It Started With Clerks

By | Wednesday, December 15, 2010 2 comments
I recall being in school years ago, maybe third or fourth grade. Our class had been walked down to the lunch room, and I was sitting at one of those long tables among a collection of other 8/9/10 year olds. I was eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and one of the other kids began excitedly talking about this new game called Pac-Man. Another kid had heard of or seen it, but hadn't been able to play it yet but he was pretty enthusiastic about it too. I was lost. I knew and had played video games, but this "Pack Man" was entirely unheard of to me. Given the explanatory abilities of a child, the descriptions I got were unsurprisingly vague so I formed an image of a man (or a close 8-bit approximation of one) wearing a backpack, picking up these baseball sized globes and putting them in his backpack. I don't recall when I finally saw some Pac-Man screen shots or eventually played the game itself, but I do remember being very surprised how different it was from the mental picture I had conjured.

Kevin Smith's movie Clerks first came out in late 1994, and was shown in only a small number of theaters. But when it made it to home video in mid-1995, it began picking up steam as it got wider distribution. I first heard about Clerks from a co-worker in the late summer of 1995. He raved about it and Smith's maxing-out-his-credit-cards story. I found and rented the movie from a local Blockbuster, and was suitably impressed with what Smith was able to achieve on a limited budget. I recall some months later, probably early-to-mid-1996, talking with some other friends who had just heard about Clerks and I was able to come across as more hip and with it because I had already seen the film and it was old news for me.

Bear in mind that this was the mid-1990s. Video rental stores like Blockbuster were not only relevant, but doing some serious business. The Internet was available, but in an extremely limited form compared to what we know it as today. It was still largely a visually more attractive version of the old BBSes, and largely limited to early adopter geeks.

The View Askew website wouldn't be created for another year. Marvel wouldn't even register their own domain name for another two years. There was a DC website, but it looked like this...
What I'm saying is that, as a society, we were JUST on the cusp of the Internet being a significant and important tool for our culture. But we weren't quite there yet.

But my experience with Clerks was that I became a person of privilege by having something of an advance word before my peers. I could walk into a conversation about a new/current topic that was still relatively obscure and be able to speak intelligently to it. I wouldn't be so out of touch as I was with the Pac-Man discussion years before.

And I saw the Internet for the possibilities in that regard. I was becoming very adept at locating information sources so that I wouldn't be caught off-guard again. I was able to use having more up-to-date/better information to my advantage by getting quick answers to trivia contest questions. I was able to secure a splash page of original comic art by reserving the page in question as soon as a preview image of it became available online; the art rep was surprised because he never got specific page requests like that so far in advance of the comic being available.

Two of the more fascinating (to me) aspects of the Internet is A) the vast sum of information that's available and B) the speed with which it's available. I've been re-reading Fax from Sarajevo for a project I'm working on (more on that later) and it was a fascinating study in information gathering. Ervin Rustemagić uses faxes to keep in contact with the world outside Bosnia -- newspapers and televisions had all but shut down entirely -- but sporadic electricity and phone service puts him in a haze of uncertainty and confusion. He's not able to keep up with changing regulations that would allow him and his family to emigrate because he's stuck in essentially an information vacuum. He doesn't have access to the world's information in the first place, and what information he is able to obtain comes slowly and in fits and spurts. While this was certainly normal in, say, the 1400s, Rustemagić's plight took place at the very end of the 20th century. Only a year or two before Clerks came out.

I don't have a specific conclusion I'm trying to reach here. (It's kind of a scattershot week, so I'm running a bit on the scatterbrained side.) But it occurs to me that my entire lifestyle -- my day job, my blogging, my long-distance relationship, my shopping habits, my reading habits, my discussions with friends and relatives, my access to information, pretty much everything -- was not really possible fifteen years ago.

Where do you suppose we'll be in another fifteen years?
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Jim Shelley said...

That's a tough question to answer because it's always so hard to predict what technology will triumph and which one will flop (so many things come into play, don't they?)

What I do think we'll see in 15 years is even more subcultures and people getting divided into like-minded groups. If the internet made it easier for comic fans to communicate, I think the future will bring us an era where you commune even more exclusively with people who think like you in general - sort of like a twitterfeed for people who think like you on every subject based on algorithms that push us together.

Matt K said...

In 15 years' time, people born in the mid 90s will be around 30 years old. One will need to be nearly 40 to even remember much about life before the world wide web and ubiquitous mobile communications.

At the same time, much wealth, power and influence will probably still be concentrated with people middle-aged and older, and of course institutions seem remarkably slow to change even when the people running them turn over completely...

So I imagine we'll probably have at least as big a gap if not larger between what technology enables us to do (e.g. work from anywhere) vs what cultural conventions insist we continue doing (e.g. drive to an office and file into little cubes).

But, really, 15 years ago few would have predicted any of the significance that the internet would have, or hysteria over terrorism, or the sudden rising influence of China, or the embarrassing implosion of western market capitalism (at any rate not in detailed accordance with how it ended up happening), or a black President, or the mothballing of America's manned space program, or Norman Osborn rising from the grave and eventually becoming the prime mover in a major line-wide Marvel "event," or Los Angeles going from two NFL teams to zero and remaining that way, or... etc., etc., etc.