A Deep Dive into the BAYC and Racism Saga: True OR False?
Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC). Does that ring a bell? If you are a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) investor, degen or even someone just vaguely interested in the NFT space, you would have surely heard of these ape NFTs. Launched by Yuga Labs just in April 2021, this collection now surprisingly ranks as the fifth largest by trading volume and the top by floor price on OpenSea; its floor price stands at 98 ETH at the time of this writing. The project has gone on to launch several offshoots and built a strong devoted following of celebrities and wealthy NFT collectors
However, it seems this spotlight did not just bring fame. Recently on June 19th, via a YouTube video, the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) has come under fire recently for accusations of racism. The uproar has been insane with the video currently blacklisted on YouTube with up to a million views.
Curious to know the buildup? Let’s take a deep dive into what BAYC is and talk about the evidence for and against these accusations. We’ll also look at the response from the community and what we think we can expect from this unexpected ruffling of the feathers of one of the most successful NFT projects in history.
What is BAYC?
According to the official website, BAYC is:
“A limited NFT collection where the token itself doubles as your membership to a swamp club for apes.”
NFTs are units of data stored on a blockchain which prove ownership. As the name implies, non-fungible, they are unique and non interchangeable; that is no two NFTs can ever be the same. Each has a unique identity once created (minted). An NFT is usually linked to a form of media which is tied to that ownership. This can be a photo, song, music, or even a simple file.
The BAYC is an exclusive community which consists of those who have purchased a Bored Ape NFT. In total, there were only 10,000 Bored Apes released. They are stored as ERC-721 tokens on the Ethereum blockchain and are hosted on IPFS. IPFS stands for the InterPlanetary File System and is a decentralised file storage platform. Each Bored Ape was initially sold for 0.08 ETH which summed up to almost $200 at the time. All sold out within 24 hours of the presale launch. Now, the Bored Ape community is filled with celebrities including Steph Curry, Madonna, Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, Kevin Hart, Post Malone, Paris Hilton and many others.
Owning any one of these apes grants the holder a variety of perks and benefits. Holders get access to an exclusive Discord channel, where other holders including these celebrities chat, and the opportunity to access what is referred to as “The Bathroom”. The Bathroom is a space used by members to draw pixels and random graffiti art. Asides membership perks, holding a Bored Ape would give you airdrop access to some of Yuga Labs’ other successful projects like the Bored Ape Chemistry Club (BACC), Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC), and the Bored Ape Kennel Club (BAKC). The project has been touted as one of the greatest NFT projects of all time. The cheapest Bored Ape is priced at 98 ETH.
“ The clues sound too convincing ”
Recently, in a bid to take their reach further into the new metaverse hype, Yuga Labs launched the Otherside metaverse where holders can turn their NFTs into game characters. This new project was launched on April 30th, 2022 with a total of 55,000 tokenized land deeds referred to as Otherdeed put up for sale. Buyers who purchase these land deeds would have ownership claims to these plots in the Otherside metaverse. Once again, this sale took the decentralised community by storm with the Ethereum network even crashing and gas fees rising up to $14,000. To tie up the community, Yuga Labs released ApeCoin(APE), a utility and governance token which powers the ApeCoinDAO. Holders of APE Token can have a say in governance decisions as well as access exclusive features in the brand ecosystem. APE Token is currently priced at $5.0.
Enter Ryder Ripps, Phillion and Everyone on Twitter
Everything sounds so good, doesn’t it? But, in just less than a year of fame, a number of people on Twitter began pointing out cracks in Yuga Labs’ perfect ensemble. The BAYC was accused of using esoteric terminologies to push racist ideologies. A little breakdown of terms would help understand the flow of the case better. An esoteric term is one that is only meant to be understood by a select few who have special knowledge of the subject matter. Dog whistles are esoteric terms usually of a political nature. Both terms involve information which may seem obscure to the general public but in reality, means so much more.
Before we get into the approx. 1-hour long YouTube video released on 19th June, which is causing the major uproar, an article by Ryder Ripps was actually released in January this year driving home the same point. The article title went:
“Bored Ape Yacht Club is Racist and Contains Nazi Dog Whistles”
But, it seems the article did not have the required effect on the community as the news about its existence only surfaced with the hype around the video itself. According to tweets accompanying the video publicity, Phillion, a guy famous for his investigative and reaction videos on Youtube, made this video in collaboration with Ryder Ripps, an internet culture expert after over a 100 hours of research. Combining the claims in both the video and article, here’s a quick rundown of the accusations levied against Yuga Labs:
- Both Otherside, as well as BAYC were both officially launched on April 30th, the date Hitler died.
