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Kevin Smith, left, and Jason Mewes arrive at the L.A. Batman Live Premiere on Thursday Sept. 27, 2012, at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision for Warner Bros./AP Images)

It is fairly common knowledge now that everyone hates Kevin Smith. People hate his stupid movies. People hate his stupid attitude. People hate his stupid voice. People hate his stupid beard. People hate Kevin Smith, is the point. Look at the comments of any article centering on Smith and you’re bound to find comments criticizing his movies or his face or his beard or whatever else people may complain about in comment sections. Yes, it would be easy to get caught up in the tsunami of hate that is swelling off the coast of Kevin Smith, who is now a beachfront metropolis to make this clumsy analogy work.

The point is, the coastal city of Kevin Smith may not make sense to you. It may be weird or disturbing. Maybe you loved it at first, but as you spent more time there, you realized that it wasn’t home. Regardless, there are countless millions who do enjoy the coastal city of Kevin Smith and many more who would enjoy a return trip, if only they would make the time. Whatever group you fall into, there’s no sense in joining the tsunami of hate, because tsunamis only destroy and kill people. That’s why a wall had to be erected against the tsunami. That’s why this article is written in defense of Kevin Smith.

The first wave of hate can be dispensed with summarily. These are people who hate Kevin Smith mostly because they don’t agree with some aspect of his lifestyle or basic existence. Complaints that fall under this category include that he is too much of a nerd, too fat (though he’s lost like 100 pounds recently), or smokes too much weed. Even at just a glance, these complaints are too superficial and judgmental to even deserve a response. Now, on to some slightly more substantive claims!

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The next wave of people hate his personality. He seems to whiny or entitled. He’s notoriously sensitive to criticism, which may be true. Smith has railed against critics in multiple interviews as well as on Twitter, eventually swearing them off entirely. Another major example of complaints against Smith’s personality is the 2010 Southwest Airlines debacle in which Smith was asked to exit the flight for being too large to fit in a single seat. The details on this event are murky and it’s hard to know exactly where the truth lies. Smith claims that he fit into his seat fine and was singled out for some reason. Regardless of what exactly happened on that plane, Smith’s subsequent crusade against Southwest Airlines (the “Greyhound of the air”), including a 24 segment YouTube video rant, rubbed some people the wrong way.

Another aspect of Smith’s personality that draws ire from Smith detractors is his willingness to openly speak about problems he has with other people, including those in the entertainment industry. There are two main occurrences that come to mind with this accusation. The first revolves around the script that Smith worked on in 1996 for a Superman movie. Eventually, Smith’s script was dropped when Tim Burton was brought onto the project, which didn’t end up going anywhere anyway. Despite some Burton-bashing, Smith describes this process as mostly positive except for the experience he had with producer Jon Peters, who inexplicably wanted a giant spider in the film regardless of whatever else Smith had in mind. Peters wanted his giant spider and he would get it! He later went on to produce Wild Wild West, which, interestingly enough, had the protagonists fighting a giant, mechanical spider in the third act.

Smith also had some bad blood with Bruce Willis during the filming of the 2010 film Cop Out. During promotion and after the movie came out Willis and Smith proceeded to bash each other, so it seems unfair to hold Smith solely responsible for this, especially given Willis’ tendency to clash with his coworkers. In addition to Smith, Willis has famously clashed with Cybill Shepherd during the run of their popular sitcom MoonlightingTears of the Sun director Antoine Fuqua, and Sylvester Stallone, which lead to him being cut from Expendables 3 and Stallone tweeting this:

 

Who knows what really went down between Smith and his small collection of feuds? The point is this: when you are in the public eye and as open as Kevin Smith is, you’re bound to air some dirty laundry. Everyone has had a bad day where they clashed with someone else, and maybe even behaved in a manner inconsistent with their typical temperament. You can chide Mr. Smith for this all you want, but it can also be argued that Smith’s embrace of social media, the internet, and the ever increasing reality TV culture has kept him relevant and marketable. This will be further explored later on.

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The final Smith complaint that will be addressed here is just that, with a couple of exceptions, his movies aren’t any good. This is demonstrably untrue. While it’s true that Smith may only have two movies that are true critical and commercial darlings (Clerks and Chasing Amy), his other movies tend to get a decent monetary return and/or a mixed to positive critical response, notable exceptions being Jersey Girl, Cop Out, and Tusk. Smith may not belong in the pantheon of truly great American directors, but he also doesn’t deserve to be tossed down with the likes of Uwe Boll, McG, Gavin Hood, Brett Ratner, or Paul W. S. Anderson. His filmography taken as a whole is perhaps best described as respectable with some high points of true brilliance. Those points of brilliance, though, are more than enough to redeem him. More than almost any other director, Smith influenced and encouraged modern day directors with his low budget, approachable style. Smith led an entire generation of filmmakers to say, “Yeah, I could do that.”

In fact, it is most likely this display of obvious competence that has earned Smith so many haters. With Anderson or Boll, you know that you’re not going to get a good movie; there’s nothing to be disappointed about. With Smith there seems to be a frustration that no matter what he delivers, it could and should have been better. Maybe this is true, maybe not, but as both a filmmaker and a pop culture commentator, Smith seems to have finally effectively transcended the rigorous demands of a fickle public.

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Smith started his career with a bang. The fleshing out of his interconnected View Askewniverse (so named after his production company, View Askew Productions) with Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, earned him a dedicated cult following. Over a decade before Marvel Studios revolutionized the movie industry with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Smith built his movie universe by having characters and references float in and out of vastly different movies. It was at this point, when Smith decided to move away from the View Askewniverse, that the tide began to turn against him. Smith wanted to grow as a director and do different things. Perhaps he felt pressure to show that he could handle more traditional Hollywood fare. Whatever the reason, his next three films (excluding Clerks II, which was a return to the View Askewniverse) saw him trying something new, which unfortunately didn’t work out so well for him.

