From the List of Shame File #7: Clerks

I’ve never been a huge fan of Kevin Smith films (with the exception of Dogma) but I thought I should cross Clerks of the list. I have attempted to watch this film in the past with little success, but this time around was a little easier. Probably because I’ve had the pleasure of working in retail, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the jokes that only us “associates” could understand.

The film is set up in a series of vignettes that tell the day-in-a-life story of two friends, Dante and Randal, working as convenience store and video rental store clerks respectively. Throughout the film we see Dante navigate the waters of romance first with girlfriend Veronica when they discuss their respective “numbers” and then with ex-girlfriend Caitlin who returns from school for a visit after three years. Dante is still in love with her but matters are complicated when Caitlin finds herself shell shocked after a most unfortunate (yet grossly humorous) incident in the convenience store bathroom.

All the while, Randal never misses the opportunity to harass customers. Throughout the film, we see him routinely shut down the rental store in order to visit Dante so they can gripe about their jobs, customers, or have deep meaningful conversations about Star Wars. My favorite line perhaps in the whole movie comes from Randal when he says to Dante, “This job (meaning Dante’s job) would be great if it weren’t for the customers.” If I had a nickel every time that thought crossed my mind….

If I sound sarcastic or critical of this film, I don’t mean to. Perhaps Clerks rings a little too true for me in much the same way The Office does for many in the corporate world. There’s a great series of scenes where Randal describes the types of customers that annoy him and we see a montage of classics: the “how much does this cost?” customer (the price sign is right there), the “do you have any new films in?” customer (again, the sign is right there). When I think of the man hours needed to hang up those signs…it’s all for naught.

Clerks does more than articulate the current state of the “lowly” clerk in America, it also addresses the interesting phenomena that no matter how bad or annoying things get, clerks have a hard time leaving it behind. After every shift at my most recent stint as a barista, I would say, “I’m quitting tomorrow,” but not before blaming everyone for my bad mood (except myself of course). I ended up being ousted when the company filed for bankruptcy.

In the end, Clerks gives us the message that only we have the power to change our “situations,” and even if we have to stay at a crappy job out of necessity, we can choose to have a more positive attitude towards it. We just have to take it one dumb customer at a time.

Just a side note: Jay and Silent Bob are as interesting as they are annoying. Like traveling holy men, they bumble through Smith’s films, their presence making little sense to the rest of the story, until all of a sudden they utter in a single sentence what the film takes an hour and a half to get across. The highest, most whacked out people in the film come across as the most insightful at the end. It’s like that sometimes.