Absurd is the new normal
It was either the birth of a more egalitarian era in investing or irrational exhuberance unhinged. Critics decried a bubble, while holders gleefully watched their gains multiply on a slick trading app with a glowing, cypherpunk-inspired interface. A Shiba-inspired cryptocurrency, conceived from a meme and invented largely as a joke, more than quintipled in value, seemingly overnight.
The currency briefly surpassed $50 billion in market capitalization, before its price crashed by more than a third just as quickly as it had initially surged.
Pundits pointed out that the canine meme coin’s total value briefly exceeded that of storied financial institutions more than a century old — not that it mattered. Comparing the meme coin to traditional banks on any dimension seemed laughably incongruous and plainly absurd.
It was absurd that a brash CEO of an electric car company could apparently tweet the price of the meme coin into the stratosphere, that the last time the meme coin made headlines was when it had sent the Jamaican bobsled team to the Olympics, that talk of going “to the moon” — which had long been a defining feature of crypto rhetoric — was now leaking onto covers of more staid financial publications and flooding newsrooms around the world.
It was all absurd, yes. But absurd is the new normal.
This meme coin, evangelized by teens on a short-form video app usually reserved for catchy dance clips, could never grow up to become anything serious, right? Probably not — but maybe that didn’t matter anymore. Increasingly, it felt like you no longer had to be serious to be successful.
It’s easy to attribute the latest price spikes to bored millenials and zoomers seeking cheap thrills while stuck at home during a global pandemic. But to do so would miss the larger undercurrents swirling beneath the surface.
The rise of absurdity is nothing short of the latest generation’s counterculture movement, fueled by a deep-seeded anger against the buttoned-down, closed-door capitalism that has left many behind. It comes from a gripping apathy as those marginalized come to terms with a system that doesn’t work for them — a system that never really worked for them, and one that wouldn’t any time soon.
For a generation that grew up on feeds littered with flying poptart kitties and biting babies, what better way to fight back than with memes? A massive fuck you to the metaphorical Wall Street, the established suits with their hedge funds and opaque offshore holding companies, those who could buy politicians as if they were yet another vacation home on the Almafi Coast.
The rebellion is hardly limited to crypto. A thirty-some year old financial analyst, who went by a cheeky psuedonym on a profane trading forum popular with self-styled degenerate traders, was at the forefront of a movement to go long on a game shop stock that many institutional investors had shorted. In the ensuing chaos, mobs of amateur traders drove buy pressure past the boiling point, inflicting billions of dollars worth of damage on the suits on the other side. It was good old-fashioned speculation. But for some, the fight seemed personal. They were angry.
They should be angry. Archaic regulations, originating from the depths of the Great Depression, prevent all but the richest and supposedly most sophisticated investors from accessing the most lucrative deals. These are under the guise of protecting retail investors from unmanageable risk, which seems misdirected in an era where teens YOLO their college loans on the slick trading app with the cypherpunk-inspired interface.
The slick trading app, and many of its brokerage peers, route these trades through centralized market makers that pay fractions of a penny per trade for the privilege of getting what are essentially first-look rights to market movements. It’s the closest you can get to seeing the future. Unlike the retail investors that congregate on the profane trading forum, these market makers don’t lose.
If you see the whole system as rigged, why play by the rules? Why not send the meme coin to the moon? If you can look beyond its funny origins and relative volatility, the network itself is stable enough. You can tip content creators, sponsor a Nascar driver — even be the face of a processed meat stick’s latest brand campaign.
What is acceptable is changing because the ones who are accepting are changing. And the newest generation seems to have a higher tolerance — even an affinity — for the silly and the absurd. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to believe this will shift the boundaries of what is considered normal in the coming years. In many ways, it already has.
As of writing, the canine meme coin is makng a surprisingly robust recovery since its price cratered by half from its short-lived all time high. From here, the price will go up; it’ll go down. Market exhuberance is in full-swing, and the party has to end at some point. But when the music stops and the lights turn on, how might the world have changed?
This time may not be different, but what comes next may very well be.