His first deviation from the View Askewniverse was Jersey Girl and everyone knows how that turned out. Really, the less said about that movie, the better it will be for everyone involved. The next movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, has been decently received by critics, but it did not have the box office return that the studio was looking for. Grabbing Seth Rogen fresh off of a string of successful movies made with Judd Apatow, Zack and Miri was supposed to smash the box office and solidify Smith as a comedy blockbuster staple. Sadly, that didn’t pan out and Smith was truly crushed, disappearing almost entirely from public view for two months. Smith’s final attempt at a big mainstream movie was Cop Out, which failed to impress at the box office and received probably the worst reviews of all of Smith’s films (although his current film, Yoga Hosers, is making a bid for that crown).

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That was when Smith really took a step back and seemed to come to a kind of revelation. He would stop trying to make traditional Hollywood movies and just do what he wanted to do, which has hopefully set him on a path to direct some films that truly showcase his talent. Some directors just do better in a smaller setting. For every James Gunn that delivers a Guardians of the Galaxy or Joss Whedon that makes The Avengers, there’s going to be an Ang Lee that makes a Hulk. Just because you’re the best cook on the planet doesn’t mean that your talents will translate into running a large, fully staffed kitchen.

After releasing a decently received indie film called Red State, Smith launched into his current project, which is the True North trilogy. The first film in the trilogy, Tusk, was developed largely with Smith’s fanbase on his incredibly popular podcast, SModcast, and his Twitter account. The two other films in the trilogy are the just released Yoga Hosers and the forthcoming Moose Jaws, which is to be almost a beat-for-beat remake of Jaws, but with a moose instead of a shark. The trilogy will share characters just like the View Askewniverse (most notably the two store clerks who lead Yoga Hosers played by the daughters of Smith and Johnny Depp, Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp) and even tie in with the characters Jay and Silent Bob, who are set to appear in Moose Jaws. Thus far, the True North trilogy has failed to impress critics, but Smith doesn’t seem to care all that much. Besides, he’s putting something interesting into the world and perhaps this will lead to prolific careers for the young Harley Quinn and Lily (shout out to Jason Bourne and the current BatmanMatt Damon and Ben Affleck, respectively). If nothing else, going on the journey with Smith as he makes these movies and releases them is worth the ride. Smith is also soon returning to the View Askewniverse proper with the upcoming projects Clerks III and MallBrats, which is the sequel to Mallrats.

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This may be the return to form fans have been looking for. Smith seems to be embracing the interconnectedness and inside jokes that drew people to him in the first place. Sure, this may alienate some casual moviegoers unfamiliar with the View Askewniverse, but guess what? They weren’t showing up for his mainstream films anyway. The great thing for an avid Kevin Smith fan is that the inside jokes don’t just stop with Smith’s movies; Smith is so prolific elsewhere, there’s almost no end to the inside joke rabbit hole. In addition to popping up in various roles in other people’s movies and all over television, Smith owns a website called SModcast.com and records hours of content every week with popular podcasts like SModcast, Fatman on Batman, Hollywood Babble-On, and Jay & Silent Bob Get Old. Smith’s parent company SModCo also has its fingers in producing cartoons and shows for YouTube, film distribution, an internet radio station, Smart Phone games, and a brand of coffee. Smith also has his own television show on AMC called Comic Book Men and has written a number of runs on some of the most popular comic book characters ever inked to a piece of paper.

The comic book is an important area of distinction. Many Hollywood actors, producers, writers, and directors absolutely deserve all the accolades coming their way for bringing everyone’s favorite comic book heroes to life in the biggest way possible. But how many of them play a role in creating the lifeblood of nerd culture, the medium through which all other avatars of nerd culture flow, the comic book? Smith had a 15-issue run on Green Arrow, which brought Oliver Queen back from the dead and introduced the character who would go on to be Speedy. He also had an eight-issue run on Daredevil in 1999, which details the downward spiral and demise of Karen Page, followed by two mini-series for Marvel in 2002, Spider-Man/Black Cat and Daredevil/Bullseye. It took him three years to finish the Spider-Man book and he never did finish Daredevil, earning him much derision. Complaints about the unfinished Daredevil are certainly well deserved, but if your biggest problem as an artist is that you’re not giving fans enough, you’re doing alright. Smith had a couple of runs with Batman, including Batman: The Widening Gyre. The Widening Gyre drew criticism all over the spectrum with some saying it was the most humanizing run of Batman and others focusing on the potty humor and the fact that Batman peed himself. Hey, it happens to everyone.

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The point is that Smith is a nerd’s nerd. Love him or hate him, he’s doing the Nerd’s work. He’s an outspoken advocate and ambassador of nerd culture. His openness allows almost unfettered access to the creative process on both sides of a project and serves to spark interest and spread the message of all things nerd to the masses. Sure, he’s a writer, producer, director, and an actor, but before any of those things, he’s a fan-boy. As far as most mainstream media is concerned, he’s THE fan-boy. The good that he has done for nerd culture and pop culture can’t be denied. He may be the truest living embodiment of the phrase: “Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.”

Needless to say, Smith is a busy guy. He is expanding his universe through almost every medium imaginable and seems to have reached a point in his career where he is just focused on fulfilling himself artistically without caring what anyone thinks. Regardless of whether you agree with him or not, Smith is a respected and experienced voice on the topics of comics, Hollywood, and nerd culture in general. Perhaps his constant media exposure backfires on him occasionally, but overall he seems to be doing pretty well. So crash your hate tsunami against the wall all you want, the coastal city of Kevin Smith doesn’t really have time to notice right now.

Category: Featured, Nerd Culture

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