Do you remember that exceptionally cringey period of time that was the mid-2010s when the phrase “on fleek” was everywhere — brands like Forever 21 and Taco Bell pretty much ground it into the earth as shorthand for “ha ha we are up with the internetspeak” — and of course Kayla Newman, the teen who coined the phrase in a 2014 Vine video as Peaches Monroee, saw exactly……..none of the credit/profits? (Eventually in 2017, she launched a GoFundMe to help fund a new beauty venture — and got flak for being “entitled”).
It’s a classic tale of how Black creators on the internet have their work ripped off and co-opted by white creators, the “mainstream” internet, and corporate interests — a phenomenon that Doreen St. Felix succinctly chronicled for Fader in 2015. The 2021/2020 versions of this have been happening with Black TikTok creators (see: 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon, who created the Renegade dance; Addison Rae failing to credit Black creators of the dances she literally performed on Fallon). And maybe up until this year, the excuses were the same: that’s just how virality works! Sorry, no one owns shit on the internet!* *Oh, except anyone with a good lawyer!
Which is why the whole NFT business has suddenly gotten interesting.
Honestly, when I first started hearing about NFTs, my reaction was basically this — (people paying weird amounts of money for tokens of digital status isn’t new). The art world implications were cool, but not exactly relevant to the rest of us. Emily Ratajkowski’s foray into NFT-land was also neat, considering her public struggle over ownership of her own image.
But the most recent spate of NFT-related stories has huge implications: stars of viral internet memes — Disaster Girl, “David after the dentist”, Chris Crocker — are starting to sell their memes at NFT auctions. Depending on how much you value children’s privacy and the general toll of having your image disseminated across the internet, the sale amounts are pretty life-changing if not exactly Beeple-level earth-shattering. And it isn’t *just* for the old school internet crew: yesterday, it was announced that the 23-year-old creator of “cheugy” is selling the word as — you guessed it — an NFT.
Which brings us to the question: when are we going to see this direct meme-to-money pipeline — something we’ve long been told was impossible and antithetical to the nature of the internet — finally work out to compensate creators like Kayla Newman, or Jalaiah Harmon, or any of the countless Black teens and creators who make up the backbone of the internet? Because until then, I’m wholly uninterested in hearing anything else about yet another form of made-up white bro currency.
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