‘Crypto Critic’ — Hollywood insider has a message for celebrities who shill token projects


Ben McKenzie, the actor known for his roles on TV shows including Gotham and The OC, is speaking out against public figures endorsing projects in the crypto space without seemingly disparaging the technology itself.

Working with The New Republic staff writer Jacob Silverman, McKenzie made waves in early October after penning a Slate piece with his partner titled “Celebrity Crypto Shilling Is a Moral Disaster.” The duo called attention to Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account promoting the token EthereumMax (EMAX) in early June, a project whose price gained 116,000% in just one week before shedding more than 99% of its value, leaving many in the red.

“Celebrities are lending their names and promotional talents to everything from NFTs to crypto exchanges to their own custom coin offerings,” said Silverman and McKenzie. “Together they are communicating something clear but terribly misleading: that cryptocurrencies, and the many shady areas of this gray-market economy, offer a path to sustainable riches. The truth is almost always the opposite.”

They added:

“These rich and famous entertainers might as well be pushing payday loans or seating their audience at a rigged blackjack table. While the wild swings of crypto might be exciting for some, the rewards for many are illusory.”

Though much of Silverman and McKenzie’s criticism is aimed at actors and influencers who may not necessarily know the types of projects in which they’re seemingly encouraging for their followers to invest, they’ve also called out lawmakers. When New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced he would be accepting his first three paychecks in Bitcoin (BTC), the duo referred to it as “an embarrassingly stupid move” outside of merely attempting to get publicity — it may set the bar higher for other political candidates.

“Pledging fealty to the Bitcoin cult, promising to become a low-tax crypto playground, laying out the red carpet for the venture capitalists investing in this industry — these are rapidly becoming table stakes for tech-forward mayors,” said Silverman and McKenzie. “[It’s not] a good idea for a public servant to promote gambling with one’s entire paycheck in what is essentially an unlicensed, unregulated casino.”

Related: Celebrities are embracing NFTs in a big way

CNN published an interview with McKenzie on Nov. 23, referring to the actor as someone who “stands virtually alone as a celebrity willing to publicly buck the crypto trend.” Unlike some figures like gold bug Peter Schiff who regularly calls BTC investments inferior to those in traditional assets, McKenzie seemed to be more concerned with the trends around pump-and-dump projects and their celebrity backers who are “unwittingly involved in something that is damaging to others.” According to the actor, crypto and blockchain technology may still play an important role in the future of finance, but “rich and famous people pushing these products” haven’t earned the trust of investors to make seemingly spurious claims.

Related: Celebs and crypto in 2020: Blockchain cities, Bitcoin newbies and Twitter trolling

McKenzie has not had a shortage of figures to target, as many professional sports players including Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have attached their names to crypto exchanges through sponsorship deals. In Hollywood, Matt Damon recently became one of the biggest celebrities to promote a crypto firm after appearing in a TV spot for Crypto.com.

In their Oct. 7 Slate article, the ‘Crypto Critic’ pair added:

“Whether it’s Lindsay Lohan peddling five-figure NFTs, laser-eyed Tom Brady endorsing the exchange FTX, or Akon promising to build a $6 billion, crypto-inspired city in Senegal, there’s a lot of capital swirling around this industry, and much cause for worry Celebrities are encouraging their fans to gamble on speculative, unproven investments that may soon see a major regulatory crackdown, if not an outright implosion of the market.”