Going Prime Time with PleasrDAO
The irreverent collectors of online culture are opening up the auction house.
In 1977, NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft into deep space, each carrying a gold-plated record intended to convey the glorious diversity of life on Earth to an alien civilization. Amongst the information captured on these Voyager records were common greetings, illustrations of DNA’s double helix structure, and Beethoven’s 5th. If we decide to send another interstellar mixtape to help the aliens understand what it felt like to be online in the early decades of the 20th century—and we yet might—a good candidate might be PleasrDAO’s NFT collection.
The DAO got together in 2021 when a group of crypto investors realized they could pool resources to acquire a work by the artist pplpleasr (she’s now an honourary member). Shortly thereafter, the collective sprinted into the spotlight with a series of high-profile acquisitions, including the NFT-ified doge meme, pharmaceutical supervillain Martin Shrekli’s sole copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album, and Edward Snowden’s Stay Free NFT. Each of these grails was notable not only for its high price tag and the collective buy-in that made its acquisition possible, but its high standing within the meme economy. As “chief pleasing officer” Jamis Johnson put it in the DAO’s New York Times profile: these are “the signature pieces of digital culture.”
Now, PleasrDAO is making the pivot to creating and auctioning off the memetic sensations it once only collected after the fact. Earlier this year, the collective began hosting its own 24-hour “PleasrHouse” auctions in an effort to imbue the auction house model with its core maxim of participatory absurdity. Each auction culminates in a livestreamed show featuring a live chat alongside a range of cameos, spectacles, and pranks—resulting in what Johnson describes as a frantic cross between Twitch, The Tonight Show, and Sotheby’s. Episode one saw Edward Snowden in conversation with fellow whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in the lead-up to the auction of an NFT inspired by the latter’s 1971 Pentagon Papers leak. Episode two saw the auction of the couch featured in the original doge meme alongside other doge deep cuts while doge (real name Kabosu) was petted on-screen by her owner, Atsuko Sato.
Now, for episode three, PleasrHouse is presenting a 24-hour Unisocks bonfire as they auction off Unisocks NFT id=69 alongside a series of limited edition Unisocks tribute NFTs. For every 666 of the 2000 limited-edition tributes minted, one $SOCKS token will be burned (onchain) and redeemed. If they mint out, there is talk that real socks may burn too. The auction will culminate in a one-hour livestream featuring Uniswap CEO Hayden Adams (tune in here at 7:30pm ET on Wednesday, March 22). With the auction underway and the faint smell of burning cotton in the air, ZINE’s head of editorial Yana Sosnovskaya caught up with PleasrDAO members Jamis Johnson and Chris Eberle to talk about auctions, late-night TV, and turning to the absurd to weather Crypto Winter.
Yana Sosnovskaya (ZINE): PleasrDAO initially started as more of an exclusive group of people. But with the PleasrHouse, you are doing the reverse and opening out to a public group. What was the desire and the intention behind that?
Jamis Johnson: PleasrDAO had a wonderful, magical inception, and that first episode of our life was all about collecting interesting, bizarre, digital, and real artifacts. We saw that as our first act. But there are only so many things you can purchase before you have to start generating ideas rather than just acquiring them. And we have always wanted to do something fun and wacky and ridiculous, something that others aren’t willing to take on. With the combined brain power of the DAO and creativity, we wanted to experiment. Now we’re in season two of PleasrDAO wherein we put our first idea onto the world, our best foot forward. This is just like a Willy Wonka experiment. PleasrHouse is essentially The Tonight Show meets Web3. Twitch meets a Sotheby’s auction. It’s the first of its kind in Web3 media. It’s an ongoing experiment. We want to try a lot of different concepts and ideas right off of this platform. There’s an infinite landscape of ridiculous things that we can do on this.
YS: To come back to the comparison to Sotheby’s—what is missing from a traditional auction house system or approach?
JJ: We love Sotheby’s and Christie’s. We’re close with a lot of people there. I don’t necessarily think of us as competitors, more so complementaries. But in our experience as a DAO trying to participate in the Sotheby’s auction—we were actually the first DAO to register at a traditional auction house—there were a lot of barriers to entry, a lot of hurdles that we had to overcome. I think that it’s easier for an individual than an onchain organization to register and to participate, but the traditional auction houses definitely feel a lot more gated. We all know that the blockchain is the ultimate medium on which anyone can participate. All you need is a wallet and some ether. You don’t even need an email address for PleasrHouse. Just click connect. I think that the blockchain just enables a lot more participation, and we’re going to try to take advantage of that by getting as many people as we can in the world to come join.
YS: What’s your approach to democratizing works of art?
JJ: From the perspective of the auctions as a show, we definitely want the primary entertainment element to be a singular piece, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of people watching that shouldn’t be able to participate in some way. The exploration with the open edition was a lot of fun because not everyone has tens of thousands of dollars to buy a couch that’s in a meme that a dog has sat on. So we wanted to think about what else you could get out of the show. I think open editions are just one of many things that we can provide for the audience. You can see a universe in which there is Unisock-style merch. You can see a world in which there is generative art offered and each person gets something unique. You can see a world in which artists launch their own show and 10,000 PFP collection.
Because it’s on the blockchain, it really enriches the capacity for reaching out to your audience. Building on this medium allows for so much more flexibility and engagement with each audience member. We want each show to have something fun for people to be able to take away. Each show is very different from one another, but I think people should look forward to a lot more upcoming drops per episode.
YS: Were there any surprises, good or bad, once you started having this two-way interaction? Was there something unexpected in terms of community reaction?
