A Look at the Top Cryptocurrency Portrayals in Movies and Shows
There’s a good chance that by this point, if you ask your grandmother, a toddler, or a Himalayan monk, they’ve probably heard of Bitcoin. Every surge in its value is followed by a deluge of mainstream news coverage. Even with these spikes in popularity, it’s taken a while for Hollywood to warm up to cryptocurrency and incorporate it into movies and shows. Go back just a few years and the majority of Bitcoin references were negative and propaganda influenced, but that’s changed over time. Is Hollywood developing the sweets for crypto?
Let’s take a look at some of the most significant references of crypto in Hollywood and the underlying sentiment.
House of Cards (February, 2014)
Sentiment: Mostly Negative
Netflix’s hit political drama ‘House of Cards’ featured a brief but poignant mention of Bitcoin in season 2, episode 2. The reference occurs when an investigative journalist consults a coworker who informs him about the dark web. The coworker mentions “Bitcoin laundering” among things like “child porn” and “hackers for fire” to illustrate the type of nefarious activities that occur in this hidden part of the internet.
This type of association and portrayal reinforced the public notion that Bitcoin is meant for criminals and only useful in shady illegal dealings. Although House of Cards’ is a tremendously popular show and may have been the first place many its viewers heard of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency community could do without that sort of publicity.
Dope (June, 2015)
In 2015, the “coming-of-age” comedy drama, “Dope”, became the film to most prominently feature Bitcoin. Rather than just being mentioned in passing, Bitcoin played a significant role in the movie’s plot.
In the beginning of the film, the movie’s main character says to his mother, “I just read that money as we know it is dead. Soon the world is only going to buy and sell products using Bitcoins. It’s like a complicated math equation.”
Later in the film, when he and his friends accidentally come into possession of a large amount of drugs, they turned to Bitcoin and the darknet to get it off of their hands. Although this movie makes the same association of Bitcoin with nefarious internet activities, the fact that it was a tool used to save the innocent protagonists created a more balanced perception in the movie’s audience.
Aside from that, the film does deserve major kudos for being the first film to accept Bitcoin payments of tickets.
Mr. Robot (September, 2016)
Sentiment: Somewhat Positive
USA’s smash hit Mr. Robot takes a deeper dive into the macroeconomic and political utility of cryptocurrencies. One of the stories primary antagonists, Phillip Price, is the CEO of the super evil megacorp ‘E Corp’. He plans to launch his own cryptocurrency called ECoin to counteract the threat Bitcoin poses to the interest of multinational corporations and governments alike.
There’s an interesting scene in the show where Price is discussing this plan with the Treasury Secretary who is not a fan of the idea. At one point the Treasury Secretary says “It’s unconstitutional. You can’t make your own currency. It’s the federal government’s job!” . Wait, what?
The audacity! That statement comes through as frustrating propaganda to anyone who knows the federal reserve is a private, independent organization and does not actually answer to the federal government. Alan Greenspan will tell you himself. Its very creation was indeed unconstitutional. Ron Paul has trumpeted this fact throughout his political career. It’s a job this private institution has performed horribly at in terms of protecting the value of the dollar, which is now 95% less valuable than it was at the Fed’s inception. Most disturbingly is the 9 trillion dollars that have gone missing with no oversight. No, it’s not the federal government’s job. They’ve long lost control of that role.
Moving forward in the scene, Price doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He amps up his intimidating persuasion while explaining that the problem is the decline of hard cash and the rise of Bitcoin, not him.
“If Bitcoin takes over, we are all in a world of hell. It is unregulated, It has already reached is transaction volume maximum… With ECoin, we control the ledger and the mining servers. We are the authority. I will make sure you have visibility into every single wallet that’s opened, every loan, every transaction; which means, we can start making new assets; which means we can start rebuilding the banking sector.”
It’s clear that Price’s unspoken ambition is to become the new blockchain-based Federal Reserve. Even though these characters had a negative perception of Bitcoin, the fact that Bitcoin is regarded as a threat to his power-hungry and sinister plot makes it a somewhat positive portrayal of the digital currency.
Startup (September, 2016 – Current)
Sentiment: Mostly Positive
The series ‘StartUp’ on Sony’s Crackle may not have a lot of publicity, but it’s a show that truly gets the disruptive intention behind cryptocurrency. The story revolves around Izzy Morales, a Mexican-American entrepreneur with a vision to build a digital currency called GenCoin, which serves as the show’s equivalent of Bitcoin. In the beginning of the pilot episode, Izzy has no place to go and ends up taking her computers and mining equipment to her parents’ house. Her mom confronts her about the equipment, asking if it was for a blog, to which Izzy replies:
“It’s a digital currency and it’s going to change the world… It’s not tied to any governments, any banks, any regulations. Anybody in the world can use it. All you need is a cell phone”
When she goes to pitch GenCoin to potential investors halfway through the pilot, she gives a passionate presentation about the currency’s utility and how it can help uplift underserved communities that don’t have access to banking. It’s made obvious that the team behind the show get the merit of cryptocurrency. Unfortunately, Izzy actually ends up attracting the wrong type of investor, which becomes the show’s dramatic premise.
Although the show focuses a lot on the criminal utility of the digital currency, it does an excellent job of showing that, in Izzy’s words, “Everyone says that money corrupts people. People corrupt money.”
Silicon Valley (April, 2018)
Speaking of another show that really gets crypto, HBO’s Silicon Valley has started weaving it into the show’s latest season. The show’s inclusion of cryptocurrency shouldn’t come as a surprise since the fictional company it revolves around, Pied Piper, started building a decentralized internet in season 4.
The first mention of Bitcoin this season was in Season 5, Episode 3. One of the show’s main characters, Gilfoyle, has a ridiculously loud snippet of a metal song as an alert to let him know when Bitcoin mining becomes profitable so that he can enable or disable his mining rig. Needless to say, it drove his officemates crazy. This bit became one of the standout funny moments of the season and circulated social media pretty heavily.
The more significant inclusion of cryptocurrency comes a few episodes later when Gilfoyle tries to convince Richard, Pied Piper’s CEO, to start their own cryptocurrency; Pied Piper Coin. Although the plan doesn’t end up working in their favor, Gilfoyle’s pitch to Richard about cryptocurrency was good enough to make any crypto fan giddy.
“What is crypto if not decentralized, anonymous, secure and an existential threat to the powers that be?” – Gilfoyle
Throughout the episode he proves to be the most authentic portrayal of a cryptocurrency enthusiast on TV.
As you can see, the representations of cryptocurrency in movies and shows seem to be getting better over time. They seem more positive, less propaganda driven and a closer approximation to how real fans of cryptocurrency think and feel. With the general public’s perception of Bitcoin improving and with Hollywood finally shedding a positive light on it, it’s starting to feel like Bitcoin and crypto are officially mainstream. What do you think? Are we there yet?