Ben McKenzie, “O.C.” Star, Pivots to Crypto Critic

ROCKDALE, Texas – Ben McKenzie was driving his father’s Silver Subaru off a farm in Texas, talking breathlessly about money: who owns it, who needs it, whether it’s real or fake. He eloquently endorsed the 700-page book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by economist Thomas Piketty on the risks of cryptocurrency exchanges, online brokers selling bitcoin and ether to speculators, and then income inequality. The power of rich capitalists.

“If they can make money on it, they will,” he said. McKenzie, 43, said he passed through cattle farms and run-down gas stations one morning in March.

Mr. Mackenzie was on his way to Winston, a crypto mining operation about an hour outside Austin, where a row of energy-gazelle machines generated new bitcoins. Over the past six months, A-list celebrities have shielded themselves for digital currencies and NFTs, Mr. TV actor Mackenzie, best known for his role in “The OC”, has become an outspoken skeptic. He wrote critically about the #ad for the lesser known coin that Kim Kardashian posted on Instagram and eagerly Asked Reese Witherspoon stops talking about Metavers, while admitting that he is not a financial expert.

“I’m just a former teenage idol standing here (alone?) Telling people to consider the possibility of harm and fraud,” he said. Tweeted In February.

Mr. Mackenzie became famous in the early 2000’s for playing the role of Ryan Atwood, a muscular teenager braiding from the wrong side of a moving track with a wealthy family in Newport Beach, Calif. After wrapping up “The OC”, he starred in two other TV dramas, “Southland” and “Gotham”, both of which lasted five seasons.

But during the epidemic the act of acting dried up, and like many people, Mr. Mackenzie immediately sucked himself into the crypto rabbit hole. After some friends encouraged him to invest, he took a 24-part online course on cryptocurrency taught by Gary Gansler, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (or simply “Gary,” as Mr. McKenzie affectionately calls him; they’ve never met Not).

The crypto market seemed to be poised for fraud, Mr. Mackenzie said. He was convinced that the skyrocketing valuation of popular coins was fueled by reckless speculation rather than any practical use of technology. “That currency doesn’t do what it does,” he said. “It is not a reliable store of value, not a unit of account or a medium of exchange.”

In August, Mr. Mackenzie sent a Twitter DM to The New Republic’s tech writer Jacob Silverman, who recently published an essay entitled “Even Donald Trump Knows Bitcoin Is a Scam”. “I would love to have your brain chosen,” the actor wrote. “Feel free to ignore this if it’s too weird.”

Mr. Silverman, an “OC” viewer, was interesting. He and Mr. Mackenzie both live in Brooklyn, and they met at Henry Public for beer and burgers. Mr. Mackenzie proposed a book project; Mr. Silverman agreed on the spot. “I also began to understand Ben’s outburst of anger at what he saw and what everyday people were probably upset about,” he said. Said Silverman. Abrams Press is planning to publish his book “Easy Money” in 2023.

Mr. McKenzie said his newfound passion has left friends “supportive but confused,” while his wife, former “Gotham” star Morena Bakerin, “is tired of talking about me.” Mr. McKenzie holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia, and has spent years talking to law regulator in Austin, his father, Pete Shankon, about the intersection of law and finance. However, Mr. He said he was “surprised” to learn about his son’s crypto fixation. “It was a leap forward for the rest of his life.”

The project is also a deviation from how many celebrities have approached crypto. Matt Damon appeared in the current infamous commercial for the trading platform, Paris Hilton Hawking NFTs. In an essay for Slate in October, Mr. Silverman and Mr. McKenzie wrote that celebrity endorsements expose the general public to scams like “rug pools”, in which an anonymous developer seeks funds from investors and then disappears with the money. “The Hollywoodization of crypto,” they wrote, “is a moral catastrophe.”

Mr. Mackenzie has joined a growing group of skeptics and critics known as “no-coiners.” In February, it appeared on “Crypto Critics Corner”, a podcast hosted by Bennett Tomlin and Cas Piansey, who post two episodes a week about the dangers of decentralized finance and other crypto ventures.

No-coins are often Goals Online abuse, however, can go a long way in trolling. “I’ve had a lot of fights,” said Mr. Said Tomlin. “Often I was the one who tried to start a conflict by trying to point out to people that ‘before you said this, now you say this’.”

No-Coiners have the same diverse obsessions as Crypto Bros.; Like their opponents, they gather on Discord and Twitter to exchange tips and memes, and they are fluent in acronyms. Mr. McKenzie admits he is an unusual addition to his ranks, mostly journalists, software engineers and academics. “I’m an actor,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Mr. Mackenzie’s background also gives him some advantages. Many crypto brothers try to calm down suspects with the same mic drop: “Enjoy being poor.” “They don’t use that line with me anymore,” Mr. Mackenzie said. “Would you like to compare real-money bank accounts?”

