Film Features

I’d Probably Kill Myself Before Joining MovieTok


I’m so mad that I can’t stop thinking about that dumb fucking article.

Modern living was designed for many indignities, but one of those was never meant to be residing down the hall from a homegirl in your dorm who’s receiving a publicist’s emailed instructions on how to fulfill a sponsorship before her Biology 202 lecture. Even the most dystopian sci-fi didn’t predict the passionate extent to which we would strive to become conduits of corporate marketing—what use is “personalized digital media” where you can have an intimate parasocial connection with a creator when Maddi Moo’s hashtag #ad “Peacock Pics” are delivered in such a way that feel ripped from the executive’s mouth who’s trying to amalgamate what buzzwords will resonate with the kids? 

Sorry, let me back up.

Since The New York Times, a neoliberal rag that habitually latches onto five disparate TikTok posts and declares them a global trend, reported on the paid piggies of sponcon contaminating “MovieTok” during the dead heat of the conjoined WGA and SAG strikes (real class act stuff), the role of a “film critic” in current times has been called into question. That question? Is film criticism forever dead or just dead for, like, maybe 10 more years? The post-pubescent infants crying about the anti-snob populism of superhero movies are a whole lot of suburban virgins cosplaying as big-mouthed wise guys: however, we can’t just section these people off as “nerds” anymore, because—in a show of Kevin Feige’s greatest achievement—chances are that these people are your pilates-obsessed aunt, her union plumber, and her 22-year-old daughter studying business at Cornell. What social use is critique when the work does not beckon any close-up examination? It’s bigger than cinema, it’s tied up neatly in Richard Linklater’s recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

“Some really intelligent, passionate, good citizens just don’t have the same need for literature and movies anymore. It doesn’t occupy the same space in the brain. I think that’s just how we’ve given over our lives, largely, to this thing that depletes the need for curating and filling ourselves up with meaning from art and fictional worlds. That need has been filled up with—let’s face it—advanced delivery systems for advertising. It’s sad, but what can you do?”

Before I say anything worse about TikTok, we should establish something: I’m 27 years of age. This is not very old. Dare I say, it’s an age that veers on the younger side of the spectrum! To most grown adults, I am still seen as a stupid child. I still have vivid memories of when I was four years old, so, tangentially, I’m going to need dipshits younger than me and slightly older than me to cool it with this “is that what the kids are saying these days?” white flag-waving. No, TikTok trends did not leave you behind! Be fucking for real; TikTok is the most boomer shit in the world, the first time that digital media cracked into the engagement theory that defined linear television and, subsequently, cable. Across the country—nay, across the world—there will always be a television stuck on an available channel, and the programming will flow into the subconscious like lead in the water supply. Did you seek out Cinema.Joe, or did Cinema.Joe pollute your feed? That’s nice if you ended up liking him. You didn’t pick him, though.

There’s a generation of kids and next-door entrepreneurs motivated by cashing a corpo check, but one standard to be remembered is that Hollywood is a motherfucking union town. An aggressively pro-labor town that openly despised the CEOs of the most powerful media companies in the world for a full third of the year. The streets—now more than ever—will not be kind to a bootlicker.

The dramatic posturing positioned the WGA and SAG strikes as existential crises, but there’d long been a faith in the light at the end of the tunnel. On Week Two, you had Burbank families dressing up as The Mandalorian and Grogu to picket for a few hours: the stats point to Americans unilaterally supporting the writers over the studios (which I’m certain surprised the studios after their warmongering decade of brand tyranny), but anecdotally I have yet to run into someone who didn’t clown the elementary jubilance that fueled an uncomfortably long stretch of the work stoppage. Come September, however, the rot of the tech industry laid down the path for more permanent anxieties. Now, the WGA rank and file have all but ratified a blood-splattered, hard-fought, and shockingly rock-solid deal. It’s such a universally celebrated deal—replete with success-based residuals, pay increases, staunch restrictions on artificial intelligence, and individual P&H (pension and health) contributions for writing teams—that I’m now more curious in how the AMPTP plans to poke holes in it. This horseshit Streaming Innovation Alliance (basically a lateral extension of the AMPTP, populated by various streamers who are, oopsie, coincidentally owned by only two separate parent companies) that’ll be seeking to overturn future labor efforts through the tried and true methods of government coercion is only the first step. Suspiciously timed around Gruesome Gavin’s proposed implementation of unemployment benefits for strikers, it seems like the AMPTP were squeezed harder than they ever expected, if they even expected it at all. Writers won, and soon so will actors, and hopefully so will IATSE, but it’ll be a tough road out of the nearly yearlong doomer k-hole.

There’s a raw nerve that keeps swinging my concept of entertainment labor back to MovieTok. I’ve been writing about film since I was 11 and my reach got lapped in record time by Cameron Kozak—which, hey, that’s just the way it goes, baby. But at least I never spent any of my 20s editing a two-minute long analysis of MEN IN BLACK 3 in 2023 so I could score 30k views before moseying on back to the content mines. I got close to doing this in my teens, when I reviewed movies on YouTube as “kacman11” from 2008 to 2014, but I pumped the brakes because the game just wasn’t the same. I was pretty satisfied with the 300-600 views per video I was getting (who the fuck am I? 300-600 of you care? I’ll take it.), but what burned me out was creating in the same space where Schmoes Know, Chris Stuckmann, and other shock jock studio lackey YouTube movie reviewers were collecting tens of thousands of views per bumbling critique. Grown ass men were calling movies made for kids a full five years younger than me “all-time masterpieces”… Huh? If it sounds pompous, it’s because at 16 I was, and I likely still am, extremely pompous, but come on, the work that skyrocketed was garbage. I was disillusioned early, and in turn enlightened that anyone in any field holds a responsibility to uphold a seal of quality so that the medium maintains more than its respectability, and even more than its allure, but its health.

