Ah, web3. She is beauty, she is grace.
Chad & El Prof
(Price changes reflect past 7 days as of 3.29.22 @ 4:20 PM EST.)
- With lenient crypto legislation introduced in countries such as Singapore, Thailand, and Dubai, confidence in the space is beginning to rise again. Nothing like the promise of an off-shore account to get the whales singing.
Last week was Metaverse Fashion Week in Decentraland, as some 70 clothing brands — if you can call ‘digital wearables’ clothing — competed for the legendary sartorial tastes of the degen community. On the plus side, some designers argue, the blockchain will one day allow you to try on clothes with your own body shape without having to leave your home. The only downside being, Bezos already solved that particular problem, and no one has this body shape:
So, as much as I’d like to provide you with a Gossip-Girl-esque teardown of all 70 digital wearable lines, I fear I’d find it to be a repetitive, redundant exercise. I’d rather devote my energy to figuring out just why the hell web3 is so damn ugly in the first place.
We’ve more or less made our bones by taking cheap shots at the prevailing aesthetic of NFTs and web3 at large — a cross between stoner notebook doodles, pre-2000s video game graphics, and softcore DeviantArt hentai. Today, I wanted to take some time to dive a little deeper into what the web3 aesthetic actually is and unpack the implications of what could be a generation-defining vibe.
The aesthetics of web3 appear to be primarily derived from vaporwave, a microgenre of music from the early ’10s. It was initially a meme, circulating on indie music distribution platforms and imageboards, with visuals and samples hearkening back to the ’02 Macintosh Plus’ era of the Internet. And vaporwave collages of out-of-date operating systems, antiquated 3D graphics, and marble statues are, indeed, ugly.
That’s also, it turns out, kind of the whole point. Vaporwave basically emerged as a memetic critique of capitalism, as evinced by its Marxist spinoff genre, Laborwave. Of course, memes evolve, become co-opted, and lose coherent meaning (as evinced by the inevitable alt-right inversion, Faschwave). But the basic intent behind the initial movement seemed to be highlighting the hollowness of consumerist culture in the late ’80s to early ’00s, through exaggerated reuse of their lifeless corporate art style.
Then — because it turns out a lot of vaporwave music is actually kinda good — it got serious coverage in a series of niche outlets and became a bit of a subculture in and of itself. At which point, it wound up in the hands of Justin Bieber / Ed Sheeran types, who’ve made careers out of draining trends dry for mass consumption potential. And, by the ’20s, the irreverent brand references, retro anime imagery, and Nickelodeon slime purples had become the preferred vibe of the extremely online — only now without any of the inherent irony left.
Enter web3. The initial results of a Google Image search for ‘metaverse’ could easily be vaporwave memes lampooning corporations for appropriating their aesthetic, if they weren’t, unironically, actually just corporations appropriating their aesthetic.
Some major NFT collections, such as Dreamloops, take explicit cues from the vapor distroids, too. But, by and large, the PFP projects defining the NFT ‘look’ — Bored Apes, Lazy Lions, CryptoPunks — are more indebted to the inorganic branding vaporwave exists to mock.
The ‘clip art sheen’ of these projects can be attributed to their generative nature, YouTuber Solar Sands argues, in a video accurately titled, ‘Why are NFTs so Ugly?‘ When you’re specifically designing artwork as a series of interchangeable attributes to be mixed and matched by an algorithm, the results run the risk of being glossy focus-grouped mascots at best, uncanny valley nightmare fuel at worst.
(Our own foray into the wild world of algorithmically generated profile pictures falls squarely into the latter category.)
So, what, then, are the wider implications of the ugliest cultural mania this side of Troll dolls? After all, this aesthetic has been cosigned by billionaires, art galleries, and pop stars. Witch house feminists, alt-right trolls, and mid-30s tech bros alike are opting to present as cheap, lifeless cartoon characters. And even if web3 somehow glows up in the next few years, this current iteration will surely be embraced — or, at least, wistfully chaffed — by subcultures and microgenres for years to come.
