Inventing and reinventing: it’s at the core of the American spirit, ideology, and sense of optimism. It’s also at the core of New York, arguably the most “American” city in the union, and therefore the perfectly apt setting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway production Hamilton: An American Musical.
While visiting New York this past week for NFT.NYC – the biggest, baddest, and boldest conference for digital arts and culture yet assembled – I took in Hamilton at Richard Rodgers Theater with my mother as my date (because I’m cool like that). Outside the theatre, New York City itself was more alive and kicking than it’s been in 18+ months. The streets buzzed and blared, hardly a table was to be found at a decent restaurant before the show, and were it not for the surgical masks being worn by a good half of the people on the streets, you might never know that we weren’t out of the blue in this pandemic just yet.
Inside the venue, it was packed – another sold-out Friday night!i Sitting in the fourth row, close enough to see the pearlescent beads of sweat dripping down the actors’ faces (but not close enough to get accidentally spat on by them), we settled into the crushed red velvet upholstery. With the curtains drawn, the performance began, if a bit awkwardly. Slightly too hip for its own good, large chunks of the early dialogue were more difficult to comprehend than strictly necessary, but the lyrical catchiness and narrative flow was clear from the outset. There was clearly potential! The set and costume design were sharp, flexible, and adaptable in a way that allowed the viewer to immerse themselves in the story without excessive distraction. The casting was unfortunately less consistent, with the merely adequate lead protagonist of Hamilton played by
Miguel Cervantes understudy Marc delaCruzii perhaps understandably overshadowed by the core cast members, particularly the deftly delicate Eliza Hamilton played by Krystal Joy Brown, the forceful George Washington played by Tamar Greene, and the show-stealing side-splitting pantomime King George III played by Euan Morton. Still, taken together, albeit at the end of a whirlwind week of dinners, soirées, events,iii and exactly zero conference lectures, the performance moved me to tears on more than one occasion. It’s true that I’m a tragic sob when it comes to musicals and that middle-age is softening me something fierce, but the narrative parallels between the Founding Fathers depicted on-stage with the founding artists, collectors, curators, and technologists that I’d spent the week with was the most emotionally charged aspect of the whole thing.iv Watching the performance on the heels of my visit to MoMA with FingerprintsDAO curator and JPG co-founder Sam Spikev already had my mind reeling with the broader implications of this dizzying new world and each of our potential roles in it, but watching a dramatised play of such a foundational moment in world history was more serendipitous than even I had any expectation of going in.
What most struck me was the following:
- The capacity of a financial system to serve as fast and efficient plumbing is an incredible determinant to the prosperity and success of an economy (and society), as Hamilton’s Central Bank demonstrated for early America and as crypto does for the web3 world today
- The mere possibility of being an immigrant bastard orphan who rises to the highest political powers and social stations, as Hamilton did, is fundamental to the American dream and success story, as it is for pseudonymous founders and creators in web3 todayvi
- Written theses are incredibly important for the critical reception, adoption, and shaping of new ideas, whether Federalist Papers or White Papers (or blogs?!)
- Honour is everything, whether it’s a duel to the death or a Discord deal
- History will judge us and only history can (and history is more likely to forget us than not)
- Invention and reinvention are at the core of New York, the United States, and (perhaps ironically given the anarcho-libertarian undercurrents so foundational to the space) crypto culture as well
And yet the parallels and similarities between then and now have their limits; maps can never be territories.vii As we continue to explore the vast new continent that is web3/crypto, we’ll continue to find new inspiration and ideas from history as we write our own stories. There are lessons to be drawn from Hamilton’s era just as there are lessons to be drawn from the Carnegie/Rockefeller/Morgan era, and many more eras besides! But without reflecting on our current social, political, and economic context, we’ll just keep spinning and spinning and never build something deeper and more lasting. That would be a missed opportunity, potentially a fatal one for our cause, because the enemies of our free society aren’t so naive.
So now is our chance, now is our responsibility, to build a historically aware foundation upon which the digital skyscrapers of the future will be built.viii
What could be more Hamilton than that?
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- Since it launched in 2015, Hamilton has been the single most commercially successful (and critically acclaimed) Broadway production, grossing over $1 bn and counting while taking home 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer. ↩
- I’d see the performance again just to see a stronger Hamilton! ↩
- Including a basketball game (thanks Mitch!) and a paint party (thanks Fewo!). ↩
- Notwithstanding Hamilton unwittingly sending his 19-year-old son into a duel to die, a situation more than enough to make any empathetic father break down, and especially so for a sympathetic father such as yours truly who saw at least a faint glimmer of himself in the protagonist on-stage. “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” goes some way to capturing the million words and counting and 1`000+ posts assembled under the Contravex banner that is my oeuvre, as does the feeling of Icarus, striving towards the sun… ars longa vita brevis aka NO RAGRETS.
Where Hamilton and I part ways is in our willingness to sacrifice our families for a higher cause. I want my cake and to eat it too! ↩
- You may recall Sam from our conversation last week on XCOPY. ↩
- In the secular world at present, Tony Robbins and Jordan Peterson provide young aspirants with 12-step reinvention programmes, which are hugely attractive for millions upon millions around the world. In their own ways, what Robbins and Peterson are doing is really codifying and marketing the Hamiltonian story, which is very much not the Indo-European way, being more about historical context, provenance, etc.. Similarly to Tony and Jordan, in the NFT space, “influencers” leverage this possibility of a new and more prosperous life for new entrants, one unencumbered by personal and family history, some pitches of which are delivered with more genuineness, as with Gary Vee, and sometimes with less, as with Jordan Belfort, Pransky, etc. ↩
- For one, New York moves so quickly in its continual process of invention and reinvention that I personally struggle to resonate with the city. It’s a bloody impressive thing, of that there’s little doubt, but the amount of concrete, shadows, and superficial spinning makes a deeper connection all but impossible for your humble author. For all the opportunities and excitement there, it’s fairly exhausting and not terribly gratifying place to spend time, at least for this small town country boy and fambly man. Not that I’m anti-urban, far from it, just give me Vancouver or London any day! ↩
- This is the view from “The Edge” atop 30 Hudson Yards at the city’s newest de novo development (a $25 bn one at that). The world-class viewing platform is over 100 storeys up in the air and offers views of the city from nearly unparalleled heights. What’s our digital equivalent? Owning a punk? Or a glyph? Or fully appreciating them in ways perhaps even most owners do? I’m not sure yet, but I think that this is the vantage point to which we should aspire to deliver for future generations.