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Kevin Smith (II): Smith also exemplifies the “lukewarm” position, as described by Dante, very well—he’s “NPC” today. What happened to Smith was that he had success with his first proper film Clerks (1994)—it was based on what he experienced, about one young man’s struggle to open his convenience store’s security shutters and his whimsical (stoned) conversations with his friends (quirky characters).

However, as with many people, Smith didn’t understand what he was good at—he knew that, deep down, he was a serious auteur. Hence, as soon as he had some money and credibility, he started to crank out “issue” films, Chasing Amy (gay issues) and Dogma (Christianity). He saw himself as a man who had something to say, particularly about the big things—gay rights, Christianity, abortion, sexuality, life, death, the meaning of life. He wasn’t just a whimsical entertainer, he had something important to convey about the human condition.

The result was pretentious—because Smith had never really engaged with these issues, let alone allowed himself to experience any feelings around them. What he comes off as is as a barrack-room lawyer. So Smith likes to pose “quandaries” of the sort you might find in a first-year philosophy exam—or, perhaps, think you would find there if you never studied philosophy. So he has questions posed, half stoned, like “Was it okay to blow up the Death Star with civilian contractors aboard?”, or, perhaps, “Would it be acceptable to abort Satan’s child, to abort Damien from The Omen?”.

While these dilemmas are supportable as whimsical speculations made through the cannabis haze, they never make the transition to “serious questions”. That’s because it’s about finding a loophole. The idea is that you can parse the Catholic Church’s dogmas and discover some technical get-out to have an abortion—and then you can wave that around as a reason why abortion is fine and feel clever. But if you enter into the whole discussion in good faith you find no grounds for that—aside from the fact that, if we accept what the Catholics say about God, he would know if you tried to “lawyer” him on a technicality.

What Smith usually ends up saying is something like “let’s be cool to sex workers, Jesus would have been cool too”, or something along those lines—in other words, a muddled compromise based on some supposedly clever loopholes. Yet you suggest it might be acceptable to abort Satan’s child—but what if Satan isn’t an entity that can be personified but is more a general force for inversion? Well, you haven’t considered that because behind the point-scoring lies the conviction “this isn’t really real, so let’s find a way round it—in the end, didn’t Jesus just want us to be kind to each other?”.

“I went into the church, which was quite empty, and, in the left-hand corner, I found a wooden model of the church—it was covered in dust. I ran my finger through it, and it came away with a thick grey layer. I looked at the tab below the model, it said, ‘Franciscan Order—1775’.” That is profound. Why? Because it reserves judgement. How did you do it? Simple—it was a church I went into in Florence, and I described the church. That’s it.

Men like Smith are filled with judgements—although, as with all progressives, they consider themselves non-judgemental. So if Smith tackles Catholicism, it has to be about issues—abortion, divorce, homosexuality. Who is right and who is wrong? (and can I “get out of it” somehow, if I do something wrong). What Smith doesn’t do is what he did with his first film—record, say, the interactions in a small parish church in New Jersey.

The confusion is the belief that there’s more to life than there is—that a small church in New Jersey is so different to a convenience store, because we’re dealing with “big issues” now. What this belies is a lack of courage and lack of actual experience. Smith daren’t go all the way and just reject the Church, which he was brought up in; rather, he hopes to find a way to accommodate it to being “a good person”—which just means this centuries-old hierarchy should bend for what are really the late 80s whims of Kevin Smith (the mob), but to him seem like “just plain common decency”.

If he looked into it sincerely, Smith might break with the Church with confidence—but he doesn’t, he’s not realistic enough for that. It’s ironic, because he created a character called “Dante”—and yet I doubt Smith has ever seriously read The Divine Comedy (“Sure I did, I did it in World Literature 101” Hmmmm). But to have a character called “Dante” is very Smith, because it looks deep and clever but there’s no substance behind it. You can tell that, because his “issue” films lack substance.

What Smith really wanted to do was My Dinner with Andre (1981) but with middle-to-lower class people from New Jersey, not New York Jewish intellectuals. He should have just locked his characters “Jay and Silent Bob” (basically himself and his friend) in a car in a McDonald’s parking lot and got them high and then had them dialogue for hours about their views on Catholicism (the drugs would destroy their pretentious tendency to lie). That would be a deep and worthwhile film—restriction always improves.

What he did with Dogma was instead make a “proper film”, which looks less good than the amateurish Clerks, and includes pretentious ideas like having Alanis Morissette as God. “Wow, a woman as God—incredible. I’d never think of that idea.” And yet it’s exactly what every teenager ever has said to try and look clever in some Religious Education class, “Like, Sir, what if God is…a woman?” Of course, if he’d made it today she’d be a black woman…because Smith wants you to think he’s very clever, and that always makes you shallow.


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