The time has come when I can no longer ignore the data. We need to take drastic action. Why now? Why am I begging you with the aching clarity of someone who just sank 16 mortal hours into a dramatic retelling of the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?
A report released on Wednesday found that in the last year, Earth produced its lowest IP levels in 1,200 years—basically since right before Beowulf dropped. If things continue on this trajectory, we could run out of all original thought by 2028.
It’s a catastrophe so large, we can barely describe it. Of course, the catastrophe would be solved if someone could describe it and add a main character.
You know how big this is—you’ve just been ignoring it. IP scarcity has already created a dramatic shift in your life. Boomers—you once loved slinking out of a room, telling someone “I’m going to watch my stories.” But now, look inward, are there really any stories you want to call your own? Poor millennials have been left to scavenge one sole scrap of IP (The Office) to foster basic social connections. Gen-Z has rejected the very idea of narrative and is just watching TikToks about the rise of Christo-fascism.
This is a crisis. We are hurdling towards a future of streaming the Gossip Girl re-reboot, Gossip Tots, set in an Upper East Side KinderCare. Thirty years from now, your grandchildren will be college students, dissecting themes in the Lumiere-focused Beauty and the Beast prequel, Light Here, Light Now.
I do not rattle off these projections to inspire fear in the public. But we can no longer expect that IP extracted through traditional processes, like childhood trauma and the occasional murder, will just stroll into some AMC boardroom, fully formed. Rest assured, our greatest minds are working hard to convert older, unusable IP into vaguely familiar properties. Listen, the original Grease left a lot of dangling threads: Like what socioeconomic factors contribute to beauty school dropout, and what satisfaction, if any, can a grizzled 35-year-old get from entering a high school hand jive competition? And that’s why we’re seeing important work like Rise of the Pink Ladies.
But without some renewable narrative resources, these holdovers will only last so long before someone rightfully says, “Okay, this all blows.”
So, I won’t tiptoe around the issue: if we don’t get a solid, good original idea in the next four years, it could be devastating. To small talk, to Mattel, to those weird awkward hours after dinner on Thanksgiving. Business as usual won’t cut it. The Fast Saga will collapse in on itself.
I’m prepared to do the work. My colleagues and I organized a day of action, where we all handed out Mad Libs to strangers on a city bus to see if it could shake anything loose. But no dice.
Last month, I was arrested after chaining myself to a TGI Fridays in Springfield, Massachusetts. What’s wrong with this fast-casual pub chain? I don’t really have an answer, but maybe the sight of a middle-aged man handcuffed in front of a whiskey-glazed burger sign could have sparked a little thing called authentic curiosity in the common man!
In the field, I’ve done about all I can to brainstorm possible solutions. What about a TV show called Best Western, which is just like White Lotus, but following middle-income guests in a semi-clean roadside hotel grappling with whether they can afford retirement? Is that… something? Look, I’m not Mike White. But, as a scientist, we can only look to create more Mike Whites. We don’t have time.
We need to focus on planting new ideas where they currently aren’t: schools. Kindergartners should be given universal subscriptions to Marty Scorcese’s MasterClass. Why invest in mathematics programs that could cruelly convince a child that they’ll one day own a home? We need mandatory screenings of Twin Peaks for second graders, and we need them yesterday.
Long-term studies have shown that standardized test requirements, while annoying, unfortunately contribute very little to the kind of pathos-building conflict that brings about a Marvel franchise. Why are children still completing the SATs? What about completing The Artist’s Way? Remember how fraught your teen years were, the intense emotional potency of adolescence, the unrequited loves, the infinite potential of the rest of your life laying before you? It couldn’t hurt to strap the kiddos into Final Draft and just see what happens. Think of what they could churn out. A thinly veiled autobiographical screenplay? A thinly veiled autobiographical screenplay set in 1800s France? A thinly veiled autobiographical screenplay set in communist-led Mars, 2060? Oooh! Now we’re cooking with gas. (Not literally. I am a climate scientist.)
Beyond educational initiatives, our leaders need to invest in social services again. Put whiteboards on the back of public bathroom stalls! Restaurants should be required to print “rising action,” “climax,” “falling action,” “resolution” on napkins. What if the outline of a six-book fantasy saga slips out of someone mid-burger? In the event this happens, they will be given every resource they need (more napkins).
And this is going to be controversial—and policymakers will need to leave it up to the states—but public libraries should consider an all-out ban on parenting books. Research shows that humans survived for centuries without guidance on weaning and attachment theory—and yes, it messed everyone up across the board, but we also got Hemingway.