31/07/2021Why Bored Ape Avatars Are Taking Over Twitter
N.F.T. clubs are all the rage among cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Are they a get-rich-quick scheme or the future of culture?
On social media, agreements are tenuous and alliances fleeting. It pays to be as incendiary as possible—conflict drives more engagement than politesse or coöperation. But, at the beginning of May, Kyle Swenson, a twenty-five-year-old clothing reseller in Orlando, Florida, noticed a shift in the tone of his Twitter feed. An increasing number of accounts that he followed were changing their avatars to cartoons of apes: apes sporting sunglasses or bunny ears, apes with leopard-patterned or rainbow fur, apes smoking cigars or shooting laser beams from their eyes. Many wore blasé expressions or toothy grimaces. Some had cigarettes dangling from their mouths, or the red eyes of the deeply stoned. Amid the Twitter melee, the apes were chatting among themselves, chill and supportive. The avatars came from a Web site called Bored Ape Yacht Club, which had officially launched on April 30th, offering ten thousand unique iterations of the cartoon primates for sale as non-fungible tokens (N.F.T.s), each at a price of about two hundred dollars in Ethereum cryptocurrency. A Bored Ape N.F.T. “doubles as your membership to a swamp club for apes,” the site advertised, below an illustration of a ramshackle wooden building festooned with strings of multicolored lights.
Within a day after the launch, all ten thousand Bored Ape Yacht Club images had sold out. By the time Swenson decided that he wanted to buy one, on May 3rd, he paid around seventeen hundred dollars on OpenSea, an N.F.T. marketplace. His ape has a preppy look—sailor hat, gingham shirt, puffer vest—“similar to how I like to dress,” Swenson said. A few weeks later, he bought another. He had previously traded N.B.A. Top Shots, basketball-game highlight videos in N.F.T. form, but this felt more consequential. “It was fear of missing out,” he told me. “I was watching a lot of people whose opinions I valued on N.B.A. Top Shots change their picture to an ape.” Matt Galligan, the co-founder and C.E.O. of a messaging network for crypto called XMTP, who had managed to buy four Bored Apes during the launch, told me, “It became a status symbol of sorts, kind of like wearing a fancy watch or rare sneakers.”
Bored Ape Yacht Club’s initial batch of N.F.T.s brought in more than two million dollars. The collection has since seen almost a hundred million dollars in trading, with the cheapest apes often going for almost fourteen thousand dollars. In recent months, the project has inspired a wave of similar clubs and a mania for N.F.T. avatars among crypto-enthusiasts. Collectors can buy cutesy cartoon cats from Cool Cats, which released thousands of its own N.F.T.s on July 1st and sold out soon after. (Mike Tyson has one as his Twitter avatar.) They can buy angular sci-fi women from Fame Lady Squad, punkish ducks from SupDucks, 3-D-rendered pills from BYOPills, meme-ready shiba inus from The Doge Pound, and bonsai trees from Zenft Garden Society. New projects launch every week, hyping their wares on Twitter, the principal public home of crypto discourse, in the hope of selling out in turn. “Everyone saw the success of Bored Apes and started quickly dropping their own projects,” Aleksandra Artamonovskaja, the London-based founder of the curatorial consultancy Electric Artefacts, who has bought and sold a number of N.F.T. avatars, said. “I’m paying my rent by trading jpeg pictures on the Internet. That’s what I tell my parents.”