For over a century, the Wild, Wild West has been shorthand for many cultural forces: toxic masculinity, genocidal racism, cringeworthy Will Smith vehicles. Above all else, though, it remains the ideal genre to explore the question of, ‘How low will human beings go when they know they can get away with it?’ Now, we’re living through our own version of lawlessness. And — even if the duels are won by the fastest Twitter fingers and the graphics make Red Dead Revolver look like The Revenant — it raises, and answers, the same eternal question. Without further ado, here’s proof, in the form of the latest galloping tale of crime, intrigue, and dysentery from the wild, wild world of web3.
I was sitting in an empty saloon (generously provided by the host of my Airbnb) helping myself to plastic cups of peanut butter whiskey, when I decided on a whim to DM an old Internet friend of mine. David Jones — aka @thestorydj, a preeminent Instagram poet — pivoted at about the same time as me to publishing Adobe Spark projects as NFTs and writing uncharacteristically rigorous crypto journalism for Redlion, the second-best source of news about web3. And it was through these, the most 2022 of mediums, that he shared with me the evergreen tale of a former folk hero turned black hat. In this case, one Gary Vaynerchuck.
Gary Vee is one of those rich and famous guys who appears to be mostly rich from telling everyone how rich he is, and mostly famous for the business opportunities he didn’t take. In other words, he’s the perfect fit for a crypto influencer, which, fittingly, is exactly what he became. And, although his brand is built around helping others avoid his own pitfalls and giving free game to the needy, like most populist outlaws before him, it was only a matter of time before he was shilling snake oil himself.
On Sunday, David published a deep dive into Gary Vee’s role in the ill-fated Like Nastya NFT launch. For those who missed it, a recap. Like Nastya — an 8-year-old YouTuber with the better part of 100M followers — partnered with Gary Vee to drop a collection of NFTs. He promoted the collection hard with a link to a Forbes article, giving validity to the project. Along with utility tokens you could redeem for a phone call or birthday wish from a child most famous for making unboxing videos, the hook of the project was, buy six and a seventh would be airdropped to you. Aside from the absurdity of shilling said project to a following consisting primarily of degens, entrepreneurs, and finance bros, there were few red flags, and the cosign from a patented crypto authority was more than enough to drive buyers. For a short while, anyway, until the contract was changed mid-launch to revoke the airdrop offer for the entire secondary market, the roadmap was scrubbed from the Internet, and the author of the Forbes article was reportedly fired for conflict of interest. (Read: being a close friend of Gary Vee’s and the CEO of Like Nastya’s distribution platform.)
In other words, it was your quintessential, run-of-the-mill rugpull. It also went down last August, so why am I talking about it now? Well, aside from having just learned about it last weekend — no, wait, that’s the whole thing. I only just learned about it this past weekend. Meanwhile, Gary Vee has remained one of the most influential voices in the space, with another of his projects sitting comfortably in the OpenSea Top 30 after debuting at the end of April. And, aside from David’s article and a few loose Twitter threads, I’ve found next to no mentions of the failed Like Nastya collection, not to mention Gary Vee’s role in it. Which raises the larger question: why are bad actors in the crypto space allowed, if not encouraged, to get away with it?
Gary Vee, ZAGABOND, Jake Paul, and countless others known explicitly for ripping off their supporters have not only faced no legal consequences for their scams, but continue to garner support as they launch more projects. And, given the infrequency of public apologies or even acknowledgment for these transgressions, I suspect the only lesson they’ve learned is, if it worked once, it’ll work again.
There remains little effective regulation over crypto markets and projects. Add in the macro environment of online discourse at large, in which obvious, unapologetic misinformation is applauded. And — based solely off the handful of Westerns I’ve seen, my current RDR2 replay, and a semi-recent re-read of Blood Meridian — I can say with confidence, in this sort of environment, hot air will rise. It’s not just that even the highest profile of scammers manage to pull it off. It almost seems as though, on web3, being full of bullshit is a prerequisite to being high profile. Like Jesse James and Dutch van der Linde before them, in the Wild, Wild West, the outlaws will prevail. Until Yellen sends in the Pinkertons, but… well, we all know how it goes from there.