Bill Maher’s funny if clueless takedown of crypto
On the April 30 Real Time With Bill Maher, the comedian closed out the HBO show with an 8-minute New Rules segment that excoriated the cryptocurrency “mania” sweeping the land. The rant immediately went viral on social media — with the video above now at 1.2 million views on YouTube — and it immediately spawned a wealth of “OK, boomer” tweets, earning him a new moniker on Twitter: Grandpa Bill.
Maher likes to mix things up on his show, and let’s remember, he hosts an entertainment show, not a financial news program on CNBC.
So what are we to make of Maher’s fusillade?
His anti-crypto diatribe fits nicely with recurring themes on Real Time about how young people are too deeply immersed in social media and in their online persona and social status at the expense of their real lives (true). Elon Musk is a repeated favorite target, too. Maher repeatedly reminds his listeners that, no, we don’t have to colonize Mars, as Musk’s SpaceX wants to do. Humans have a better alternative: It’s called Earth, with plenty of fresh air, clean drinking water and sustainable land, if only we don’t screw it up with global warming.
Central to Maher’s rant were two claims: that cryptocurrencies generate value without offering goods and services in exchange (increasingly untrue … the wealth creation has been staggering in many cases and much of that wealth is being pumped back into the economy), and that they’re a massive, unacceptable drain on the environment (too true, though Ethereum is addressing that problem with its next major release).
“Nothing is ever actually being accomplished and no actual product made or service rendered,” Maher said. He ridiculed crypto as “Monopoly money” and “play money,” though he admitted he doesn’t really grasp cryptocurrency — and it was apparent he and his producers were over their heads on the subject.
But for a fast-growing sector that needs to mature into mainstream acceptance some time this decade, it’s worth pausing to reflect on some of the valid points Maher raised.
He called Dogecoin “Easter bunny cartoon cash” and compared it to Tinkerbell from Peter Pan: “Its power is based solely on enough children believing in it.” The jury’s still out, but he’s probably right on that score, despite Elon Musk’s efforts to the contrary.
But Dogecoin is an easy target, an outlier, and he used it to tar all cryptocurrencies. “Far as I can tell it’s exactly the same as the other cryptocurrencies because the whole thing is a joke,” Maher suggested.
The environmental impact of Bitcoin was the centerpiece of the segment, and Maher’s point is not so easily dismissed here. It’s unclear if most of those who purchase Bitcoin have any idea about its impact on the environment.
Bitcoins are created through a process called “mining” which needs massive supercomputing power. Mining a single digital Bitcoin requires more electricity than the entire amount of energy needed to light up all of New York state, he said. (The segment offers one of the best visualizations I’ve seen on how mining works, even as Ethereum moves away from proof of work and its massive computational requirements in favor of proof of stake.)
From the segment:
“Bitcoin uses more electricity per transaction than any other method known to mankind just one uses more energy than a million visa transactions and has the same carbon footprint as 85,000 hours of watching Youtube […] Bitcoin uses more energy than Netflix, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google combined.”
The Twitterverse was largely silent on that point. But as Cointelegraph observed: “Bitcoin’s energy consumption has been significantly increasing as the network does, leading to many being concerned with the crypto asset’s carbon footprint in the years to come.”
He excoriated the management of Tesla, Microsoft, Etsy, PayPal, Starbucks, Whole Foods & Home Depot all accept the currency as actual financial tender. He’s wrong there, too. Many of these companies are turning to Bitcoin as a long-term investment strategy (smart), and there will be no supercomputers involved when a soccer mom buys a frappuccino with digital currency (not Bitcoin) at Starbucks.
At least we can be grateful Maher didn’t mention blockchain or NFTs. If he knew what an NFT is, he would not be pleased. (Here’s a new rule, Bill: Avoid subjects you don’t know much about.)
All in all, the segment was not the gut check and reassessment that the crypto sector could benefit from. But it served as a modest start as crypto moves further into the mainstream.
This originally appeared on the Digital Culture Works blog.