But in the noisy world of crypto, TV fame doesn’t necessarily translate to influence. Before leaving for the mine, Mr. Mackenzie led a panel called “Trust Me I’m Famous” at South by Southwest. The session was held in a large auditorium with many rows of empty seats. A group of young fans while Mr. McKenzie identified himself as Ryan from “The OC”, then glued the rest of the event to his smartphones as he proceeded on the dangers of unregulated securities trading. (He found his 6-year-old daughter, Francis, clinging to his seat at the end of the panel. “I know it was boring,” he told her. “Are you mad at me?”)

As well as Mr. Mackenzie’s celebrity opens any door at Winston, where he and Mr. Silverman was hoping to do some book research. When Mr. McKenzie was dragged into the parking lot, where a concerned-looking security guard asked him to identify himself. “I’m an actor,” Mr. Mackenzie said. Did the guard see “Gotham”? No. What about “OC”? As well as no. “Ask your daughter about‘ OC ’,” Mr. Mackenzie replied with a smile. Said another security guard Was Saw “The OC” but did not recognize Shri. Mackenzie.

After a few more minutes of confusion (a guard continued to refer to the mine’s celebrity visitor as “Bill McClensley”), the security team approached Mr. Mackenzie, Mr. Silverman and a cameraman who were documenting their trip to meet former Christmas tree salesman Chad Harris, who now operates the Winston plant, was acquired last year by publicly traded bitcoin mining company Riot Blockchain.

Mr. Harris seemed so comfortable in front of the camera that the actor became the critic who quarreled with him; He said he has given 1,000 trips to the facility. When the photographers arrived at the mine, he said, “I know how to turn my shoulder.”

Mr. Harris said he is confident he can go toe-to-toe with any suspect; He boasted that he had recently taught some crypto haters from Vice News at school. “You can’t spoil anything if you don’t know all the facts,” he said. At one point, he boldly predicted that he would meet Mr. Mackenzie’s mind about crypto with one line. He continued to talk for a few minutes directly about the economic benefits of bitcoin mining.

Mr. Under the leadership of Harris, Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Silverman from a huge warehouse filled with hundreds of whipping machines. The cameraman captured footage of Mr. Mackenzie in a tight hat, shaking his head intelligently while Mr. Harris explained the intricacies of liquid-immersion cooling systems that prevent mining machines from overheating. On “The OC”, Ryan is a well of suppressed emotion, barely hinting at his thoughts. Mr. Mackenzie, by contrast, is a chatterbox: for two hours, he had Mr. On the energy costs of Harris crypto mining and the practical utility of Bitcoin as soon as the camera turns.

Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Silverman has begun the idea of ​​adapting his yet-to-be-written book into some kind of Hollywood production. They are modeling a project on Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short” about prudent investors who predicted the 2008 housing market crash. The adaptation of the movie shows Margot Robbie drinking champagne in the bathtub as she explains the subprime mortgage crisis.

“Jacob and I in Thongs,” Mr. Mackenzie said. “It will probably drive people away.” Mr. Silverman laughed. “I’ll go to the gym for a month,” he said.

If that doesn’t work, there’s always a TV. Mr. McKenzie said he introduced Josh Schwartz, the creator of the “OC”, on reboot in which the cryptocurrency billionaire, perhaps the son of Luke Ward, whose series traces the evolution from arc villain to beloved himbo, goes to Newport Beach and takes control. The local real estate market.

Mr. Schwartz “laughed politely,” Mr. Mackenzie said. (In an interview, Mr. Schwartz suggested an alternative crypto-themed follow-up involving complex political conspiracies hatched by Luke’s younger brothers. He added that Seth Cohen, Ryan’s geeky best friend played by Adam Brody, would “definitely try to sell some NFTs. “Mr Brody, reached by text, said he agreed.” Or he might be selling bongs out of the van, “he said.” I don’t know. “)

After the tour, Mr. Under the leadership of Harris, Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Silverman walks into a building that miners call the “White House” – the site of the mine’s executive office. Standing by the door, Mr. Mr. McKenzie Harris on his cryptocurrency commitments. Wasn’t that another form of gambling? A high-stakes poker game with no real social value?

Mr. Harris moved. He said he is comfortable taking financial risks. “Think about it in parallel with your own life,” he said. Mr. Mackenzie took a break from acting and put his reputation on the line to write a book arguing that the nation’s tech elites were promoting a proud Ponzi scheme. “Life is a gamble,” Mr. Harris said.

For split seconds, Mr. Mackenzie looked like Ryan Atwood again, thoughtfully.

“That’s right,” he said. “That’s right.”

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