JJ: There’s nothing better than seeing people that aren’t in Pleasr now on Crypto Twitter saying it’s the greatest product they’ve used in all their years of DeFi. That is a really good feeling. I think one of the most fun elements of the show is the chat. There’s a live ENS Web3 chat and it’s just crazy in there. Memes are coming down a pipeline faster than you can read, and everyone is riffing—it’s like this flood of hilarity. It feels a lot like Twitch, but it’s all Web3. So you can find that wallet on the chat and go look at their NFTs and see what activity they’re participating in for that day. It’s a lot richer than we thought.
Running a live show is batshit insane. Any story you’ve heard about SNL being chaos, it’s very much those vibes. There’s something unexpected every single show. Whether it’s software upgrades going out, live bug fixing, or if it’s Snowden continuing to talk long after the auction is done.
Chris Eberle: I was pleasantly surprised to see the substance with which folks from different communities came to participate in episodes one and two, in the chat. In episode one, we had a mix of folks interested in Snowden and in surveillance with folks that were there because they knew of PleasrDAO and wanted to see what we were launching. Then we brought in the Dogecoin people. Because of the wonders of Twitter and Reddit, we brought in folks from the GameStop community too. It ends up being this soup of different communities, which is amazing because the whole idea is that this is for everybody. It’s really cool to see these audiences come together. Maybe by the twentieth episode, we’ll have some of these folks that came in because they were Snowden fans or GameStop folks still along for the ride.
YS: How do you approach curation? Looking at both PleasrHouse and PleasrDAO, it seems like you’re interested in memetic internet culture, but at the same time, you appear to care about the societal input of those cultures. It’s not just shits and giggles for you. How do you choose what you want to put out there?
JJ: It all comes from the underlying vibes that were created early on with PleasrDAO. We didn’t have a direction. There was an emergent quality that expressed itself in the pieces that we purchased. The throughline that emerged over time was radical protest pieces meets artistic absurdity meets fine art. We acquired a lot of the pieces from technologists who changed our world many times over. A lot of them were from people that we felt were fighting a good fight and a lot of them were memetic. All of these pieces share in the contemporary world-changing digital era that we face, ranging from Jimmy Wales with Wikipedia to Nadya from Pussy Riot, to Doge, and the Wu Tang Clan. They all have this rise-up-and-fight-the-system [attitude]. That has morphed itself into PleasrHouse, the lifeblood of what we draw from. We don’t have any specific niche, but in the broader context, it’s a mix of charity, fine art, and fun. Our first episode was for Freedom of the Press with Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. That’s a very serious, world-changing, important topic. The second episode could not be more polar opposite. It’s all about the number one meme in existence and buying a couch.
YS: You call PleasrDAO a cartel. Is art just an investment for you or are there any other purposes for the art?
JJ: A cartel of peeps that aim to please. That was something I came up with the day after we formed. I dropped that in Telegram day one. Look, art is an investment. I would be lying if I said we weren’t buying these things hoping that they go up in value. But at the same time, I think we have a very foundational principle in doing good. We’ve given over 10 million dollars away to charity. We want to make some money and have a little fun along the way.
YY: From the experience of running PleasurDAO, what is it that a DAO can do that a regular business entity cannot?
JJ: There are a lot of problems with DAOs. The [idea of a DAO] is this desire for egalitarian membership where everyone has an equal voice. In general, DAOs don’t have hierarchical structures across their leadership in which people can get chastised for expressing opinions. But that’s not always true. While a lot of DAOs enable people to have their voices heard, one of the biggest understatements that’s not talked about enough is that they are simply built on the rails of Web3 where capital moves at the speed of light. Those capital formation tools are extraordinarily powerful. For those of us who have been in the space long enough, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to do those things within the banking system. So I’m perpetually thankful for that.
YS: Why do you still stand by the blockchain, considering the ups and downs of the market’s conditions? What is it that still keeps you going?
JJ: It’s not my first Crypto Winter. Not my first adventure foray into the forest fighting the bears. People have very visceral reactions and strong opinions regarding crypto, particularly when they feel that their point has been proven that it’s bad, which tends to happen in a bear market. I vividly remember in 2018 one my friends at a bar was like, “so I guess that Ethereum was a big scam, huh?” I don’t think that there’s any reason for us to hide those feelings. Yes, it can be tough, but you just have to stay strong.
YS: Are you thinking about the fractionalization of any of the auctions going forward?
JJ: It’s on the table of ideas. No plans at this moment to fractionize anything. If people want to form their own party bid, they are free to. There are a lot of onchain ideas. There’s actually a lot more things possible than people realize.
CE: It was interesting to see in the bid activity on episode two. Some folks’ bids resulted in conversation. Line one of the bidders was called Douch.eth to suggest they were going to form a DAO with the couch. We just like to see the things that people come up with on their own. There’s nothing stopping somebody from winning one of these auctions and then fractionalizing it. We don’t necessarily know what the future will bring for episodes. Where is the couch now? If somebody fractionalized it, what does that community look like? What are they doing? It’s another way to get folks engaged with the show and help us write the future of it.
JJ: It’s fun to see people be creative in their own ways, which goes all the way back to how PleasrDAO is formed. We actually did form a DAO to buy a piece ourselves, so if that ever happens, we’re seeing that come full circle.
YS: Let’s do some fast questions. Ready? DeFi or NFTs?
YS: ETH or Bitcoin?
YS: Bull or Bear?
YS: Snowden or Vitalik?
JJ: Oh, Vitalik. Sorry, Snowden.
YS: Doge or Grumpy Cat?
Mint the ZINE x PleasrDAO NFT