- The BAYC logo is highly similar to the Nazi TotenKopf emblem. These similarities include the rough edges of the circle, the use of a skull, and the fact that both skulls have 18 teeth. 18 is a number said to be associated with Adolf Hitler himself.
- The name of the founding company itself, Yuga Labs, points to a term, Kali Yuga which is associated with Alt Right ideologies. Alt Right is an online political movement related to white nationalism. It is geared towards promoting ideals centred on protecting the white identity and Western civilization. Through social media memes and posts, members reject and campaign against policies gearing towards racial equality on the basis that it seeks to water down the supremacy of the white race.
- All four founders’ pseudonyms; Gargamel, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Gordon Goner and Sass, were affiliated with Nazism and racism. Gargamel links to a character in Smurf, who is said to be an anti-Semitic depiction of Jewish people. Emperor Tomato Ketchup links to a banned movie where an underaged boy rapes a woman wearing a fascist uniform. Gordon Goner is an anagram for Drongo Negro meaning Stupid Negro, and Sass represents the two primary Nazi military divisions.
- The video game features bananas arranged to look like swastikas and the Rolling Stones cover features rats with gold and the cut hand of a monkey. Rats are commonly used in anti-Semitic imagery to represent Jews, a swastika is the emblem of Nazi Germany, and the cut ape hand is a dog whistle alluding the practice of King Leopold II who cut of Congolese hands for not working hard enough.
Spot the dog whistles
- That Hashmasks which Yuga Labs gives credit for most of its inspiration is made by a company which adopted its name from Suum Cuique (a phrase used by Nazis on the gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp). Suum Cuique means “to each his own.”
- That BAYC adopts the Hawaiian shirt, a well-known uniform of the Boogaloo Boys. The Boogaloo boys are an extremist far-right internet group. Far-right is affiliated to white nationalism just like alt-right.
- Ape #1488 wears an inmate shirt bearing the number 1987 (deduced by taking out the zeros from 019807, a practice called null padding in cryptography) on its shirt label. 1987 links to the year Rudolf Hess, one of the top 7 Nazi leaders who was held at the Spandau prison died. Also, the prices of Bored Apes are usually placed at variations of 88 and 14. 88 is stated to be a representation for Heil Hitler while 14 acts a reference to 14 words, a white supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.“
- The outfits and appearance of some of the Bored Apes bear more dog whistles. These include the red letter J which was stamped on Jewish passports in Germany, the Safari helmet used by British and Belgian colonialists in Africa, the Kami hat which bears resemblance to the Ushanka used in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s rule, and the Prussian helmet. All these are similar to the Pepe the frog memes used by the 4chan alt-right group.
Illustrations of Pepe the Frog and some Bored Apes
- That BAYC included more dog whistles in one of their puzzle games. These were Guenon, one of the pioneers of the alt-right movement in the West and Macaque, a racial slur for dark-skinned people.
- That celebrities were in actual fact paid to receive Bored Apes and popularise them. They were made to sign NDAs to stay quiet.
- One of the founders has a character named Stonehole Jackson in his Otherside virtual plot. Stone Hole Jackson is a reference to Confederate General, “Stonewall Jackson.”
- The artist, Seneca, who drew the groundwork for the Bored Ape illustrations admits that they are racist and different from her original designs.
- That Gargamel’s wife used the term “cowabunga” on her Twitter bio. Cowabunga is a term used by alt-right members to signify their beliefs to others on the 4chan network. 4chan was described as the ghetto of the internet by Phillion in the video where all manner of trolling and internet culture is formed.
- Finally, that Gargamel admits in an interview with CoinDesk that the collection contains cryptic meanings. Here is the referenced excerpt from the interview:Ever since the Bored Ape Yacht Club, we’ve seen like 1,000 different avatar collections come up, and a lot of them are really cool. But what we think was special – and what people could kind of read on top of ours – is that we didn’t just throw 3D glasses onto apes. And we didn’t have a long essay on what exactly what this was. But we knew what it was. It’s like Wittgenstein’s “let the unutterable be conveyed unutterably,” or Hemingway’s iceberg theory. We knew all about what this world was, and why these apes are this way. And that somebody else might get a little tingle on their neck looking at it, thinking, “Yeah, this is kind of different. This isn’t just random.”
The summary of all this? #BURNBAYC.
What’s The Temperature?
Clearly, these claims are spitting fire. Every little detail is pieced together and extremely convincing. Is it too much to be just a coincidence? And even prior to this article, there have already been comments by the Twitter community on how the Bored Apes seemed inherently racist. The question on everyone’s lips is “Why apes?” In discerning the community reaction to this, first off the Youtube video has had over a million views. Other members of the community have gone on to make reaction videos. Whilst some cheer on saying their suspicions have been proved right, some challenge the video as defamation against Yuga Labs.
