Homesteading the Intellectual Prairie

by Thomas Beller

06/03/2006

1515 Broadway, NY, NY 10036

Neighborhood: Midtown

A company called Viacom has recently purchased another company called Paramount for about ten billion dollars. This followed several months of intensive maneuvering between Viacom and another company called QVC. The competition held the businessmen and a large segment of the media in thrall. It was also good news for poets and the like.

It’s not often that what is good for billionaires is also good for poets, but this was an exception.

One can hardly pick up a newspaper these days without coming across respectful, if not awe-struck uses of the phrase “Intellectual property.” It is usually in close proximity to the phrase “Information Superhighway.” This highway is so important that a good portion of the world’s billionaires are, at this very moment, desperately trying to get their hands on a stretch of it. Once this highway gets built, however there will be a need for things to drive along the shiny new pavement, and this is where the intellectual property comes in. As a sort of afterthought to communicating, a need for something to communicate has sprung up.

I think the situation is ripe for an infomercial. Every situation is ripe for an infomercial, to judge from their preponderance on television. My infomercial would pay homage to my favorite infomercial of all time, which featured a Korean man wearing gold chains, surrounded by beautiful women in bikinis, standing in front of a Ferrari, which is parked in front of a yacht, which is docked next to a huge mansion. He is speaking forcefully into the camera and saying, “I got rich with real estate. Attend one of my seminars and all this can be yours too!”

My infomercial would feature me in a similar set up, except my pitch would go: “The people who make money in this world are the people who own property. And what’s the hottest property out there? Intellectual property! Attend my seminar, titled, ‘How to be an intellectual,’ and I’ll show you how you too can be the owner of a vast stretch of intellectual property. You’ll be a homesteader on the intellectual prairie! You’ll walk into my seminar owning nothing and walk out owning today’s most valuable commodity, an idea!”

Of course the billionaires may have one of these seminars in development already. They’ve been moving very quickly of late. I find it unsettling. I like my billionaires sitting by the fire and lazily stroking their salivating bulldogs. But people like Wayne Huizinga of Blockbuster Video are running around, convinced that video cassettes–the rental of which has made him rich–may soon be obsolete, replaced by a system of information transportation that will be faster, more efficient, more direct. And then there are the Newhouse brothers who, a few cable companies aside, are the proprietors of one of the biggest conglomerates built around the printed word. They’ve thrown their lot in with Barry Diller’s QVC, a twenty four hour infomercial.

The whole situation seems to be an extreme example of the phrase, “The Medium is the Message.” The medium–be it movies or music or printed words–seems on the way to being distilled to the point of being transparent. Perhaps the super highway will become so slick, so fast, that all of the mediums of music and movies and printed words will come to seem like obsolete mechanisms, mere carrying cases for the essential goods they delivered: emotion. Our super highway will one day be able to remove the emotion from these things just as one might remove the insides of a nut from its shell, and deliver it straight to the consumer, in a digitized form. There will be the essence, and then the marketing to promote it of course. (No matter how many twists and turns the Information Super Highway takes, blurbs, like cockroaches, will persevere.) I can see the ad copy of tomorrow’s Video Emotion Menu: Confusion, the latest release from Nirvana is guaranteed to have you pacing excitedly around the house for hours… Testosterone Surge, from Sylvester Stallone, will make you want to hit, to pump, to grunt, until your neighbors can’t stand it… The latest in Thomas Beller’s ongoing series, “Pleasure” is just in, and they’re raving!

Press a button and off it goes, driving down the info-sensation highway, straight from my mansion to yours.

1993

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