One quirk of our late-capitalist economy that I often think about is how everything is more valuable as something else other than itself. An Instagram account isn’t worth money; the sponsorship is. A book isn’t profitable; the speaking engagements are. (Goats are more profitable as Zoom props than as goats.) The magazine feature doesn’t make much money; the intellectual property does. Intellectual property, or IP, is the term for the portable capital of a narrative: The facts, characters, and structure that can be plucked from one medium and transformed into another, more lucrative one.
Like capital, IP is not finite but generative, it creates more of itself. Avengers: Endgame is a story; the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the IP, with its range of recombinable characters and rehashable, rebootable plot lines. You can start Spider-Man over infinite times, with a new Spider Man each time. This leads to a certain cultural stultification: You get new movies but the IP is always the same.
However, the culture industry at the moment is engaged in a massive war for new IP. New novels, new true crime stories, new podcasts, all ready to turn into movies, TV shows, other podcasts. Any new project that gets enough attention is likely to have its IP acquired and leveraged in several different formats, reaching the consumer through text, audio, video.
Of course, the freshest IP is reality itself, which is ever-changing. That’s why, in the space of a single week, the Reddit-driven manipulation of GameStop stock has gone from a thing that happened to news articles to a book proposal that sold to a publisher to movie rights on said book proposal to a Netflix production with celebrities attached. In fact there are two movies happening, one at Netflix and one at MGM, with the Bitcoin-rich Winklevoss twins as executive producers. All this for a story that has not yet reached its ending: Big book deals, movie budgets, agents and authors mobilized.
Personally I don’t think it’s healthy that reality becomes fictional drama so quickly, because reality already resembles fictional drama enough, and the feedback loop is only tightening. — By Kyle Chayka