One could argue that NFTs were pushing the envelope of respectability from the very start, but fresh controversy over an item listed on GameStop’s new NFT marketplace demonstrates that there is at least one issue at which we collectively draw the line. The platform came under fire for allowing an artist identified simply as “Jules” to list an NFT that appears to emulate a well-known photograph of a person leaping from one of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, taken by Associated Press staffer Richard Drew.
Drew’s image, which captured in midair one of some 100 people who jumped from the towers before they fell, crystalized the horror of a day when so many lives were lost in unseen ways. Naturally, finding the photograph appropriated for financial gain on an NFT marketplace was upsetting and enraging to many people. After public outcry, the post was taken down and its maker was suspended.
Hyperallergic was able to retrieve a screenshot of the original listing using Wayback Machine. In the NFT by Jules, a toy astronaut falls in front of a vertically striped background. “This one probably fell from the MIR space station,” the caption states, a possible reference to Russia’s space station which was in operation until 2001. The cheapest version of the NFT was listed for 0.65 ETH (~$887 USD) and was bid up to 5 ETH ($6,800 USD) before it was taken down.
Coverage by news outlets and crypto-world sleuths brought attention to the issue on Saturday, July 23. The website Web3 is Going Just Great pointed out that GameStop’s NFT marketplace is a curated site — meaning that the “Falling Man” NFT was vetted and approved for sale. People quickly began reaching out to excoriate the company and demand the censure of the NFT and its creator.
A screenshot capturing a direct message exchange between an unknown Twitter user and @GameStopNFT indicates that the company is taking the complaints seriously.
“This NFT will be removed from our marketplace entirely,” reads GameStop’s reply. The company added that Jules had their minting ability removed and has been contacted about the image.
Obviously, artists of all kinds are free to engage with any kind of subject matter, including tragedies. But the issue at hand with the “Falling Man” NFT demonstrates that certain subjects remain untouchable, especially for profit, as the late comedian Gilbert Gottfried memorably learned with his early attempt at 9/11 humor. “Too soon,” was the general sentiment at the time, and 20 years later, it still appears to be the case.