The first half of 2021 was the year retail investing went mainstream. You can chalk it up to a couple convergent trends.
The death of pop culture meant there were no longer very many water cooler moments for people to engage in low intensity banter around. Streaming seemed like it might fill the gap—but increasingly they are nostalgia time machines fighting over the scraps of pop culture past. See: Friends: The Reunion.
The death of the creative class script. Back in the heady post-Recession days, it felt like becoming a “creative” might be a way to sell out without having to live the greyed out doldrums that films like Fight Club lampooned in the 90s. Turns out we were wrong. Just because you can have tattoos and wear Urban Outfitters to the office doesn’t mean that the vampire squid cares about you. I don’t know anyone who works in the brandplex who doesn’t hate their life. Maybe people tell me they hate their jobs because I have one fit in and one foot out and therefore I’m not a threat in the office politics sense of the word. Everyone is hatching an exit plan, even if only in theory. See: the side-hustlization of everything.
The rise of crypto really scrambled everyone’s brains. Suddenly your drug dealer who got sent upstate, doing 3-5 is out and his crypto wallet from online sales has ballooned to make him a multimillionaire. I’m bullish on crypto simply because it’s the only thing going on to be bullish about. Maybe the NFT bubble popped. Maybe it’s just another dip. The one thing I do know is, “So what do you think about NFTs?” has been literally the only question I’ve been asked at cocktail parties for the last few weeks. The one good thing about this bubble environment versus the last one where people treated houses as speculative assets—if this one blows up it won’t take down the sector of the economy that people live in with it.
This winter I got into meme stocks. I lost some money on some bets, won money on others. In the end, I doubled my money. Free money is always great—but even better was the entertainment this provided me as my mind zoomed around. I needed a distraction from the political circus that poisons the feed daily. Pop culture couldn’t provide it. Work couldn’t provide it. And even though I have some money in crypto—I had a strong feeling I was way too late to the game for that to even be fun.
Gamestop (and now AMC) are the perfect mix of the above three trends. They’re nostalgic brands from back when pop culture was fun and innocent (and good). They provide a speculative off ramp to participating in our dire, miserable work culture. And while the downside may be losing your shirt—the upside might be bigger than expected. No one believes markets are rational anymore. Chaos reigns.
Honestly, there was nothing more pleasurable than watching CNBC talking heads rant and rave about how this was wrong. SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING! GAMESTOP IS OVERVALUED! As if this that was what any of this was about. Watching this play out was a multiscreen affair. I had r/WallStreetBets open on my computer, CNBC playing on my TV, and Twitter scrolling on my phone. The memeplex was eating Wall Street. A band of hooligans had come roaring down from the highlands and they were besieging the hedgies castle. HODL is a war cry. Being an ape is probably a more meaningful identity than anything these NEETs ever checked on a Census form.
Diamond hands 💎👐
To the moon 🚀
I like the stock…
These are the narrative tissue of a decentralized pump and dump scheme. The SEC can’t hold anyone accountable because it simply happened. It simply happened because it was fun.
In 2018, the Pentagon created a war game called Zbellion—a tacit admission that the US government knows it has created a scenario in which most people born after 1980 have no clear stakes in the US economy or system of governance. Right now the meme stocks are fun, a piece of bottom up internet culture that gives bored NEETs something to think about during the COVID doldrums.
But the powers that be should consider what it means. If young people have no path to productive activities, they will look to highly speculative destructive ones instead.
Every revolution starts with bored young men.