Most of John Oliver’s send-up of cryptocurrency was spot on.
On Sunday night’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” the HBO host poked fun at bitcoin community icons like Brock Pierce and reminded viewers to exercise caution when investing.
“The important thing to remember here is this is a brand-new, very complicated space and literally nobody knows how it’s going to develop, so you need to be careful,” he said.
Oliver’s explanations of blockchain technology and the nascent cryptocurrency industry were generally accurate, and the notes of caution were appropriate. Speaking of notes, guest star Keegan-Michael Key’s parody of Carlos Matos, the exuberant Bitconnect promoter, drove the point home when he bellowed: “Re-spon-si-bility!”
But in one important respect, Oliver missed the mark by a long shot.
In his efforts to relate the story to a broad audience, the comedian trotted out a tired analogy, comparing bitcoin’s volatile price to a $15,000 Beanie Baby, the plush toys that drove Americans into a buying frenzy circa the late 1990s.
He also described buying cryptocurrency as pure gambling, not investing – an oversimplification to say the least.
It’s worth nothing that it’s been two decades since the Beanie Baby craze of the 1990s, and that some of the toy animals still sell for thousands of dollars online. Rare-toys appraiser Bruce Zalkin, for example, told The Wall Street Journal a trio of Beanies that sold for roughly $1,299 in 1998 would probably fetch $50 today.
This devaluation highlights what makes Beanies fundamentally different from cryptocurrencies. Beanies didn’t introduce any new technology to the collectibles market. Aside from unique traits such as color, these toys have generally remained the same over the years.
By comparison, bitcoin offered the building blocks for the blockchain technology boom sweeping the globe.
This technology is being applied to everything from medical records to real estate transactions and derivatives. Cryptocurrency itself already has diverse use cases, such helping sex workers safely store wealth despite discriminatory banks. Some entrepreneurs, like Korean beauty entrepreneur Sunny Park