Brian Jones Kraft


Pepe was making the rounds.

He might be usually confined to the comic stacks and the seedier corners of the internet, but for the time being Matt Furie’s cartoon frog- originally created in 2005 as a good natured stoner before being absorbed by the internet at large, then notoriously co-opted by white supremacists during the 2016 election- was all over the place.

A stuffed Pepe lounged on a Chesterfield in front of a steamer trunk hosting cups of wine and plates full of grapes. A pair of kids and some adults scribbled the frog with various art supplies; people made Pepes out of yarn and construction paper. The first thing everyone saw upon arriving was a glowing digital easel displaying a slideshow of Rare Pepes – endlessly memed variations of the character by internet artists, ranging from impressively rendered stylistic parodies of artists like Jean Paul Basquiat and Shepherd Fairey to crudely drawn, stupid looking inside jokes.

Apparently one of them is worth forty thousand dollars.

The event was called The Rarest Show, a celebration of the release of “The Rarest Book” (available for a cool $70.00) a collection of 1774 Pepe memes curator Louis Parker has protected on the Blockchain- think of each as an encrypted digital first edition of a trading card, and the entire thing as an experimental joke that somehow turned serious: some participants in the Rare Pepe financial subculture claim to pay their rent and buy yachts with money made from buying and selling the memes.

There was a smattering of applause from the crowd of dozens. Then the DJ played the Pokémon theme song.

Parker, who auctioned off a Homer Simpson themed Pepe earlier this year for 350,000 in Pepe Cash (that’s almost forty thousand dollars to you, buddy), briefly halted the festivities to give a speech where he stated, “Anyone can put anything on the blockchain, for good or ill,” calling it “the first amendment on steroids”, and likening its power to the collective unconscious becoming conscious; a strong sense of community would be needed to reckon with the implications of this change, he suggested.

There was a smattering of applause from the crowd of dozens. Then the DJ played the Pokémon theme song.

It was late October and we were at 215 Moore, the new home of Bushwick Generator. The site boasts one of the area’s more publicly shady development histories, with Jared Kushner’s Kushner Companies lending over 30 million dollars to local developer Toby Moskovits in 2016 for the space. After taking on a role in the Trump White House, Kusher made the ethically shaky move of not divesting from all of his real estate interests, including the debt of 215 Moore; Kushner then misstated information related to the loan on an ethics disclosure filing earlier this year- a form he infamously revised over forty times in 2017.

The debt for the loan was taken over in April of this year by the California based Bank of Internet, an organization that was the subject of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016 and was investigated by the Justice Department for money laundering last year. (Since then the Bank has changed its name from Bank of Internet to Axos; it’s Yelp page is full of dismal one star reviews and warnings like “Your money is not safe there.”)

This storied incubation has yielded the Generator, a 100,000 square foot  ‘creative campus’ whose owners hope to reel in the crypto crowd currently establishing itself in the area: Bloomberg magazine dubbed the Williamsburg- Bushwick area ‘Cryptolandia’ in an article earlier this year describing blockchain startup Consensys setting up shop around the corner at 49 Bogart Street, among other developments. Though much of the space is still under construction, Bushwick Generator is already hosting events like hackathons, VR graffiti parties, conferences and other get togethers celebrating and parsing the possibilities of the emerging technology.

Though there’s a slight learning curve to understanding how the much hyped blockchain works- it’s a series of encoded transactions that allows crypto-currency to function autonomously –  its’ supporters maintain the technology is revolutionary and has the ability to restructure the global economy- ‘decentralize’ being their favorite term.

“When you put your memes on the blockchain, your dreams can be unbounded.. and vice versa” Parker told Bushwick Daily

It’s a mostly speculative market at this point, and Bitcoin has weathered a pretty brutal bear market this year. But on Bushwick Generators Twitter feed, the crypto faithful radiate enthusiasm with the fervency of a devoted cult:

Crypto types have a habit of reeling off technical terms or lapsing into over elaborate metaphors when discussing the technology- “I thought you were a journalist, man!” a crytpto / Pepe enthusiast called Bench told Bushwick Daily when our ignorance of programming languages makes itself apparent- but considering 800 million in Bitcoin transactions go down every day worldwide, and the currency’s disastrous plunge still finds it significantly more valuable than when it first started making headlines a few years ago, it’s hard to totally write off Bench when he tells Bushwick Daily, “I don’t see any future where this becomes irrelevant.”

At the Pepe event, there was  a strong whiff – a Musk, really – of the strain of detached libertarianism beloved by many in the tech sector. (Formerly) MAGA mad Kanye West made  a retweeted appearance on the Bushwick Generator Twitter feed (‘we’re no longer fighting for change, we’re just changing things’), his latest single bumping at the party. Despite Parker’s assertion that his Pepe project had been scrubbed of alt-right associations, there were a few far right wing themed Pepes to be found amongst his published collection amongst, for example, a Bernie Sanders Pepe and other mostly pop cultural and absurdist riffs on the character. At any rate, it’s always a little jarring to see 4chan spawned lingo like “Be Alpha” worm it’s way into physical reality, appearing that night  on a pen and ink drawing one party guest has composed.

“When you put your memes on the blockchain, your dreams can be unbounded.. and vice versa” Parker told Bushwick Daily, a cult leader’s twinkle in his eye.

Despite the Blockchain believers’ blurrily revolutionary fervor, for most of the area’s residents, the Generator’s desire to, as one event invite puts it, ‘crystallize Bushwick as the ultimate experimental blockchain playground’ might read more as a threat – that of one more gentrifying tentacle ready to strangle an already rapidly changing area into an unaffordable wasteland of San Franciscan proportions.

Generator manager Emerick Patterson addressed these concerns, while showing Bushwick Daily around the unfinished building, pointing out a wall being painted by ‘Mark Ecko’s personal graffiti artist’ and explaining that Generator’s relationship to the community was “about dynamism”.

“They are gaining value through future spatial rights… Does that make sense?” he asked.

“No,” Bushwick Daily said.

“We are trying to establish the community as an authority in what happens here,” Patterson elaborated, which will involve “figur(ing) out how to convene in private sector space.”

Skeptical of the technology itself? Host a ‘Bitcoin is Bullshit’ event at the space, Patterson offers.

Indeed, on a Wiki page set up for the Generator, the space is described as an ‘Open Source Building’, one where “the governance and administration of the building and its uses are openly laid out and cooperatively decided upon. In this way, we hope to maintain an educational, social and productive space that is completely accessible to all who care to participate.”

(The same webpage also describes Generator’s ‘open corridor entrances from both streets, making it approachable and completely integrated with the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood’, which is apparently tech marketing speak for ‘doors’.)

With this week’s news of Amazon’s obscene suckering of New York’s political class for billions in taxpayer money, and national headlines this year filled with stories of ethically hollowtech figures, from Mark Zuckerberg’s uncannily visage masking the secrets of his global data fencing empire to Elon Musk’s ongoing cartoonish unraveling, the prospect of a bunch of wild eyed bitcoin speculators turning the Morgan Avenue stop in an Innovation Lab that happens to have been funded by some of the worst scum in the country seems a dubious one indeed.

Was the night’s luminous, prized Homer Pepe, as the partygoers might hope, the byproduct of a game changing economic technology? Or is its value merely a stray oxygen bubble streaming through the capitalist bloodstream towards our hive mind before the system strokes out entirely?

Bushwick Generator is open for business. But what does business mean to this crowd?

Cover art courtesy of Tom Hemmerick

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