Pinky swear that you won't go changing
The year in Hell continues apace, and we’re here to be the pinprick of light in the long, pulsating (moist?) tunnel to doom that is the Kenney administration. To aid you in your time of need, we now have a
for you to voice your thoughts to us orally and aurally. Oh, really! Similarly, we need you to aid us in our time of need and do this very short survey to
help us help you more gooder
. I don’t want to overpromise but there might be
prizes for doing so.
Smash those buttons with your index finger, whether to click some Logitech rodent or smudge a screen with your Dorito claw. We’ll love you either way.
Kevin Smith ran through Alberta last week. Not everybody was impressed. Most indie bands will skip Medicine Hat, but not this multi-millionaire filmmaker with a boatload of awards in his cabinet. They're dusty by now, but still. I thought that was kind of cool, him pointing to dots on the map and deciding to screen his new movie wherever will have him. As he posted incredulous videos of the Hat's urban deer to his Instagram story, I was thinking about his career as a filmmaker. As a stylist he has his niche, enough for Razzie nominations, but also inducted into the National Film Registry. As a man, a study in commercial conflict; he has fans enough to float his projects financially, but detractors enough to make sure he stays irrelevant in his late career. Like how The Simpson's made Arby's punchline with a single gag, a single photograph of him at a gas station - rotund, draped in ill-fitting fabrics - made him the face of internet fatphobia. These are the perspectives his life and career that are well-known. But what, I thought, about Kevin Smith: icon of working-class film and late-capitalism? Is Smith as accidental a Marxist as he is a movie star?
Smith started his career in suburban New Jersey, born into post-Springsteen working class bona fides. He flitted from hobby to McJob and back before staring across the Lower Bay at NYU Film Academy. He dismissed NYU as it was too expensive and responded instead to and ad for Vancouver Film School, imagining the Lower Mainland to be just north of Amherst. He was thinking of Vermont, his mother corrected.
Then a rejection of the neo-liberal script. Once they tell you how to point a camera and edit, why would you need a piece of paper telling others you know how to do it? He dropped out of film school and became a proto-boomerang child. This was decades before millenials would know that crushing sense of failure en masse. Drawing the proper line between the comrades of Generation X all the way of Zoomers of today, he got the gig between gigs and manned a convenience store counter. All day he stared at the financial and crony capitalist gates standing between him and his desired career. (It's funny, and this isn't a new observation, but his more respected contemporary /friend Quentin Tarantino would have a similar view, though the Pulp Fiction director was only working in a video store while Smith's Quick Stop in Middletown was only 50% VHS and Beta tapes).
Wracked with career and financial shame, what did he do? He got writing. Did he dump his words for free to some pre-9/11 Bleacher Report or SB Nation? Did he apply for some sort of consolation grant from a government that hated art and artists? No, he pawned his possessions and maxed out his credit cards, guaranteeing his first film would be financed by the same vampire conglomerates that conspired to keep him in wage slavery. He added insult to that injury by documenting that wage slavery with their own dollars. He didn't even have enough money for colour film stock and opted instead for monochrome to will his film into being. He didn't make his first films about some foreign criminality or mob violence either. Why write about fictional rakes stealing from banks and turning on each other? All he knew was a crushing grind to make rent, so that's what he wrote.
In 1994, Clerks captured a psychology that is relevant today, 25 years later. Capitalism requires me to take this shit job and capitalism shames me for having this shit job. I can be happy at this shit job, but those moments of happiness reflect a lack of ambition. Creating a community can make me feel important and satisfied, but capitalist success requires disconnection, competition, and migration. The core of the late-10's socialist resurgence are all there a quarter century ago, in stark black and white. He sold the movie at Sundance to a serial rapist and signed a contract written with a Uniball. He asked to keep the rights two dumbest characters, one played by himself, so they could be his Detective John Munch, a constant across properties. They said they only wanted the rights to the characters inside the store, not the ones that hung around outside. One stupid request would make him millions over the next decade.
Flying high on an Independent Spirit award and critical acclaim, Smith collaborated with future stars like Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, and Shannen Doherty to make Mallrats. The spirit of his first film continued with a new movie about how a capitalist cast-off fills his days. Lee fornicates, plays video games, and lives with his mom. He spends his days justifying a life with no cubicles and no shirtsleeves - all tropes we bathe in today. Smith's characters wanders around a consumer purgatory and laments that growing up means becoming people with low morals. They hang on to adolescence by their fingernails as poverty and social exclusion demand they pull strips of flesh out of society to survive. Fuck that, they respond, I'm going to the cookie stand.
Smith and Tarantino would run into the same apocalyptic critical reception with their 1995-1997 outings. Both reacted the same way. Chastened over the maturity of Jackie Brown, the latter retreated to the idiosyncrasies that made his career in Pulp Fiction. If Elmore Leonard didn't do it for you, here are some blood geysers. Smith, lambasted over Mallrats, doubled down on the Sundance flavours that sold. Two directors, two very different filmographies, both corralled back to their commercially safe roots. Smith abandoned the strain of poverty conscious farce he created and was pushed forcefully toward a document of yuppie sexuality called Chasing Amy.
