There's a new sheriff in town
|Jul 23, 2020|
Hello everyone. Clinton, your regular newsletter editor, has contracted Dengue fever, possibly due to his hobby of illegally importing tropical mosquito species. While he’s recovering I’ve offered to take over his duties, which gives me the perfect platform to talk about some of my more challenging opinions, such as “Alberta needs a Ba’athist party” and “the Grinch is anti-communist propaganda.” But instead I’m going to be gracious and cede this space to Karen, who has some thoughts about an essential entry to the Canadian canon.
Scott Pilgrim walks into a video store. He’s trying to see if the “jobs have jobs” - that is, if the places where his friends work, he can work too. Showing up in person is a quaint method of garnering employment, even in the mid-2000s. But as with most things in Scott’s life, it works out for him through his meagre efforts. A bandmate offers him a dishwasher position with additional food prep training. In the fourth of a six-volume comics series, Scott Pilgrim gets it together by joining the workforce.
In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the 2010 live-action film adaptation of the comics, Scott instead stands in the proud tradition of onscreen slackers. Michael Cera — an alumnus of slacker auteur Judd Apatow — plays Scott Pilgrim. He’s too winsome as supposedly pathetic Scott, in an outing otherwise perfectly cast and faithful to the story beats and spirit of its source material. Inventive director Director Edgar Wright achieves the same deeply fun, high-energy effect that’s apparent in Canadian creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original Scott Pilgrim comics, published 2004-2010.
Despite its A-list star and director plus a healthy FX budget, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World wasn’t an initial hit, but did find an audience on DVD and streaming services. The manga-format comics volumes remain widely available in Canadian bookstores, and there’s news that the 2010 pixel art video game may return from delisting. The series “lives” in that it garners new interest, but feels more like an earnest cultural moment than a slick media franchise.
A decade after the film’s release, much has been written about its presentation of gender, sexuality, and race. The verdict is that Scott Pilgrim vs The World and its comic counterpart are not fully woke, and only so much can be blamed on their clueless protagonist. After all, when the series’ premise is that 23-year-old Toronto NEET Scott Pilgrim has to defeat his new American girlfriend Ramona’s seven evil exes to continue to date her, what problems — in his life and in media theory — could possibly arise?
Less thoroughly examined is Scott Pilgrim as a coming-of-age story, for a generation that experiences the traditional tropes of late adolescence and early adulthood stretching on indefinitely, or at least until middle age. (O’Malley is an elder millennial at 41.) At what point do hobbies and casual work get swapped out for things more stable, one might ask, when all gigs are temporary these days?
The characters of Scott Pilgrim, then, are relatable since the only fixture of their lives is precarity. Living spaces, workplaces, and social milieus are subject to continuous reconfiguration. Ramona admits that she changes her hairstyle and her life circumstances often so that she can keep ahead of the unexpected.
Scott Pilgrim’s friends, acquaintances, and enemies who work inhabit two spheres: the service industry and the arts. For many of them, the first is a holdover till one gains footing in the second. Overnight success apparently erodes one’s moral fibre, since the series’ main villains — Scott and Ramona’s most evil exes — are big-name stars and gatekeepers.
It’s better to put in the hours side hustling and retain one’s integrity, the lesson seems to go. Band leader and burgeoning record producer Stephen Stills and comics-only California-bound actress Lisa Miller seem to have promising careers ahead of them. They also have other characters’ respect rather than uncritical wide-eyed admiration and jealousy.
Making the rounds, Scott visits local gossip Julie and his sister Stacey who work at Second Cup, longtime friend Kim and her roommate Hollie at the No-Account Video, and Stephen at The Happy Avocado vegetarian restaurant (how millennial). When Scott begins working at the latter, his first day is simply a span of time that leaves him exhausted. The “game” elements that enrich his personal life (precursors to phone games and dating apps) aren’t around at all.
Ramona holds down the most “essential worker” role in the story, as a delivery person for Amazon.ca. In the first comic volume, published 2004, she says she’s the only employee assigned to downtown Toronto. She jokes that she’s “that good” via her ability to rollerblade through mystical subspace highways, but it’s still impossible to imagine major North American cities covered by a single delivery person now.
In the film, it’s not a huge deal to Scott or anyone else that he doesn’t have a job. In the comics, it limits his day to day activities and major life choices. Scott and his roommate Wallace (who appears to work at a call centre) either eat ramen packets or put sushi dinners on Wallace’s credit card, and charm their grumpy landlord to make rent. The landlord evicts them at the end of their one-year lease anyway.
