SuperRare's SuperProblem

SuperRare's SuperProblem

On January 17th, via Twitter, Jordan Belfort posted a video featuring himself and some scantily dressed young white women aboard a yacht with champagne, lobsters, FBI agents, and an animal that could be either wolf or dog…I’m really not sure. I’m more of an ape expert. The video was shot by David Yarrow in promotion of a collaborative 1/1 NFT that the two are dropping on SuperRare. It was supposed to be available on January 25th, but per an announcement made by Belfort on January 24th, that release date has been pushed back one to two weeks to “wait for the market to stabilize just a bit.” Note that it is not the opinion of this writer that the crypto market will stabilize in one to two weeks.

On January 28th, also via Twitter, Misan Harriman posted a video as an open letter to SuperRare sharing his disgust for the promo, SuperRare’s involvement in it, and highlighting the dangers (largely moral) of proceeding with such drop. He also called for a response from SuperRare. Publicly, they have made no such response.

Let’s meet some of these players. Jordan Belfort is best known as being the real-life Wolf of Wall Street, and much lesser known as being the face of The Straight Line Persuasion System, a systemic approach that’s designed to master the linguistic encounter. He’s also a mastermind and can teach you how to be one too at his Miami estate over the weekend. He’s kind of like a mix of Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, and Dennis Reynolds, but in this context, he’s a celebrity influencer who’s hoping to garner attention by using his name and face to promote an NFT.

David Yarrow is an infamous wildlife photographer who has a sordid history of using unethical means to capture photographs. He’s been accused of putting his models in dangerous situations, using food to get a wild animal’s attention, and utilizing services like AOM, which are wildlife casting agencies that supply animals to basically anyone who needs one. He’s also since apologized for using wildlife casting agencies and has stated, “…should I ever photograph a wild animal in the States again, it will be a wild animal in the wild.” He’s also raised over $6 million for conservation and charitable organizations, including $3 million in 2021 for the American Family Children’s Hospital.

Based on the quote from Yarrow, we can only assume one of two things: A, the animal on the yacht was a dog, or B, Yarrow is a filthy liar. For the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to assume the animal was a dog and let the animal experts of the internet tell me otherwise. It’s also worth noting that both Yarrow and Belfort are advertising that 100% of the money raised from the sale of the NFT (minus site expenses) will go to Big Dog Ranch Rescue.

Misan Harriman describes himself as a photographer, creative director & cultural commentator, which is the fanciest title for an artist I’ve ever heard. He’s Chair of South Bank Centre, truly an amazing accomplishment since he only taught himself photography from YouTube videos a mere five years ago.  He oftentimes uses his voice and platform to speak for underrepresented artists, and chose to use that same platform to publicly comment on the NFT drop from Belfort/Yarrow. His main grievances are the wild animal on the yacht, the imagery of the women, and the impact it can have on vulnerable young minds.

He is not alone. The comments on Belfort’s post are largely critical, and rightfully so. There doesn’t really seem to be any art within the post. It’s mostly the same recycled idea of what mainstream mentality characterizes wealth to look like: white, ostentatious, and patriarchal. Basically, right on brand for Belfort and his Wolf of Wall Street flavor of bravado. Not exactly on brand for SuperRare, though, whose current canon of artists depicts far more depth, structure, pedigree, and maturity in their work.

The issue here that Harriman is raising isn’t to do with whether or not Belfort/Yarrow should create their own NFT in whatever style for whatever purpose.  The issue is whether or not SuperRare, an NFT marketplace known for trading unique, 1/1 style artworks, should be the marketplace for Belfort/Yarrow’s NFT. If they are the Rolls-Royce of NFT marketplaces, as Harriman puts it, shouldn’t they live up to a higher standard than the slush of OpenSea? This is a complicated matter for several reasons.

Reason #1: We haven’t seen this NFT yet. The promo video looked horrendous, but we still can’t judge the quality of the art until we see it. Unless, of course, that was the art, in which case quality shouldn’t even be a word used to describe it. I’m not sure how someone describes excrement, but that’s the metric I would use.

Reason #2: The sale of this NFT is (supposedly) going to be used for honorable purposes. As a dog lover, I am a firm believer in the safe and ethical treatment of animals, and a firm supporter of anything that supports that effort. No, I do not support the imagery of bikini-clad women spending a man’s money on a yacht as good art (hah!). But if that said imagery then goes on to provide a better life for animals in need, it’s hard not to support it. They know this.

Reason #3: SuperRare already said yes. According to their own website, SuperRare is curated and invite-only. That means they’re going to have quite the egg on their face if they remove an “artist” that they themselves invited.

Reason #4: The large majority of this space is focused around the idea of decentralization. That means that no one central body has control over any one entity. As the space evolves and we learn more about the pros and cons of governance tokens and community votes, there’s going to be a standard operating procedure for handling events not approved by the group. But it’s not quite there yet.

Reason #5: This is the worst reason why this is a complicated matter. The public wants what the public wants, and what artists deem as high quality doesn’t always jive with what the public wants. We are, at our core, primitive and savage creatures which are traits oftentimes even more amplified behind anonymity. Sex sells, and we are surrounded by salesmen. Not all of the players in Web3 care about the sanctity of our daughters’ minds as much as we do.

This is a big deal. This is a pair of men with stained, predatory pasts leaning into their sullied histories by exploiting young women and animals as a mechanism for raising money for a good cause (and raising attention to themselves); all while doing it through the medium of NFTs on a marketplace they were invited to and emboldening a community that doesn’t want them. Quite a lot to unpack. Here are the questions I have:

1. What does this NFT even look like?

2. Do artists have the right to police each other?

- If not, how do artists protect themselves in Web3 against predatory practices and scrupulous behavior?

- If so, what does that look like?

3. How much impact does the consumer have on what a marketplace sells?

4. How much impact does an artist have on what a marketplace sells?

5.How much impact does a marketplace have on what a marketplace sells?

These are all important questions, some more than others. For SuperRare, it’s their very identity. What kind of a marketplace are they going to be? I think we’re all looking forward to finding out.

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