Does The Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT Collection Contain Racist Iconography?

Does The Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT Collection Contain Racist Iconography?

The title contains a million-dollar question. The Bored Ape Yacht Club is the second most popular NFT collection in the world, and the 6.092 BAYC owners have a very strong incentive to defend their valuable NFTs. On the other hand, there’s also an obvious incentive for everyone not involved to tear the collection down. Especially if they’re in the NFT space, as is every person involved in this story.

So, do the accusations have merit? Are the beloved Apes hiding racist iconography? Is the company that created them named after a Nazi obsession? Or are the accusers grasping at straws? Is the evidence even strong enough or are these just coincidences? Are the accusations a malevolent attack? Let’s explore the case and everyone can draw their own conclusions at the end.

How Did The Bored Ape Yacht Club Controversy Start?

Besides the four anonymous founders of Yuga Labs, the company that created the BAYC collection, the main character is Ryder Ripps. He’s an American designer and artist. The whole controversy gained critical mass after “a Twitter Space hosted by crypto-enthusiast loldefi saw over 5,000 users pouring in to hear commentary or voice their thoughts.” It lasted for hours.

Then, Know Your Meme interviewed Ryder to get a detailed explanation of what’s going on. He told them:

“The act of disparaging someone by comparing them to an ape/monkey goes back hundreds of years. There is a word for it, “simianization.” There are many examples throughout history, its purpose is to justify violence and racism against another group by dehumanizing them, comparing them to apes. Simianization has occured with various ethnic groups such as Jewish, Irish and Asian people, but it is most predominantly used as a tactic against Black people.”

Since there are NFT collections depicting any animal under the sun, let’s skip this first allegation. If there’s nothing else to the accusations, then this one doesn’t matter. If the following seems suspect, then come back here and read that paragraph once again.

We liked the idea of creating a whole collection around apes who became so wealthy because of crypto's rise, that they became extremely . . . bored. What is a bored ape to do? Perhaps retreat to a secretive club in the swamp.— Yuga Labs (@yugalabs) January 3, 2022

Before moving on, let’s give Yuga Labs the right to reply. They say: “There’s a long history of people affectionately referring to themselves as apes in crypto, which is why some of the rarest and most valuable NFTs in the Cryptopunk collection are the apes.”

Is The Name Yuga Labs A Nazi Reference?

A company called Yuga Labs created the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Here is what Ripps thinks the name means:

“The name “Yuga Labs” seems like a reference to a Nazi/Alt-Right/Boogaloo obsession with the “Kali Yuga,” a topic covered in-depth by Nazi publication The Daily Stormer. Nazi adjacent groups often use the phrase “Surf The Kali Yuga,” code for start a race war.”

The Yuga Cycles concept comes from Hinduism and is hundreds of years old. The Daily Stormer might’ve covered it in-depth, but so have millions of people from different cultures. And, more than anyone, the Hindus. Also, there’s the fact that “Yuga” means epoch, and it’s a generic word. The operating word in “Kali Yuga” is Kali, which refers to a demon.

However, there’s the “Kali Yuga Surf Club”:

They are made by YUGA labs, another reference to hitler & propaganda used by racist groups throughout the internet & throughout history concerning the destruction & hate of certain groups of human beings.— !KOBE and 3 others liked (@The1Ratman) January 4, 2022

That image from the “Kali Yuga Surfing Club” with the black sun symbol behind, and a skull, that’s compelling. There are obvious parallelisms to Bored Ape Yacht Club.

Before moving on, let’s give Yuga Labs the right to reply. They say: “We’re nerds, and Yuga is the name of a villain in Zelda whose ability is that he can turn himself and others into 2D art. Made sense for an NFT company.”

A little a bit about us to start off the new year and what's coming. 🧵1. What's the inspiration behind the name Yuga Labs? We're nerds, and Yuga is the name of a villain in Zelda whose ability is that he can turn himself and others into 2D art. Made sense for an NFT company.— Yuga Labs (@yugalabs) January 3, 2022

Is The Bored Ape Yacht Club Logo A Reference To…?

In the interview, Ryder Ripps says: “The Bored Ape Yacht Club logo is very similar to the Nazi Totenkopf emblem.” In the following tweet, he elaborates. “They have the exact same amount of teeth in the skull, I have yet to find another ape skull drawing with 18 teeth.”

from @adl— RYDER RIPPS (@ryder_ripps) January 7, 2022

There’s no denying this, they do look similar. And remember the skull in the “Kali Yuga Surfing Club” image.

Before moving on, let’s give Yuga Labs the right to reply. This time they’re not as convincing. They say: “We never wanted to take ourselves too seriously, so the look of the club is ramshackle and divey.” Ok, but what about the skull? “We went with an ape skull to help convey just how bored these apes are – they’re ‘bored to death’.”

It's a 'Yacht Club' that's actually falling apart and smack dab in the heart of the Everglades. As such, it needed an appropriately grimey, intriguing logo. We went with an ape skull to help convey just how bored these apes are – they're 'bored to death'.— Yuga Labs (@yugalabs) January 3, 2022

As we said, not as convincing this time.

Are Hawaiian Shirts Racist?

Once again, Ryder in the interview: “There is a prominent display of Hawaiian shirts, a known symbol of the Boogaloo movement.”

Ok, now it’s Ripps who’s not as convincing. Hawaiian shirts are everywhere. And that’s just one of the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s traits.

What About The Bored Apes Yacht Club’s Rolling Stone Cover?

This NFT collection is so big that it got a Rolling Stone cover. Were there hidden messages in the illustration? Ryder says: “The BAYC Rolling Stone cover features an ape in a Hawaiian shirt wearing an admiral hat with a skull — there has never been a militia besides the Nazis to wear a hat in this style. Additionally, the same image features rats huddled around gold, comparing Jews to rats and associating them with gold is a common racist trope.”

. @RollingStone do you know if there are any other admirals hats with skulls besides nazi hats?— RYDER RIPPS (@ryder_ripps) January 4, 2022

However, Yuga Labs has a very convincing answer. There are persons of color and a Jewish person on the team. “We’re all real-life friends with diverse backgrounds – Jewish, Cuban, Turkish, Pakistani. We started work on what would become the BAYC in February of 2021, and worked with a team of artists on the apes, the look of the club, logos, etc.”

To date, we have 11 full-time employees and many contractors who work on every aspect of the BAYC, from video games to merch, digital and physical experiences, scavenger hunts, etc.— Yuga Labs (@yugalabs) January 3, 2022

The thing is, they’re still anonymous. So, we can’t really know if what they’re saying is true. Are they who they say they are? Is the Bored Ape Yacht Club as innocent as they depict it? Or is there more to the story?

Conclusions And Continuations

We can’t close this article without talking about Ryder Ripps. He’s a shock artist who’s reportedly obsessed with disrupting the peace. And that’s paraphrasing rapper Azealia Banks, his former fiancee. They both have an audio-only sex tape that they sold as an NFT, as an example of attention-seeking behavior.

Does this mean that he’s wrong about the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s alleged racist undertones? Not necessarily. But it had to be said.

The real question here is, what do you think about it? Of course, this is a summary. There are many people on the case that have uncovered much more alleged evidence. And there are a higher number of people making fun of them and calling them conspiracy theorists. Besides that, there are millions of dollars at stake. This is not a trivial matter.

Is there a case here? Do the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs contain racist iconography? That’s for you to decide.


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