Mystic monsters and killer robots might sometimes threaten his life, but Scott Pilgrim never really in danger of being out on the street. His parents can afford overseas vacations and presumably cashed out selling Scott’s single-family detached childhood home. In the fifth comic volume, they set Scott up with a new apartment after Ramona vanishes. Scott’s mother tells his father, “You spoil him, and that’s why he’s screwed up”, using typical boomer reasoning.
Two significant women in Scott’s life, girlfriend Ramona and longtime friend Kim, take “wilderness time” to find themselves by moving back in with their respective parents in the comics - the boomerang effect. As Ramona describes it, “I ended up sleeping all day, dicking around on the internet and watching every episode of the X-Files.”
The Scott Pilgrim film seems to take place over a few weeks, whereas the comics span about a year. The pace of the second gives the characters time to react and regroup between battles. This is where most of the charm of the series comes in. In the film, it seems Scott and Co. are just competing for social status. There’s not really enough running time to truly earn the power of love and self-respect from Scott’s (selfish) starting point.
Nonetheless, the comics and film end on the same note, with Scott and Ramona falling through a subspace door together after both achieving some kind of emotional growth. Where does the door lead? “Adulthood” might once have been the obvious answer, as they move into the next phase of life. O’Malley’s follow-up works feature a restaurant entrepreneur in Seconds and an Instagram model in Snot Girl, a couple of options for what can follow the post-college haze. But for most of us today, revisiting the recursively gamified, precarious augmented reality of Scott Pilgrim doesn’t so much feel like nostalgia, but like a familiar level to reload.
-Karen, Team Advantage
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😷 The mad lad has gone an’ done it! Mayor Nenshi is instituting mask-style authoritarian communism starting August 1.
😲 A UCP MLA does another classic gaffe* (*extremely racist remark).
👹 Speaking of the UCP, they have also spent the last couple weeks pulling funding for safe consumption sites, giving their friends cushy jobs, and continuing Shandro’s insane war against doctors. It’s almost like they want us to [redacted] off their [redacted].
🏈 Some good news: Edmonton’s CFL team has officially given in to mounting public pressure to change its team name. My vote is for the Edmonton Entryists.
👽 The freaks at The Rebel managed to bully PSAC into dropping Comrade Nora from an upcoming webinar, but thankfully reversed their decision after further bullying.
🌐 The WE Charity scandal that the federal Liberals are wrapped up in continues to get funnier and more depressing at the same time. That’s dialectics baby!
🕊️ Civil rights activist and rare non-evil American politician John Lewis passed away from cancer. I like to think that he would have appreciated that his death led to multiple GOP senators showing their asses.
🛢️ American oil and gas companies are declaring bankruptcy en masse due to overwhelming debt. Probably nothing to worry about.
🐷 Police in Ottawa announced they were investigating vandalism of a statue commemorating a Ukrainian Nazi as a potential hate crime. Totally unexpected cop behaviour.
🔨 On the topic of statues commemorating Ukrainian Nazis: people are starting to seriously question why Canada has a bunch of statues commemorating Ukrainian Nazis. Would be a huge shame if something was to happen to all of these statues commemorating Ukrainian Nazis.
🤠 Clinton talked to the 95eh blog about being a BC’er living in Alberta right before being bitten by that Singaporean mosquito he ordered from Wayfair.
🎓 Comrade Aaron drops some raw facts about how unemployment is used as a cudgel by the ruling class to beat down workers.
🙇 Nothing but respect for My President, who gave an interview to Rabble talking about how AUPE is preparing to fight back against the provincial government.
🏥 Getting an abortion in America hasn’t been made any easier with the onset of COVID-19.
📚 Australian organizers talk about the difficulties and successes in organizing rank-and-file academics against post-secondary cuts.
🎖️ Learning more about the Iraq War has done no favours to my rapidly declining sense of sanity.
🎧 Intercepted has done a timely deep dive into the life of Paul Robeson.
🔇 Big Shiny Takes has on Comrade Emily to discuss Canada’s oldest and most epic faildaughter — Margaret Wente.
🍁 Rob talks to Karen Geier about Tru-dumb and the WE scandal.
💩 They haven’t done anything noteworthy (either recently or ever) but I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to plug my favourite podcast about going to the store.
✊ If you live in Edmonton, you can show your support for locked out CESSCO workers by stopping by their picket line at 7310 99 Street at 6:00 am or 3:30 pm. Don’t forget to bring a mask and plenty of friends!