Cameo CEO favorably compares Web3 boom to the colonization of the Americas

Last Thursday to celebrate the closing of a new $400 million round, the venture capital firm M13 held an invite-only schmoozing opportunity in the former offices of Musical.ly, opening with a introductory chat on „the future of crypto, the decentralized web, and creators.“ Curiously, one of the guests was Cameo’s Steven Galanis who, according to audio provided to Engadget by an attendee, took the opportunity to share a metaphor he apparently has deployed before: that the rampant speculation around Web3 is akin to the colonization of the Americas by Europeans. To be clear, he seems to think of both as good things.

Cameo, the service that hit unicorn status last May and allows anyone to book a short, custom video message from celebrities and pseudo-celebrities like Fran Drescher, Gilbert Gottfried or the guy who played Hagrid, is not a Web3 business in any sense — not that „Web3“ itself is a particularly meaningful or well-defined piece of terminology. 

But Galanis seems to have become something of a booster for these loosely conjoined elements of emergent tech. His Twitter profile picture is of toga- and 3D glasses-wearing Bored Ape NFT, for which he seems to have paid 100 ETH — the equivalent of around $300,000 at the time. He steered Cameo toward minting its own set of NFTs (called „Cameo Pass“) last month with the promise that proceeds would be reinvested into, among other things,“exploration of further Web3 projects focused on fan/talent interactions.“ 

Presumably this enthusiasm — a contrast to the often chilly reception towards NFTs at other tech companies — helped land Galanis on stage for M13’s shindig, along with Lightning Labs’s Liz Stark. But in the course of his enthusiastic boosterism he shared „the analogy that I like to give people“ about Web3, which we’ve edited for clarity (emphasis ours):

„I actually think right now it’s like 1493. Columbus has just gotten back from the New World. And he’s going to the King of Spain and the Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, and he’s like ‚there’s a whole world over there that like, there’s literally just gold coming out of rivers.‘ And then the King of France hears about it, the Kingdom of England hears about it. And what does everybody decide? We need to start building boats. So right now we’re in this age where everybody’s building boats. Everybody’s trying to go to this New World. […] So everybody’s going over, there’s gonna mutinies on some boats. Somebody’s gonna hit an iceberg. […] But somebody is gonna end up on Manhattan, like in the digital world, and they’re gonna pull a bunch of beads out of their pocket, and they’re going to make the best real estate transaction of all time.“

It boggles the mind that anyone could be aware of the colonization and systematic genocide of native peoples, and conclude that the moral is to not miss out on the opportunity to kill, steal and swindle again for personal gain. Or that if someone were to sincerely believe something quite so awful, they would at least have the good sense not to share that opinion, apparently, on multiple occasions.

Beyond the blunt insensitivity of the remarks, Galanis seems to have little to no grasp of the events he references. „Everybody is building boats!!!? This is a sort of 20th [century] arms race point of view,“ William Fowler, a professor emeritus of history at Northeastern, told Engadget via email. „England sent Cabot (1497) West, but that did not result in much. Not until Jamestown, 1607, did England, through a private company, establish a permanent colony in America. 

As for their naval power, England barely made it through the Armada, 1588, and did not have a first class navy until [the] mid 17th [century] … France sent Cartier (1534), but it would be almost one hundred years before they got serious in Canada.“ All of this is to say nothing of the fact that Columbus was far from the first European to stumble onto the Americas (that distinction likely goes to the Vikings) or that he „went to his grave (1506) believing he had found a route to the Indies,“ according to Fowler.

The tale of Manhattan’s land rights being bought out from under native people by the Dutch for baubles is, at best, highly exaggerated. Unlike Staten Island or other areas of land, the contract between the Dutch and native peoples for Manhattan is either lost or never existed, and according to the Gotham Center’s Richard Howe „the extant evidence for the Dutch purchase of Manhattan is scant, indirect and circumstantial.“ 

While a letter claiming a transfer occurred, dated November 7 1626, does survive, it’s both inconclusive and in no way mentions „beads“ — rather that the land had been purchased „for the value of 60 guilders“ (which is something like $1,000 in today’s dollars.) Whether native tribes shared the same understanding of property, or could be said to have freely entered into these types of contracts is unresolved. Nor is it known if the people who allegedly signed over the deed were even the tribe primarily occupying Manhattan at the time.

Whatever the case, this „investment“ was short-lived, and New Amsterdam was „taken easily by the British,“ according to Fowler, in 1664, less than 20 years after the rights were supposedly sold for a song. Let’s not even get into how the metaphor fails on a structural level in that Web3 isn’t a valuable resource simply awaiting discovery and exploitation. Its illusion of riches shares more in common with El Dorado than the „New World.“

It might appear unfair to expect Galanis to have studied history, rather than basing offensive flights of fancy on colonialist myths. Then again, history was the man’s area of study at Duke. Engadget made several attempts to contact Cameo to allow Galanis to explain precisely what he might have meant by this analogy, and have yet to hear back. „Trying to apply 21st [century] criteria to ages past should be done with great care,“ professor Fowler wrote, „[Galanis] may have something to say, but it is hard to dig through the rhetoric to get to his point, if he has any.“

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