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Rich Men North Of Richmond: A Bitcoin Anthem?

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This is an opinion editorial by Spencer Nichols, Product Marketing Associate at Bitcoin Magazine and host of The Cosmic Bitcoin Podcast.

Folk music artist Oliver Anthony took the internet by storm with a video of his song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” recorded in the woods near his off-grid home in Virginia, and has created something resembling the Bitcoin song of the year. Anthony’s raw emotion and lamentation of the “new world” along with his observation that “the dollar ain’t shit” has certainly aided him in receiving accolades from the Bitcoin community.

It’s of course no coincidence that Bitcoiners gravitated toward this song given its criticism of “rich men North of Richmond” — glares at the Washington uni-party — but what I find most important is Anthony’s cathartic, grieving tone. In my opinion, those who recognize the decay of trust and our fiat-induced collective inability to make sense of the world, feel loss, anger and pain over what could have been, and disbelief over the current state of the world. Anthony’s blues-laden vocals capture this all-too-well:

“For people like me and people like you

“Wish I could just wake up and it not be true

“But it is, oh, it is”

Rather than a highly-produced, pop-adjacent and niche celebration of Bitcoin or Satoshi Nakamoto — a la Gramtik’s 2016 song “Satoshi Nakamoto” which lauds “buying whips with cryptocurrency” — Anthony has given the Bitcoin community something to latch onto that normal, everyday people can as well. A confluence that has been … less than common for Bitcoin culture. It’s worth noting that Anthony has captured an emotion that the Bitcoiner and blue collar disenfranchised can both appreciate without needing to have mutual understanding of cryptography, nodes or the appeal of permissionless money. It’s simply a message that speaks to the problems that both of these cohorts can easily recognize.

In sharp contrast to the cultural zeitgeist in Bitcoin post-2020 bull market, Anthony’s mashup of folk music and authentic Americana with a modern twist doesn’t feel contrived or built on bullishness and moonboy hype. I acknowledge this paints Bitcoiners with a broad brush, but the popularity of “Rich Men North of Richmond” goes to reflect that many outside of the Bitcoin community harbor convergent sentiments to our own: trust in this country has been broken, and “it’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to.”

Of course, there are also parallels to CBDCs and digital panopticon fears that are palatable for Bitcoiners. Anthony writes, “These rich men north of Richmond. Lord knows they all just want to have total control. Wanna know what you think. Wanna know what you do.”

Is This Truly A Bitcoin Song?

I think it is important to note that while this song has been well-received by Bitcoiners, in part due to their typically right-leaning, anti-authoritarian political affiliations, we must be careful not to call this a Bitcoin song, per se, and not use this as a type of “blue collar-washing.” While Bitcoin is certainly a useful tool for the economically disaffected given its roots in the Great Financial Crisis/Occupy Wall Street movement, it would be disingenuous to hold Anthony up as representative of Bitcoiners, given the tech-forward financialization of Bitcoin and the looming entry of market participants like BlackRock and others of their ilk that stand to benefit.

Anthony’s music has certainly found a fanbase in Bitcoin circles and for good reason, and perhaps this can serve as a useful signpost to create more bridges between the Bitcoin community and those further afield. But I do not think it would be fair to claim Anthony or a caricature of the culture he represents (struggling men from Appalachia) as representative of Bitcoin. This is for two reasons: 1) to not portray Bitcoin’s cultural movement as something it isn’t, and 2) to not allow Bitcoin influences from Wall Street, Silicon Valley and elsewhere to use his aesthetic and appeal as an expedient facade.

I found Anthony’s song incredibly moving, and was very happy to hear his point-blank criticism of the dollar resonate with so many people. Admittedly his political ideology (as far as it is expressed) appeals to my own, but I don’t think it genuine to hold Anthony or his song up as being a Bitcoin anthem. As much as I’d like to LARP as a folksy mountain man with hard-earned grievances — shoutout my fellow Bay Area millennials — I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t think too many Bitcoiners are blue collar mountain men, either. I think we should be careful not to use Anthony or his message as a means of achieving our own interests, but we can still appreciate his music and message for what they are.

“Rich Men North of Richmond” has definitely struck a chord. Its rawness, seeming lack of commercialization and folksy nature have appeal for good reason in comparison to the popular music of “fiat land” today. Its alignment with many ideals in Bitcoin are not an anomaly, but its popularity amongst Bitcoiners may belie a desire to paint Bitcoin as something of a populist movement of impoverished, blue collar folks. I’d posit that, on average, this is not currently true for Bitcoin.

Those caveats aside, this song might help us understand how to break outside the echo chamber of market watchers, number-go-up maxis and techno-libertarians. There’s certainly an important lesson here in showing how divergent the typical Bitcoin elevator pitch is from what evidently has actual mass appeal. While we can debate whether “mass adoption” is really the game to be playing, for the sake of argument let’s assume that is indeed our aim. Thus, this should serve as an important data point for how to tailor our messaging.

This is clearly an important song and cultural moment, but it is not a Bitcoin anthem no matter how much we wish it were. Kudos to Anthony for his newfound success and for illuminating an important discussion through his art.

This is a guest post by Spencer Nichols. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

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