Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith remains one of the most influential figures in modern Hollywood. As a new profile in New York outlines, “He simultaneously catalyzed no fewer than three tectonic shifts: introducing hardcore geekdom to Hollywood (virtually no one was doing deep-cut superhero references on screen before he was); enshrining the travails of the emotionally stunted, American beta-male manchild (Judd Apatow practically owes him royalty checks); and establishing a robust and refreshingly open presence online (Smith was fighting trolls before you ever heard the word blog).” And while it may seem like his relevance drifted off in a cloud of weed smoke somewhere between Dogma and Jersey Girl, the dude continues to lead a quiet revolution while talking very, very loudly.
Smith himself acknowledges that his latter-day art isn’t something to celebrate, and though he credits his own sense of contentment with its lack of resonance—“Happy people don’t really make great art, you know?” he says—its lack of mass appeal speaks more to the hyper-specific audience he’s worked to cultivate via his labyrinthian SModcast podcast network and a string of live speaking tours (from which he makes most of his money). “He’s no longer talked about in conversations about the future of filmmaking,” New York writes. “But he just might exemplify the future of celebrity.”
And that’s because in an age where the internet’s myriad nooks and crannies—YouTube, Spotify, podcasts, forums—offer us access to all the content our minds can absorb, the best way to build a massive audience is to limit your brand.
In other words, Smith has transformed himself into the perfect figure for our current media landscape. Audiences have a decreasing tolerance for entertainment that feels practiced and rehearsed — they want people who shoot from the hip, say what they mean, and mean what they say. Smith delivers all of that. In an informational ecosystem where there are far too many chattering voices, people want someone who speaks loudly and directly to their interests and worldview, and Smith and the SModcast empire do that. We’re all forced to self-promote and self-start these days, and Smith is a patron saint in that realm. Even if his time in the spotlight is in the past, few artists have more expertly navigated the present.
This kind of viewpoint even casts some of his more recent projects in a different light. His attempts to make Clerks 3 and a Mallrats TV series might resonate as a last gasp at mainstream relevance, but they’re perhaps best viewed as a bit of fan service for his loyal base. The same goes for his Jay and Silent Bob reboot film, which heads into production this fall.
The lesson? Stop making art for everybody. Make it for the people who care.
Editor’s Note: The headline on this article has been updated. The original version— “Kevin Smith know his new movies suck, too”—was misleading.