Memes for sale

The creator of the Nyan Cat, Chris Torres, has organized an informal collection of meme originators – the creators or original popularizers of meme images — into a two-week-long auction of their works. Under the hashtag #memeconomy the creators of memes like Bad Luck Brian, Coughing Cat, Kitty Cat Dance, Scumbag Steve, Twerky Pepe and some others are finally finding a way to monetize the creation of genuine cultural phenomenons that have been used freely for decades.

They’re mostly being hosted on booming new crypto art and collectibles platform Foundation, which launched in February and has already hosted $6M in sales of over 1,000 NFTs. I have a lot to say about NFTs and can’t say them all here, but I found this project fascinating and wanted to note it. The fact is that memes are Internet art (sorry). They are unique creations that took elements of participatory and performance art and injected them into the veins of the internet. In many ways, they have millions of creators, as the original editions may have planted the seed but every use and permutation gave them additional strands of DNA, crafting their cultural importance upload by upload. They have let us express ourselves — our desire, disgust, joy and lust — when words just wouldn’t suffice.

These “originals” are made original by the act of them being minted on the blockchain by the original artists. I know, it’s a distinction that may seem slim when the same images can be had anywhere at any time, but that’s the beauty of the re-organization that is happening within all of DeFi and crypto at the moment. We are stripping out layers of commerce and communication that benefited only platforms and participants that took part in the origination and sale of art from the perspective of frameworks like the DMCA and DRM. Those relationships are being rethought. The recapture of value for works that have already been broadly distributed has been historically relegated to ‘licensing them for t-shirts’. And extremely rarely elevated to the level of fine art sale.

Now that we’re all living on the Internet, Internet art is just art. And so are memes.

That’s why it’s fascinating to see some of the people who have created things that have let so m​any of us express ourselves get paid.

One famous case of this, of course, is the Pepe and its creator Matt Furie. Though Furie’s attempts to redeem Pepe have focused on attempting to reclaim him from a legacy of racist and hateful memes, Pepe and his friends are a cool cast of characters and it would be heartening to see Furie reclaim them by minting them himself.


I spoke a bit to Torres about the project and why he got interested in it.

TC: Why did you decide to organize this informal schedule of meme NFTs?

Torres: The idea has always kind of been in the back of my mind since discovering the NFT universe. The idea of NFTs were always so attractive to me, a place where you can create your own original art and gain proper attribution for your work. Memes have always had a rough time on the Internet, because their creators are usually taken advantage of, and I have personally seen artists have their works stolen and monetized to the tune of millions of dollars without even proper credit. So the idea has always been down deep in my subconscious but this week things have really amped up enough to finally give me the power I need to make it happen!

TC: How did you get in contact with the creators?

Actually, they all contacted me! It’s unbelievable knowing I’m in direct contact with some fantastic iconic internet legends from the past. Some of these have existed solely as enigmas on the Internet, it’s great connecting with them. Things started with casual conversations with Bad Luck Brian, but then Trollface messaged me, then Me Gusta, then Kitty Cat Dance, then things just kept amping up.

TC: How has it felt to have your creation formally rewarded after spending so long in the cultural meme-ory?

It’s still very surreal, to be honest. The NFT community is full of very talented people with so many thoughts and ideas on how to build a better future for the crypto space. I’ve actually used this power for good this week by starting up #Memeconomy with all these talented meme creators and will be trying my hardest to get these guys the recognition they deserve.

TC: What excites you about NFTs and art?

The number one thing that’s kept me excited for NFTs is just knowing that it’s a perfect way to empower artists to take ownership of their own works. I’ve been hanging out in the Clubhouse chats, reading everything I can on Twitter, and just have been losing sleep being so enthralled by it all. Every day I wake up and there’s a new meta of NFTs out there. It’s cool to see all this artistic knowledge evolving in real time. I absolutely live off that energy, and it’s inspired me to be more creative than ever.

The world of NFTs is complex and fascinating and deserves a deeper look that looks at the economic, ecological and technical aspects. We’ve already hosted and written about various projects in the space. Stay tuned for more.


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