The (Potential) Origins of the Name “Yuga Labs”
New information emerges that offers potential context for the story behind Bored Ape Yacht Club's creation and the company's creative choices
Any unconfirmed information presented within should be received with a healthy dose of skepticism. Please remember that there is a human on the other side of the screen. No individual or party is an open target for harassment.
Yuga Labs, the founding company behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club, received allegations that their namesake references “Kali Yuga” – described by the alleging party as “a popular element of alt right/traditionalist ideology.” In January of 2022, Yuga responded to questions about the name by stating that the inspiration came from a Zelda villain in a 3DS game “whose ability is that he can turn himself and others into 2D art.” In June, founder Wylie Aronow (also known by his pseudonym Gordon Goner) further expounded on his company’s explanation in an open letter addressing the charges. He again referenced the Zelda villain but added this time that “We were also aware that ‘Yuga’ means ‘era’ in Sanksrit. Gordon spent a decade practicing Hinduism, and the “Kali Yuga” is the current era we are in according to Hinduism.”
However, new information shows that this explanation is likely insufficient and omits critical context behind their creative choice.
Earlier in July, a Substack post by A T Wilkinson tipped off an enigmatic discovery: what appears to be an old Twitter account belonging to Wylie Aronow. Using a combination of a cached job review site and the Wayback machine, Wilkinson uncovered an old Twitter page that appears to belong to Wylie.
Oddly, the Wayback archive vanished a couple of days ago and is no longer accessible. The screenshot of the site remains viewable on Wilkinson’s blog post and I’ve also reproduced his image above. Wilkinson wrote that “evidence shows [this] is not a tie to white supremacist points but Buddhist ones.” I recommend reading his post in full to grasp how he arrived at that conclusion.
From the image of the Wayback retrieval (posted and captured in January of 2020), we can make a few observations:
The account (@wylieadult) lists its location as “Kali Yuga”
The background appears to display an illustration of the Buddhist Wheel of Time, the Kalachakra
The tweet image contained within shows four books published by ExPat Press
Thousands of Lies and the two-volume Not Yet are written by an author named Manuel Marrero, Editor-in-Chief of ExPat Press. You can get an idea of the genre and tone of literary work they seek from submissions here. Marrero is currently based in NYC, but was born in Miami – a city connected with Wylie and Gregory Solano (another Yuga founder).
Marrero said in a 2015 interview about his text titled Thousands of Lies (pictured in the Wayback image): “There are six people I acknowledge on the copyright page who were instrumental to epiphanies that shaped it fundamentally.” If you examine the second page of Thousands of Lies, the dedication reads: “Thanks Susanna, Tony, Wylie, Thomas, Mallory and Alanah” (emphasis my own).
I am unsure what role Wylie played in the publication of Thousands of Lies or any other ExPat publication. I cannot locate any other reference to Wylie on the site. He doesn’t appear as a contributing writer and I can’t find any other interviews involving or mentioning him. Marrero explains in a 2020 interview that “We don't run the brick-and-mortar printing press we use, we're just well-acquainted with the family that does.” However, he does not mention any names of the family responsible.
So how would we know that this isn't simply a series of odd coincidences – that the Wylie referenced in Thousands of Lies is Wylie Aronow, founder of Yuga?
Well, the name “Gregory Solano” also appears on ExPat Press’s website, listed as a contributing writer under ExPatriate Issue #1. Greg is also listed under the contributing writer section with his picture included. I am unsure of the publication date of this text, but it appears it may have been published between 2012 and 2013.
Accusations of cryptofascism?