That said, it was his new reality and he was documenting it. Perhaps his life took the turn most traveled by young Marxists and was subsumed by the bourgeoisie. But for a brief moment he heralded a new class of bottom-up filmmaking that threatened to become common before being beat down again by Hollywood studios. Independent movies ballooned in cost (and then tanked again when camera tech exploded) as suits invaded the festivals. His kind of cottage filmmaking would be supplanted by the further professionalization of the art form in North America. Filmmakers would be lauded for following his path outside of the United States but another Kevin Smith never really arrived domestically - the indie star. A sequel to his first film, Clerks II, would come to grips with the forces that kept his former class downtrodden, but had lost all the revolutionary spark of the first. The plot instead revolves around windfall cash and becoming a landlord.
Smith morphed into a self-styled creator of live-action cartoons and would travel behind those films as a kind of circus master, pumping up his career with speaking events delivered at an outrageous rate. Those speaking tours would take on an motivational tone by accident. He would describe, into infinity, the risks he had to take and the luck it required to make filmmaking his career. Thousands of fans would walk away galvanized while, at the same time, knowing the market that forced his actions had become dozens of times meaner and more crowded. Smith, if not an accidental Marxist, at least shows us the last gasp of upward mobility in entertainment. The princeling spawn of Hollywood name-namers line their pockets alongside their sex pest peers. The region still sets the cultural tone of the planet, but who without a trust fund can take part? We can look back at Clerks and be wistful.
🛢️Oil and gas companies figured that if they withheld their taxes they probably wouldn’t get in trouble. They were right! We tracked down a former MLA protesting this bullshit who is now on tax strike himself until the oil fucks pay their bills.
✊Remember when landlords bullied their tenants into marching on Calgary city hall when a property tax hike was incoming, and then when they came out with direct relief they hiked their rent anyway? Baby, let’s do it again!
🧹When a corporation does half of a billion dollars worth of damage to an area, maybe we should be able to compel a clean-up. Just thinking out loud here.
🦞The key function of the AER has always been to be so overworked that industry runs essentially unchecked, with the regulator acting as a kind of archive of submitted documents they can dump on the desk of a judge if and when a release of note begets a light slap on the fiscal wrist. To that end, they’re gutting the place.
👶Okay, so, you have kids. Natural human thing to do. But you live in an area that is dominated by driving cars, and also having to work full-time to live. One plus is that there is compulsory, public education that takes care of your kids for most of the workday, and even gets them there. Now all the sudden, because people are scared of numbers next to the word “debt” in macroeconomics for some stupid reason, that childcare and child transportation situation erodes to the threshold of wondering if it’s worth being less productive and working less, lest your kids need expensive whatever to get where they need to be to allow you to work because if you don’t work you die. Sounds like fuckin’ freedom, hell yeah.
💸And you should especially fuck with people if they have kids and are poor.
🚒Throw this article about good-ass Alberta firefighters in the face of every UCP dickshit every day when wildfire blazes out of control in Northern Alberta all summer.
🤥Conrad Black, a man who spent time in prison for fraud, thinks that Alberta is the victim of a jihad.
💊The provincial government doesn’t see drug users as people or citizens or Albertans so it’s very easy for them to leave them to die.
🚜Rural crime will probably send you to jail for longer soon, even though the problem is way, way overstated as you can see in their own data. I swear to god we as a society would kiss the bare ass of any farmer if they asked.
🌊Turns out that fracking is causing a little damage to, uh, structures preventing people from dying.
🛩️Who could have predicted, besides everyone, that Obama-era drone strike policies would enable worse psychos to do worse damage?
🤢Coronavirus made the leap from China to the United States, putting North America on notice for a pandemic. Worth remembering that one of the first things the new Trump administration did was deliver severe cuts to the CDC, so much so that leaders there were panicked about US readiness to fight outbreaks domestically.
🎞️The neo-liberal takeover of Chinese cinema has major impacts on North American culture factories chasing Chinese audiences and dollars.
🏠New York is filled with homeless people and people-less homes.
🛃Qatar seems poised to do a little less slavery. I have no joke here I just want World Cup fans to always think about the slavery that enabled fun soccer shit during the next one held there. Be ashamed.
🏞️U.S. government bravely stands up to the oppressive forces of swamps and rivers.
💪Our beautiful boys at Progress Alberta are going to sue the fuck out of the government to get them to step off their leftist nuts. Godspeed, all of you.
👍Online harassment causes people serious damage, including depression, suicide, financial ruin, and more. Drew Brown thought one notable east coast bully should get some name credit to some of his harassment.
🤷Housing cost is at the core of most of the problems in the United States, says hardcore leftist propaganda house, uh, The Economist.
💻The Globe and Mail has a great feature on how the German government is trying to defang the vampire of big tech.
⛔Don’t have sex with a climate change denier.
🖖A firm salute to our Venezuelan comrades that have turned the CIA-backed usurper of their government into a lame travelling roadshow of vapidity and failure.
📉The psychology of capitalism, on Revolutionary Left Radio.
🎧Imperial Oil brings a Canadian flavour to climate change cover-up, on The Progress Report.
🔇Peter MacKay is lurking, be vigilant. From the excellent Christo Aivalis.
🎚️Is Srsly Wrong seriously wrong about convenience? Click here, listener, and reward my bad writing.
🏴AUPE is doing a series of rallies around Alberta, including one on January 29 in Calgary at Harley Hotchkiss Gardens. For more information click here.