- That insinuating that they, who were a group of Jewish, Turkish, Pakistani, and Cuban people were secret Nazis, is disinformative, surprising, and hurtful.
- That the name Yuga Labs was inspired by a villain in the game Zelda whose ability is turning himself and others into 2D art.
- That the collection focused on apes because it was a common term in the crypto community. In actual fact, the term “ape in” is a crypto lingo used to refer to buying a new coin or new project.
- That the inspiration for the logo was absurdity and boredom. The ape skull represents just how bored to death the apes are. A statement from a senior research fellow at Anti-Defamation League (ADL) revealing that the ape skull did not allude to the Nazi Totenkopf was included.
- That the founders’ pseudonyms were inspired by random things; a Stereolab album, an inside joke, health status, and StarCraft.
- That the terms in the puzzles were chosen to fit the theme of the brand: apes. Guenon and Macaque are both species of monkeys.
- That BAYC was not launched the day Hitler died.
- Gargamel’s wife is a fan of Ninja Turtles in which the term cowabunga is often used by the characters.
Whether or not the majority of the community does believe in the validity of this rebuttal is still quite unclear. From the responses to the tweet, there is division. Twitter users like @cardboros, @angerfishNFT, @Omakasea, and @Brubbyy are not buying it. The verdict is that Yuga Labs is ignoring the major points made on the coincidental symbolisms in the BAYC collection to 4chan beliefs and troll internet culture. Other touch points include the comment made by the initial artist, Seneca, who acknowledged the racist meaning in the art and the difference from her original work. In all this, there are still supportive tweets with some loyalists even going on to level racist accusations on Ryder Ripps himself.
However, Ryder seems to have shot himself in the leg on this one. Conveniently at the end of the video, is what can be perceived as an advert of a new NFT collection called RR/BAYC. According to Phillion, Ryder had begun work on this new NFT collection on May 13th. The collection is made up of ‘re-minted’ versions of Bored Apes. Members of the community are encouraged to buy these new Bored Apes as a way of protesting the BAYC ideology and educating others. Also, buying an RR/BAYC NFT grants you access to Ryder’s Ape Market, a royalty free marketplace for all NFTs in the Yuga Labs collection. This screams “duplicate” and “copy” but Ryder maintains that such claims are false as NFTs cannot be copied. He goes on to point out how he had successfully overturned the copyright claims levied against for going ahead with this project.
Screenshots of the ApeMarket adverts in the Youtube video.
Paraphrasing Phillion’s words in the video, Ryder is not doing it for the money, but for justice. The work is purely satire and conceptual art. Following the advert is a perfectly edited clip of a film with Nazi Germany generals tagged as BAYC, expressing shock and despair over the crash of their perfectly built empire caused by RR/BAYC. Check out his statement on the official website of RR/BAYC here.
Yuga has responded pretty quickly. On June 25th via their Twitter account, Yuga Labs announced that they had filed a lawsuit against all parties involved in this slander. Reading the comments under the tweet, some members of the community presumed it would primarily be a defamation case. But to everyone’s surprise, the case is primarily one of trademark infringement. This is with the fact that Yuga Labs has no registered trademark, all are simply pending applications. Still, Yuga claims that they have built sufficient goodwill and Ryder and others are using this goodwill to push the RR/BAYC gospel.
It does not help RR/BAYC that there are so many striking similarities between the two projects. Take a look at the logos:
On the left is the original BAYC logo while the logo on the right is that of RR/BAYC
Not just that, the Twitter profile page of RR/BAYC was made to look exactly like that of the BAYC. Yuga Labs claims that through the use of its trademarks: “BORED APE YACHT CLUB”, “BAYC”, “BORED APE”, “APE”, BAYC logo, and the Ape Skull logo, Ryder is driving a robust ecosystem and should be stopped. They also make a case that Ryder is solely bent on discrediting their reputation and brand for personal gain. A detailed tweet on the court document can be found here.
In the midst of the court process and all the other brouhaha, one question still remains on everyone’s lips: “Are the accusations true or is it all a big coincidence?”. The clues sound too convincing, but Ryder advertising his RR/BAYC NFTs clouds the air a bit. Let’s also plug in the fact that all the RR/BAYC NFTs have been sold and Ryder has constantly tried to register the collection on NFT marketplaces like Foundation, LooksRare and OpenSea.
In the end the verdict is still out. Maybe, and just maybe, we will know the truth after the suit. Or we may never know at all. Still, we’ll be on the lookout.