Cryptocurrencies in Popular Culture – Andrew Gordon
Cryptocurrencies have become increasingly popular in recent years, and they’ve received more and more attention from financial news outlets and scholars. This discussion has seeped into popular culture, and numerous references to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin can be found in TV shows, films, and music. Unfortunately, many of the portrayals of cryptocurrencies in popular culture are inaccurate and contribute to one of the largest problems plaguing cryptocurrency markets: a lack of understanding by individual investors.
Scholars have identified that one of the biggest problems with using cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange is that not enough people currently use them. This is unlikely to change if awareness and confidence in these digital currencies does not increase on a large scale. Although many references to cryptocurrencies in popular culture may contain inaccuracies or raise some concerns, they do more good than harm because they increase awareness and may encourage interested individuals to research the technology further.
Bitcoin appeared in an episode of The Big Bang Theory where the group realized that they had mined Bitcoin years in the past. They set out to find the computer that contained their coin in hopes that they’d be able to cash it in and get rich quick. The episode contains several inaccuracies relating to the functional workings of Bitcoin and raises concerns about the security of Bitcoin holdings.
The Reddit user BlueeDog4 pointed to a key inaccuracy that was contained in the episode. The mechanics in which Sheldon moved his Bitcoin onto a flash drive only to be lost when the group couldn’t find it may have been convenient as a plot point for the show, but this would not have occurred this way in real life. In addition, Bitcoin has since enabled the use of “seed phrases” which can be used to recover a Bitcoin wallet. As such, the primary concern raised in the episode about Bitcoin security has largely been addressed. Such issues could be avoided by safely guarding one’s seed phrase.
As the above Reddit user commented, the episode’s inaccuracies could have had a negative impact on “consumer confidence.” The very premise of the episode where the characters are sent on a wild goose chase trying to find their Bitcoin makes it appear that it is insecure or even dangerous to hold Bitcoin. While it is certainly true that security is a concern for Bitcoin investors, the primary concern would no longer be with the protection of any particular physical device. Instead, concern revolves around cyber criminals. Billions of dollars of currencies have been stolen this year alone by cyber criminals. Clearly, these types of cryptocurrency losses look very different from those shown in The Big Bang Theory.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only TV show to have associated Bitcoin with insecurity. An episode of Grey’s Anatomy did so in a much more direct fashion. In the episode, hackers take over the hospital’s systems and demand that a ransom be paid in Bitcoin. From the beginning, we see that Bitcoin is associated with criminals who have little concern for the human lives they have put at stake by compromising patient medical records and digital life-saving equipment. Of course, the stakes are not always this high:
The Simpsons made this joke about a bully that accepts lunch money in Bitcoin. While the show was associating cryptocurrencies with predatory or unlawful behavior, the creators clearly weren’t being serious with this example. The fact that this Bitcoin joke was included in the episode at all is more reflective of the fact that cryptocurrencies had become a more mainstream topic by the time this episode aired. Viewers were more likely to be interested in learning more about Bitcoin than to take the content seriously since it was contained in this irreverent comedy.
Bitcoin has also been portrayed in several recent films. “The Hustle” starred Rebel Wilson and showed the actress trading Bitcoin and living a wealthy lifestyle. Interestingly, this film also associates cryptocurrencies with crime as the main characters are con-artists. After getting conned themselves, the characters lose their Bitcoin holdings. Discussion over whether these types of portrayals are good or bad for cryptocurrency markets as a whole are mixed:
The above Reddit user found that the fact that the women could be scammed out of their Bitcoin reflected poorly on digital currency’s security. Others took issue with the inaccuracies and oversimplification that frequently come along with depictions of cryptocurrencies, likening these traits to lies. However, others find that the presence of references to Bitcoin have innate value.
This reaction to the Bitcoin references in “The Hustle” is nearly the opposite from the previous reaction. This individual believes that people who already know about cryptocurrencies will not be persuaded by the movie’s imprecision. The value, rather, is in the subtle reminder that a less familiar individual would get about Bitcoin. Hearing about this technology in one TV show or film wouldn’t likely make a large difference, but the repetition and build-up of this exposure over time may cause an individual to seek out more information for themselves.
When someone asked on the question-and-answer site Quora how many people are actually familiar with Bitcoin, a user responded with the above image. They explained that we are in the very early stages of Bitcoin adoption according to the portion of the world population that currently uses Bitcoin. As such, it follows that awareness will increase as more and more people begin to use digital currencies. The above popular culture references to cryptocurrencies may raise some immediate concerns about the security of this technology. However, people who become interested enough to research cryptocurrencies as a result of these references may find that their concerns have already been addressed.