No Joke: John Cleese is Selling the Brooklyn Bridge as an NFT
Any comedy fan is likely to recognize the famous actor John Cleese from such films and TV shows as “Fawlty Towers,” “Monty Mython,” or “A Fish Called Wanda.” It may come as a surprise to see him calling himself, “Unnamed Artist” and selling an NFT of the Brooklyn Bridge with a highly specific buy it now asking price of $69,349,250.50. If you’re feeling lost, you’re not alone.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” Cleese told a journalist for Vanity Fair, “But in this particular realm, no one has any idea what’s going on.”
“Unnamed Artist’s” NFT
John Cleese is clearly not impressed by the current NFT market.His auction, hosted on OpenSea (a peer-to-peer marketplace for rare digital items and crypto collectibles) refers to him as, “a young, unknown artist (or collective of artists) with a firm grasp of Cryptic Currencies and Non Floodable Tokens.”
Ironically proving his point, there’s a chance that John Cleese’s elaborate satire of NFTs and those who buy and sell them may actually make him a sizable amount of money. As of March 25th, 2021, the highest bid is $35,839.65 – and the auction doesn’t end until April 1st. While he may not get that sizable buy it now asking price, the price are likely to soar higher before the bidding closes in a week.
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While the comedian is obviously poking fun at NFTs, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have strong feelings about them, and art as a whole: “The main purpose of art is supposed to give people some sort of emotional experience. If I stand in front of an important painting, I feel something, I feel some sort of emotion, and that’s what I’m interested in,” Cleese said, “This NFT stuff, he argued, is just another commodity. Another investment vehicle for the über-rich.”
Selling the Brooklyn Bridge – An Old Grift
What Cleese is actually selling is an illustration of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he created on his iPad, rather than of the bridge itself. The choice of imagery, certainly references the phrase, “If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you,” has long been used to imply that the listener is gullible, or falling prey to a scam – which we can extrapolate John Cleese is warning applies to NFTs. (The actor even the phrase facetiously in his announcement of the NFT, while assuring the public that a bridge is a symbol of trust.)
The phrase is not just a meaningless idiom, however. George C. Parker, a famous turn-of-the-century con man really did sell the Brooklyn Bridge to gullible tourists on more than one occasion (along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, and other New York City landmarks.) He would routinely create convincing forged documents stating that he owned the Brooklyn Bridge, and then convince his target that they could make their money back and more by charging people to cross.
According to Carl Sifakis, author of Hoaxes and Scams: A Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses and Swindles, “Several times Parker’s victims had to be rousted from the bridge by police when they tried to erect toll barriers.” In 1901, William McCloundy (AKA I.O.U. O’Brien) sold the bridge, but had less luck – he was convicted of grand larceny and served two and a half years in Sing Sing.
“Standing in Quicksand” – The Uncertain Value of NFTs
Non-fungible tokens (or non-floodable, as Cleese called them) allow you to trade ownership of a unique digital items, and keep track of them using blockchain. They can be anything digital, from Cleese’s sketch of the Brooklyn Bridge to a GIF of Nyan Cat (or even a physical item turned digital, like the controversial burned Banksy print turned NFT.)
Many have referred to the current NFT market as a gold rush, others call it a bubble, and some are even calling it a revolution. There is a tremendous amount of debate about the environmental risks associated with NFTs, as well as their actual financial value.
“Once the hype slows down, the real value of NFTs will emerge or they’ll cool off,” said Drew Olanoff, a writer for TechCrunch. “These are asset classes, and even if they’re new, financial restraint can and should still apply.”
As for John Cleese, he’s obviously a skeptic. The actor warned The Verge: “Technology is changing and moving so quickly that we can’t even see we’re standing in quicksand as we stare at a bunch of pixelated JPEGs, wondering what they might sell for next.”
READ NEXT: 6 Most Bizarre NFTs Available
Sources: Vanity Fair, Opensea, The Verge, The New York Times, Hoaxes and Scams, CBS News
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