The state of film discourse for the past five years has been dire, in large part because of so many idiots looking to get their piece in the outrage economy. Folks are wailing away at phantoms, screaming at made-up conversations—or, more embarrassing, citing null-and-void observations by 197-follower psychopaths to score likes—to make up for the fact that they don’t have much themselves to say about the vilified movies in question. My favorite critics don’t even write, they host podcasts, and what’s left of MSM arts sections are cluttered with laughable appeals to the week’s recycled controversy. To this day, I have not seen a single good faith complaint about sex scenes in movies. I have seen some suicidal rad-fem Liberal teenagers post bait, though what they’ve picked up is widely hated (the dopamine rush of a notification’s gotta be achieved by any means necessary), and there are some grown adults who post like teenagers letting their mental illness take the lead… but these are all nobodies. Absolute nobodies. Not every voice matters! The media puritanism narrative is a cozy way to explain away the dullness of visual art, but it’s tough to buy when GAME OF THRONES and EUPHORIA are the two most popular programs in HBO’s history. There is no basis of truth and it’s all we yap about! Periodically jumping between that and the superhero movie “debate,” we look like dunces. Who would want to participate in this?

In some ways, this is the fault of poor intellectual nutrition, and in other ways this falls at the feet of our rewired brains. Everyone’s an iPad kid. We can collectively shrug and blame all this on “the algorithm,” and preserve what remaining hope we have for our instinctual propensity for curiosity, but there’s no doubt that—politically and, thusly, culturally—we’ve fallen into a binary of fanaticism and rabid vilification. It’s an easier means of consumption, and strays us further from the numbing processes of analysis and extrapolation; I’ve toiled for nine hours milking one of my three necessary revenue streams to afford the cost of living, so, no, I will not be questioning the ethics of 90 DAY FIANCÉ: BEFORE THE 90 DAYS. Now that writers got their W, it’ll once more be socially acceptable to put the weight of how distraught things have gotten back on creatives, too. Sure, Bob Iger pressured you into pumping out media for his money-leaking streaming service, and on top of that you’re being paid a laughable fee, but you did ultimately make some of the worst event programming I’ve ever seen. Sorry, buds, conditions were rough, but you made content! You did not, do not, and will not have that dog in you! I will keep calling shit “content,” because that’s what it deserves. If the content is good, then it’s “a movie” and if it’s barely decent, then it’s “peak TV.” Yes, I do make the rules.

I’m at a loss of what we’re even doing here, and it’s a loss that’s cut into the frequency of my writing, but my sea legs are a teeny bit tired of jumping ship.

My lifelong delusion of wanting to make movies has recently reached peak clarity, which is to say that I look around and, climate apocalypse aside, can’t deny that things are so fucking Joe-ver. The publicists paid to eat shit are happily resuming their SALO-style eating of aforementioned shit, and @guywithamoviecamera will cheerily resume his red carpet squawking so he can make commercial pieces for people who call things “aesthetic,” but Linklater goes on record lamenting the decay of our cultural curiosity only to sell his festival hit to Netflix the next week, Scorsese mourns the total loss of the filmmaking model that defined his will to live for half a century, Barry Jenkins is still spending an eternity making that LION KING sequel no one wants from him, post-FABELMANS-flop Spielberg’s been demoted to swatting David Zaslav away from point-blank executing Turner Classic Movies, Greta Gerwig took the BARBIE paycheck so she could hop to a Netflix contract to direct two CHRONICLES OF NARNIA adaptations, and it’s a struggle to name a single viable filmmaker who’s genuinely got the juice that’s in their 20s. Bro… Please, bro, really, bro, just give me a breather between the punches.

But 2023’s hot labor summer cleared some fog. I’ve spent a lot of time losing, taking each L on the chin. We all have. Esteemed publications are shuttered overnight (and sometimes zombified by resident goon Brian Calle), your heroes start whimpering, and movies for the first time in 100 years ceased being the polestar of day-to-day living. But those mad lad negotiators actually got those staffing minimums that even folks in the WGA were calling fucking dumb hang-ups (and I learned that those pie-in-the-sky minimums were designed to enforce the existence of a writers room at all, lest the studios turn screenwriting into an entirely gig-based economy, so it was well worth it after all). Drew Carey racked up a $500,000 tab in Bob’s Big Boy meals for card-carrying writers. That’s ballistic! Who knew THE PRICE IS RIGHT still paid so well? These are decisions that will ultimately cull the field and cost so many writers their livelihoods (the studios were already in cost-cutting mode amidst the glut of unwatched streamer content), but it does make for a more sustainable creative ecosystem. Film workers fought for that over themselves, and now they’ve spent 148 days receiving a first-hand education in labor law. I’ve long held that there’s so much here worth burning, but maybe there’s something—even a shred—worth saving.

Kevin Cookman
Kevin Cookman is a Film Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine. Deserted in a video store as an infant, Kevin was raised on Fulci, Tarantino, Kubrick, and Whoppers. Now he's a graduate of Chapman University who acts as editor for Merry-Go-Round on the side: what a success story.

Bandcamp Picks of the Week 9/29/2023

Previous article

ALL OF US STRANGERS Can’t Commit To Any Of Its Personalities

Next article


Comments are closed.

Free ebooks Library zlib project