Well, I’d argue that ‘objective’ aesthetic pleasantry and generation-defining vibes by no means go hand in hand. In fact, they may be mutually exclusive. Look no further than the leisure suits of the ’70s, neon of the ’80s, wide leg jeans of the ’90s, velour of the aughts, etc. While there are timeless trends in every era just waiting to be revived by the jawn-tiest of future generations (read: the forthcoming comeback of indie sleaze) they tend to be confined to countercultures. Like vaporwave, sometimes these niches catch the attention of the popular culture and become assimilated into it. But, for a vibe to go mainstream, it must be alchemically loud, unique, and devoid enough of character to be ripped off ad nauseam. In other words, it must be ugly.
As our own El Prof succinctly put it, ‘generating stuff is easy, generating quality is hard’. And, since mass consumption means generating mass quantities, it’s no wonder that, the more popular our culture becomes, the less pretty it gets. This was true long before said generating was done by computers, and it’ll only get truer now. Besides, cultural consensus aside, there’s no such thing as ‘objective’ in aesthetics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and (far more important to these web3 ‘artists’) the law of large numbers points, on average, to success. They have, can, and will continue to strike gold, at the small cost of littering the metaverse with future vaporwave fodder.
Unresolved childhood nostalgia
I wasn’t alive in the 80’s. Hell, when I try to claim ’90s baby, I’m told I’m too young to remember it. But arbitrary generational divides / you had to be there mentalities aside, the artist I’m reviewing today ‘makes collages out of garbage’ which feels thematically relevant, at the very least.
Brandon Hodges claims our last coke-fueled inflationary period, but his work consists of pencil doodles and paintings with chemical color palettes ripped from the cartoons I watched as a kid. (Apologies to the high art sn0bs. You shall continue to get nothing of true value from this h0r. I will, however, continue to spotlight the work that connects with me, if only on a clearly unresolved childhood trauma level.)
Take, for example, untitled (creature 26), which I feel contractually obligated to highlight, if only to give these blatant Spongebob background fish their oh-so deserved head nod, because you clearly can’t stop drawing them yourself. The style reminds me faintly of Basquiat, but to make that comparison would certainly be doing a disservice to both artists. And, as you’ve probably realized by now, every mixed media portrait with a silhouette and a splash of color reminds me of Basquiat. I simp for lite remixes as much as the next mass-produced clout chaser. But, at the end of the day, in the words of the great Swae Lee, “I like what I like…”
So, if you, too, like a good nostalgic play as much as the next guy, you can support his Peter Pan complex, and you don’t even need a MetaMask to do it. Brandon offers no NFTs for sale (to his detriment, and my surprise) but he does offer some laptop stickers or basement sitting room posters, which you can purchase here.
Virtual real estate DAOs be like:
Some more pillars of the pervading web3 aesthetic:
- Uncle Sam’s own ICO may be incoming sooner than we think. A group of lawmakers (Democrats, shockingly) introduced a bill officially directing the Treasury Department to create its own digital dollar. There are all sorts of implications to that, but since we’re talking aesthetics today, let’s just focus on the name of this abomination: the Electronic Currency And Secure Hardware Act. Or… drum roll please… ECASH. If politics are just reality TV these days, couldn’t we at least find some funnier contestants?
- Grimes appeared to admit to DDoSing, blackmail, and other cybercrimes in a Vanity Fair interview – infractions without a statute of limitations in her native Canada, and carrying jail time up to 10 years. Will she wind up impaled on her own broadsword? Perhaps. But if previous high profile examples of proud web3 criminals and/or the general tenor of the world currently are anything to go off, it’s more likely she winds up with a very dumb HBO documentary.
- The Yuga Labs pitch deck leaked, containing such earth-shattering takeaways as ‘the upcoming merch drop will likely be more than just hoodies and shirts’. A co-founder responded claiming it was an old deck and plans may change, because ‘fuck doing expected things‘ — confirming they are, at least, aware of our bottomed-out expectations.
- Speculative buying of virtual real estate has already priced out all but the whitest of whales, despite negligible adoption of the metaverses themselves. Wannabe MMORPGs like Decentraland and the Sandbox barely have multiple players, let alone masses. Yet property inside them is going for 6-7 figures, as degens eagerly await the day when virtual land will be ‘a yield-bearing, high-appreciation asset‘. Meanwhile, I eagerly await the 2025 Arrested Development reboot, in which the Bl.eth DAO live in an undeveloped metaverse lot as their Dogecoin millions fall victim to a bear market, crypto regulations, and general cultural ire. But hey. At least there’s always money in the banana gifs.
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