Elon Musk’s Saturday Night Live appearance over the weekend might have driven dogecoin into a ditch (for now), but cryptomania isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
We seem to be in an interesting place with respect to the public standing of cryptocurrency these days. It’s in the middle of a phase in which some corners of the community, typically those intimately connected with the financial class, are taking various high-profile steps to legitimize and normalize the technology, which had, up until recent memory, chiefly held a somewhat unsavory profile in the public imagination.
For good reason, I suppose. As with the case of many kinds of fortunes, the history of cryptocurrency is filled with all manner of stories about scams, criminality, and subterranean high jinks.
Exit Scam tells one of those stories.
At the center of this independently produced series is a classic true-crime hook. In 2018, a cryptocurrency exchange called QuadrigaCX, believed to be the largest in Canada, descended into turmoil after its founder reportedly died of cardiac arrest while traveling in India. The problem in a nutshell? The currency held on the exchange, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was rendered completely inaccessible after the death, as the founder was supposedly the only person in the world who held the password to the back-end. Consequently, over 100,000 people who had invested in the exchange saw their money disappear overnight.
But this being a true-crime podcast, all is not as it seems (cue ominous music). Dig through the people behind the exchange and you’ll find an assortment of mysterious and murky histories. This murkiness extends, obviously, to the founder himself, who had previously been paraded through Canada’s cryptocurrency community as a budding Zuckerbergian figure. Oh, and there’s even a theory that he may have faked his death as part of an effort to execute a type of con job that gives the series its name: an exit scam.
Yeah, it’s a pretty wild yarn, and I wouldn’t blame you if the online-conspiracy rabbit-hole vibes gives you a slight queasy feeling. But you should draw confidence from the fact that Exit Scam is led and hosted by Aaron Lammer, a solid operator whom you can typically find in the podcast world interviewing journalists on Longform or discussing, well, various cryptocurrency high jinks on CoinTalk. Here, he is aided by producer Lane Brown, who, I should note, used to be the culture editor here at New York Magazine.
Lammer makes for a fun, somewhat unlikely figure in the true-crime-investigator role. He has a distinctly laid-back West Coast vibe and, when mixed with the Wait, what? pops you’d typically need from an audience surrogate tasked with guiding the listener through the twists and turns of the tale, the effect is often endearingly amusing. It’s kind of a dangerous world that Exit Scam gazes into, and Lammer provides a stabilizing, almost comforting presence throughout.
Add some music and scoring from Francis and the Lights — whom Lammer also collaborates with — and you have an utterly strange and fascinating tale, told in an uncommonly entertaining way.
You Must Remember This: “Gossip Girls”
Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This returned last week with a new season that deals with a few concepts near and dear to my heart: gossip, trade information, questionable means of amassing and wielding power, the evolution of the newspaper business, and two columnists hustling to make a name for themselves in the early decades of an ascendant business trying, even then, to justify its existence. Those are just my particular interests, though, and I should probably back up a bit for the purposes of this generalized recommendation.
Titled “Gossip Girls,” Longworth’s latest inquiry into film history centers on two prominent figures: Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnists who had distinct personal histories in their own right — both well explored in the season — but have nevertheless become substantially defined by their feud with each other.
Parsons and Hopper are foundational pieces of Hollywood lore for complicated reasons, as often is the case with early Hollywood (and contemporary Hollywood, for that matter). Their careers as gossip columnists were striking early instances of the celebrity-media industrial complex that exists in some form to this day, where the fundamental premise is that the gossip or “behind the scenes” information being delivered to readers serves as a window into the truth of what’s really happening in La-La Land.
Of course, gossip is a volatile substance, shaky in its relationship with reality, and as Longworth illustrates in “Gossip Girls,” the notion of gossip-as-insight dispatches is itself a form of fiction — one typically weaponized to further the interests of those in power. “Almost without exception, anything that promises to take us ‘behind the scenes’ is really showing us another scene, one designed to give us the impression that something is being revealed, while the new scene is just as contrived as the scene it’s meant to deconstruct,” Longworth narrates in the introduction of the first episode.
It’s all meaty, dramatic, provocative, eminently fascinating stuff. In other words, everything you’d expect from You Must Remember This.
• Did you know that the Los Angeles Times has a daily news podcast? Well, now you do. It’s called The Times (natch), it debuted last week, and I’ve been curiously observing its take on the ever-so-crowded genre.
• The wildly prolific McElroy brothers continue to be wildly prolific, and on that note, their popular fiction/tabletop-RPG podcast, The Adventure Zone, started a new cycle last week.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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