By Soorin Kim
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have been dominating cryptocurrency news stories over the past year. An NFT is a piece of data stored on a blockchain which can be traded or sold for millions of dollars. They’re the latest development in digital art collection and can take the form of gifs, videos, tweets and now, skateboard tricks.
Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk recently made the decision to retire some of his most famous tricks, converting them to NFTs and cashing in on the craze, much to the chagrin of his fanbase.
Many, myself included, are disappointed in Hawk for engaging in this practice which has many detractions.
Chief among them is the environmental aspect, as storing NFTs on a unique chain takes mind-boggling amounts of energy and releases astronomical carbon emissions.
Besides the impact on our Earth, many critics view NFTs as fundamentally lame. The integral element that makes NFTs desirable, besides their resale value, is the concept of ownership. But when you’re buying the rights to own a digital piece of media that any penniless internet user with opposable thumbs can screenshot, the reality reveals itself to be that you are effectively buying a flimsy certificate of your own superiority.
The path to choosing crypto makes sense for some celebrities whom the public especially associate with policies of ruthless capitalism and decadent excess: Elon Musk and Paris Hilton, for example, have both jumped on the NFT bandwagon, a development that surprised almost nobody.
So why is it that when a celebrity like Hawk betrays the online community of anti-crypto crusaders, it is shocking and a little sad?
Maybe it’s because of the parasocial relationships we as a society have established with “good” celebrities. It’s in fashion to mock and deride whoever we perceive as the mega-rich class, the nepotism babies of the industry, those who are famous for being famous, those not-so-down-to-earth few that we binge hate-watch.
But with Tony Hawk?
We expected something else. We never thought that a guy who seemed so normal, who boasted a running gag of being “almost recognized” in public but who was never mobbed by fans, who promoted wholesome mottos of determination and tenacity in sport and in life would pull a cash grabbing stunt like this. It seemed completely out of character.
But what is Tony Hawk’s character? How is anybody outside of his tightly knit group of friends and family supposed to know? Those who call themselves his fans would like to think they have a firm grasp on how the athlete acts privately, but their assumptions are built on a foundation of carefully crafted tweets and videos — content curated by a publicist in order to elicit a specific and profitable image.
But in the age of social media, we often forget how little we know about the people that have invaded our thoughts, our conversations, and our homes.
The personalized aspects of an online profile denote a sense of friendliness, a humility and modesty encoded in intimate pictures of family life or casual, off the cuff captions. Parasocial relationships can be developed rather easily in this way and can also be exploited quickly for monetary gain, behavior that is not expected in the heavily idolized. But why should we have heightened moral expectations for any celebrity? Regardless of the persona they put out in posts and interviews, we do not know them.
There has been an emerging meme format to capture the hyper specific feeling of disappointment that one may experience after hearing that a celebrity they admire has begun to turn their work into NFTs. It involves a picture of that celebrity with overlaid text reading “BLANK is doing NFTs now. Sorry if this is how you found out,” poking fun at the shock you get when beloved comedian Eric André announced his partnership to sell NFTs with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or when Legally Blonde actress Reese Witherspoon suddenly started spouting weird, pyramid scheme-esque cryptocurrency advice.
Let’s stop thinking that celebrities are worthy of our attention, of our disgust or of our disappointment.
It’s time we acknowledge the pervasive levels of greed that control what these people do like puppets, swinging felt arms wildly into whatever economically abhorrent schemes might make them a couple of distasteful bucks. You do not know Eric André because his show makes you laugh. You do not love Reese Witherspoon because of how Elle Woods got into Harvard. You do not understand how Tony Hawk’s moral compass spins because you like how he rides a skateboard.
These people are not our friends, and if you think you formed some sort of close relationship with them through an Instagram DM or a brief acknowledgement in a comment section — if you think you get their very being, their core personality, their wants and desires — then you can step in line to purchase an overpriced gif of Tony Hawk doing an ollie.