Before I explain how ExPat Press sources the connection from where Yuga likely derives its name, I want to take a short detour to share one part of my research about Wylie Aronow. If you haven’t already read my article on Greg Solano, check it out here. Hopefully that allows us to begin from a cleaner slate. Ryder Ripps states in one of his core allegations:
“The one person I could find who knows [Wylie] says ‘I have no doubt that they’re cryptofascists”
However, this supposition is deceitful. Ryder is referring to a deleted comment from an anonymous Twitter user. These comments were deleted by the user who later issued two tweets that read:
The account blocked Ryder on Twitter. I also attempted to reach out to the account twice to see if they wanted to further comment, but I was blocked too. Given that they deleted the original tweets, issued a corrected statement, and appear uninterested in further pursuing any conversation, I will assume that they are content with retracting the statement which they’ve described as “ill considered and in the spirit of brushing off Ryder Ripp[s].” (I’ve concealed their username in the spirit of not subjecting this individual to another “wild eyed blog post.”)
It would be inaccurate and irresponsible to insinuate that any person who shares a history with Wylie doubtlessly referred to him as a “cryptofascist.” I believe Ryder should issue a correction to that statement and remove it from his website.
What’s the true origin behind the name “Yuga Labs”?
Manuel Marrero is the Editor in Chief, cultural figurehead, and most frequent contributor to ExPat Press’s publications. “Kali yuga” is referenced across several different pieces of Marrero’s writing. In appears to be related to the Buddhist concept of kali yuga, not the Hindu concept. Given Marrero’s apparent relationship with Wylie and Greg, it seems most plausible to me that the interest/interpretation of the kali yuga by ExPat Press provided the inspiration for Yuga Labs’ namesake.
Due to time constraints, I have not had the time to review Marrero’s writing in any kind of depth and will withhold my full judgment until I have the appropriate time to do so. His social presence sometimes reads very much in Urban Dictionary’s sense of the term “edgy humor”: “Humor that is made up of intentionally offensive ironic jokes that are told/posted for the shock value and/or the facetiousness of the subject.” It is difficult to discern at times which statements are intended to be ironic for their “shock value.”
Marrero’s personal fiction comes from a highly obscure context that will be easy to decontextualize due to the chaotic and abstract nature of his storytelling combined with graphic sexual content and racial, misogynistic, and homophobic slurs. In context, it’s still likely to read as shocking and offensive to many outsiders. There’s plenty of “edgy” comments, descriptions, and remarks in his writing. Still, I urge caution against those who will snap to conclusions or sweeping proclamations based on selected passages.
Not all of the content published by ExPat Press is of this nature. Much of the fiction is tame and typical of work published in a literary journal or zine. Other content is quite harsh, as in the LitReactor interview where Marrero describes one of their most popular texts as “as extreme as it gets.”
In light of related allegations of accelerationist trolling from Yuga, I briefly searched for references to philosopher René Guénon in Marrero’s writing or any of his social media posts. I didn’t locate any instances of such. ExPat is a very large collective of writers and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s someone in the orbit that’s referenced the name of the philosopher Guénon, but I haven’t seen any references or allusions to associate Marrero with Guénon’s philosophy or accelerationism. However, this requires further research to confirm as I have not fully scanned all of his publications.
If nothing else, the culture around ExPat Press feels incongruous with the brand identity that Yuga is building. I did not reach Marrero before publishing this piece. I will let him speak for his writing if he chooses to do so.
At an early glance, I think that if this revelation proves correct, then it throws a lot of cold water on some of the other conspiratorial allegations — such as the ones regarding the Kali Yuga Surfing Club Telegram group. At the same time, I will repeat that I’ve had little time to review a large body of writing, disseminated across many mediums (often written in a dry, ironic, or satiric tone) so consider my perspective incomplete.
Three questions for Wylie:
Can you confirm or deny your involvement with ExPat Press?
If you were involved with ExPat Press, to what extent have you retained a relationship with said organization?
The name Greg Solano appears published under ExPatlitj Issue #1. To what extent has Greg retained a relationship with ExPat Press since that publication?
Are the other founders, Kerem and Zeshan, aware of your association with ExPat Press? Do they share any involvement with ExPat Press?
What is the story and full context behind the name “Yuga Labs”?
Yuga ceased responding to my requests for comment, but now that this information is public I feel Wylie deserves one more opportunity to set the record straight – this time with the full truth.
If you made it this far, I’ll share one quote that I hope will guide this conversation:
“Mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”
― Bryan Stevenson
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