given way to a mess engaged in uncomfortable intercourse with mainstream exchange; all of it contextualized by a universal precarity of capital highlighted by the materiality of bad weather.
Can we still be at play in the simulacra? We’ll try.
Join us on the road to nowhere on March 20, when I, R.U. Sirius, will deliver a talk followed by a presentation of the “I’m Against NFTs” virtual space by Playa Labs Z. Come, put on your vr goggles or just float through using your very ancient eyes and join this audiovisual dance in the shards. It may be the last.
Regarding the immersive “I’m Against NFTs Experience, PlayLa.bZ says:
R.U. Against NFTs.. Immersive Experience takes the perspective of an AI system that is training itself on the RU Sirius ‘I’m Against NFT’s’ song lyrics, exploring a surreal and mind melting 360 world of paradoxes and conflicting rules. The experience challenges our assumptions about the nature of technology, creativity, and value, reminding us that the digital world is shaped by powerful forces that determine what is valued and what is not.
The original I’m Against NFTs song is a satirical, irreverent block-chain busting commentary on the ‘Web 3’ hype around non-fungible tokens and the broader issues that underpin our hyper-connected infinite scrolling age. The song is a rejection of the idea that money is the be-all and end-all of human existence and a critique of the deep-seated corruption and power imbalances that shape our economic systems. R.U. Sirius may or may not be against NFTs, but his song is a broader indictment of the global technocrat homoeconomicus system that values profit over people, and nothing comes for free.