As if we needed more proof that monetary value is arbitrary and capitalism is based on a lie we all choose to believe, a digital Pepe the Frog trading card was just sold at an IRL auction for some serious cash.
The one-of-a-kind Homer Pepe sold to the auction’s lucky winner for 350,000 in the digital currency PepeCash. At the time of sale, that amounted to freaking $39,000.
Homer Pepe is just like Homer Simpson. But, ya know, frighteningly green with a Pepe smile. To top it off, the beloved cartoon character turned monster is positioned on a background of Simpson clouds!
A piece of “rare digital art” is a unique image tied to code in a blockchain-based currency platform, which means it can be authenticated on a digital ledger of sorts. A normal digital image — whether a lol cat or a picture of a Rembrandt — can be copied and shared with no way of recording or authenticating originality and ownership. But a piece of digital art like Homer Pepe has a clear owner, transaction record, and way to transfer that ownership. (All essential ingredients for an art market.)
“We believe this sale shows authenticity has value for the first time in the digital art world,” Kevin Trinh, Rare Art Labs founder, said in an email.
The Homer Pepe is a “Rare Pepe” trading card. If you haven’t heard of them, Rare Pepes are original memes depicting Pepe the Frog as different public figures and cultural icons. Pepe the Frog became a beloved meme of the so-called alt-right during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but the founders of the Rare Pepe movement have disavowed any connection with the political group that mixes white nationalism and populism.
Each original Rare Pepe is associated with a unique digital token, that lives and is traded in the “Rare Pepe Wallet” — it’s not just an image you can download, copy, or screengrab because only the original is marked as authentic. As such, Rare Pepes have inspired their own market, currency, and now, real-world value.
Rare Pepes are bought and sold in PepeCash, built by the Bitcoin-based platform Counterparty. One unit of PepeCash is currently valued at just over 8 cents. But at the time of sale, the rate was 11 cents. With the Homer Pepe’s sale, the “trading card” seems part collectible and part bona-fide artistic good. Maybe this is the art we deserve in 2018.
Blockchain-backed digital art has been popping up online as a gimmick, artistic statement, or way for collectors to trade (as in the case of Rare Pepes). The game CryptoKitties has caused players to spend thousands of actual dollars on digital cats. And an ethereum-based project called CryptoPunks seeks to artistically explore the potential value of creating digital art, by initially giving away their own cute lil’ “CryptoPunks” for free, and seeing whether sheer scarcity really does create value.
Until this point, digital art has seemed more experiment than commodity. But the sale of Homer Pepe may have just changed the game.
Time to start collecting those fat stacks of Pepe Cash, maybe, well, maybe not? Who knows anymore.