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The Cultural Ramifications Of NFT

I just minted my very first NFT! I minted an essay I wrote in the summer of 2020 titled 'Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K. & Basquiat: The Medium is The Message.' This essay looks at “The medium is the message” a phrase coined by the Canadian communication thinker Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan proposes that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. He showed that artifacts as media affect any society by their characteristics. This essay looks at the effects of the medium itself, alongside a craftsman with great bravura, & how that can change the world. We look at various parallels between masterful artists in pop culture and throughout history (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K. Quentin Tarantino, Shakespeare, Da Vinci etc.) and how they used mediums, with their disciplined techniques, in the crafting of their proverbial classics.

NFT stands for Non-Fungible-Token, meaning you can't exchange it for another thing of equal value. Purchasing an NFT is basically collecting a certificate of authenticity that serves as proof that a certain version of something is uniquely yours. The token refers to a unit of currency on the blockchain. It's how cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is bought and sold. It allows people to collect & own digital property that rises in value & can be resold for a higher price at a later time, like Gold. NFTs turn everything into a market, people are buying memes and tweets for exorbitant amounts.

I feel like literature, as well as various modern forms of intellectual property, deserve to be collected just like fine art, rare fashion or vinyl's, and more artists, across all genres, are beginning to see the value in NFT as an antidote for ownership in the digital space. The internet, monopolization, and mass production, took away the value in physically owning a rare piece of music or literature. The cool thing about reading, and art in general, is how simultaneously personal & communal it is. If we read a passage that evokes emotion in us, watch a transcendent scene in a movie, see a beautiful painting, or listen to a song that stirs something in us, we want to own it as a representation of our identity, and we want to talk about it. We want to tell our loved ones, we want to enter a community to discuss it, we would go to a gathering place like a theatre or a gallery to experience it with other like minded people, but it's also our little secret whose only meaning is what it means to us.

That experience has been severely dampened because the industries controlling distribution have become monopolized and commodified. Old books & record stores were curated by the owner of the small business. Owners of small brick & mortar stores couldn’t make deals with conglomerates and publishing houses to get an infinite amount of every book or album, in the same way an Amazon might be able to, so you would get a small and rare collection of what each individual thought were the most necessary books to share with others. The amount of value that had on the world is ineffable, you could go to 2 different book stores, and get a completely different view of the world, based on the curation of the owner of the store.

Rare books would be stored by libraries and guarded just like Museums are today, because the curators placed a value on the importance of the pieces of literature. That is why books like Homer's Odyssey were protected and survived for centuries, despite various cultural and societal resets, because people understood the value in the work. The value of Homer's Odyssey or the Iliad is incalculable. E-Books were a step in the right direction in allowing accessibility, but they removed the value in being the owner of this piece you love. You can’t personally own a rare and collectible Stephen King EBook from Amazon, because anyone can just go and buy it too.

The rarity of literature is disappearing, the value of literature is simultaneously dropping, and ultimately, the quality in the content of the literature we consume is actively being degraded. Conglomerates and various private interests (studios, publishers, agencies etc.) work in tandem to generate the most profit, so the people whose books are worth publishing and marketing are usually people with large followings, simply based on the premise that these books will sell more based on the author's celebrity. Most first-time authors going through a traditional publishing company can expect to get $1-2 per copy sold, and a little more than that once they’ve sold a bunch. Maybe they’ll get $2.50 for copies 10,000-50,000 and $3.00 on every copy beyond the 50,000th.These feats are generally impossible to attain, especially for unknown authors, which make it a wiser investment by publishers to bet on people who will receive guaranteed sales, but that has ultimately degraded the value of literature in our society, and it has also been a detriment to modern artists, collectors and art. This sentiment is echoed across all industries.

The impacts of this technology will reverberate across all industries, from elitist art galleries, to rapacious record labels that have devalued art, & robbed artists of their value, for the sake of financial recoupment. The internet made art accessible to everyone, and simultaneously devalued it. Things like streaming made music and film basically free, and artists barely receive any of the profits from their work. That’s why NFTs are becoming popular with independent artists, we’re able to provide our work directly to those who enjoy it and support it, so they can be the sole owners of our work, invest in us directly, and also be able to benefit from the value of our work in the future.

Adequate compensation for artists and ownership has been a problem for decades, and a very prevalent conversation lately. Artists are pushing against DSPs 'pro- rata' payout system which sees all the royalties on streaming services like Spotify pooled at the end of each payment period, after which recorded music rights-holders are paid according to their market share of total plays across the platform. Which means smaller artists who own a small market share get virtually nothing, and established artists like Drake gain most of the money, regardless of how many streams the small artist gets.

That is why artists in all genres are moving towards NFTs. The person who owns the minted NFT has the digital certificate of ownership to the art, forever, and it rises in value as time passes, and if they would like to get it appraised and resold for profit in the future, they can. Art collectors purchase fine art as an investment, because they believe in the artist behind it, and understand how much they can make down the line. Both the artist and the collector benefit, and it’s cool to be able to give back to the people that supported you in the beginning, in the long run. Art collectors are investors, but a great art collector is someone who loves a specific artist, believes in the value of their work, is passionate about art and is willing to invest in the artists they enjoy & profit from their value with time.

In our monopolized world, relatively unknown artists have virtually no chance of ever having their work seen, let alone properly valued and compensated. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, (author of ‘Don Quixote’ aka the highest selling book of all time) spent most of his life in poverty and obscurity, many of its details are disputed or unknown, and the bulk of his surviving work was produced in the three years preceding his death. The only reason his work became popular is because readers enjoyed it, owned it, preserved it, and recommended it to others, it wasn’t because of Miguel's fame. Conglomerates have monopolized the market, put profit and mass production at the top of their priorities, & the quality of the work we consume is ultimately watered down, because we are only getting the most popular person, which isn’t always the best product. If Kim Kardashian releases a book today, it will easily be the most advertised & highest selling book of all time, but does that necessarily mean it is the best quality book and that therefore she is a better author than Emily Dickenson or Franz Kafka? Of course not, no offence to Kim Kardashian, obviously.

NFTs guarantee ownership just like physicals, they provide the same personal level of rarity, they create a relationship between the collector and the artist that doesn’t necessarily exist anymore, the artist is directly compensated for their work by the people who enjoy their work, and it’s ultimately an investment for the collector of the work. This is a revolutionary technology that will change the art market, but also the world. Blockchain technology raises a lot of interesting questions about ownership, property and value that will be prevalent down the road. I’m excited and as a person that is always championing independent artistry and adequate compensation for artists, this seems like a step in the right direction.



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