Ghosts with Shit Jobs.

Jim Munroe could squeeze lymph out of granite.

You may remember me going on a few years ago about “Infest Wisely”, a “low-fi sci-fi” movie made on a budget of about $700.  It was uneven, it was coarse, it had production values two steps up from those of a backyard puppet show.  But it rocked on the strength of its chewable nanosprites and its sentient cats and its urinal-haunting semen-jacking identity thieves — in short, on the strength of its ideas. That emaciated little stickman of a movie had more brains than any half-dozen summer blockbusters put together.

I was tempted to top today’s post with a headline along the lines of “Jim Munroe Hits the Big Time”, or “Jim Munroe Sells Out” because this time around his budget has increased by, literally, an order of magnitude— which sounds amazing until you realize that this implies a budget that’s moved all the way up to four digits from three.  His latest opus, “Ghosts with Shit Jobs”, is still a shoestring affair. But it’s a much shinier shoestring; the FX have improved commensurate with the budget (“Infest Wisely” had one, count ‘em, one FX shot; “Ghosts” has more, by an order of magnitude). There is CGI, here and there.  And where there isn’t — where the grungy no-tech location shots seem intuitively out-of-step with the traditional shiny view of Futureville 2040 — well, what would you expect from the third-world continental ghetto that North America collapsed into after the US declared bankruptcy in 2016?

For this is “Ghosts”’s plausible, almost mundane conceit: that current trends continue, that China rules the world, that we here in the ruins of the west make a marginal living doing the shit jobs of the title.  It is a classic tale of outsourcing come home to roost. The beauty of this premise doesn’t lie in its originality; anyone who hasn’t been living in a closet or watching Fox News could make the same basic prognostication. But the premise of an economically devastated backwater is a very friendly one to any film-maker on a limited budget, and Munroe makes the most of it.

“Ghosts with Shit Jobs” plays out in the form of a documentary — one of those socially-aware pieces that we see every now and then on “60 Minutes”, those guilt laxatives that treat us to bite-sized glimpses of Asian sweat shops, make us sadly shake our heads over those poor children and human rights abuses before we go out and buy a new pair of Nikes for little Davey’s birthday.  Of course this particular documentary is in Chinese, for Chinese; we wouldn’t even be able to understand it if some invisible user didn’t invoke a pop-up menu to select the English soundtrack thirty seconds in.  Fortunately, they do; and what follows is a series of vignettes — complete with the clichéd noodlings of some melancholy pianist to set the mood —showing days-in-the-lives of those poor white trash retained to do the jobs that “no one in China would do”.

At least one of those jobs (“Human Spam”) already exist.  Another (“Baby maker”) awaits another decade or two’s advancement in robotics.  “Digital Janitors” — people who go online and scrub copyrighted material out of virtual worlds — hover somewhere in the middle, and “Silk-gatherers” are just fucking off-the-wall: how did giant baby-eating spiders end up living along my running route anyway, and how to they get around that whole inverse-square-law thing and avoid collapsing under their own weight?

I don’t know if the movie ever answers that — Jim et al are posting these vignettes online at regular intervals, and as of this writing the “Silk-gatherers” clip has yet to appear.  Doesn’t really matter, though.  This is social satire, not science, and if you’ve got a few minutes to kill, you should really check it out.  In terms of squeezing maximum bang out of every buck I don’t know of anyone who can lay a glove on Jim Munroe; the man could make a stick of chewing gum last for a month.  I’m tempted to call him Canada’s Twenty-first-century answer to Roger Corman, but that would be an unfair comparison. Even Corman’s budgets were always way bigger.

And frankly, I like Jim’s stuff a lot more.



This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday December 10 2011at 12:12 pm , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

7 Responses to “Ghosts with Shit Jobs.”

  1. “When the cloud was repossessed my family lost everything!”

    On the one hand this is pretty ridiculous.
    A country in charge of it’s own currency should never go into default.
    On the other hand, I remember the August 2011 soooooo. Sigh.

    Worth passing around.

  2. That’s some really inventive stuff there. It’s scary, because it doesn’t seem that impossible anymore.

  3. A big thumbs-up for Jim! I had hoped he could present it at the last Fantasia Festival, but it is “partie remise”. The distopia ideas are as good. as disquieting. Another of Jim’s works, Therefore Repent (With Salgood Sam at the brushes), is a subtle graphic novel! :^)

  4. Peter, about the spiders?

    I have these tiny little cobweb spinners all over my basement. As best I can tell, they eat the ants that find their way inside, and the “camel crickets” (some call them “cave crickets”) evidently eat the spiders, the ants eat the camel crickets, etc.

    Yet somewhere in there, the plastic rather old carpet is slowly deteriorating, and I suspect that somehow it’s got into the diet of this strange little basement ecosystem.

    At any rate, about once a month I have to clean the air-filter pre-filter of cobwebs. You wouldn’t think that a bunch of tiny spiders could generate enough webbing to clog every last fan in the house in just a month or two, but quite evidently they can. I have got a zip-loc bag of sandwich size, which I have nearly filled in just 3 months.

    There are several generations of these spiders (and crickets, and ants, and who-knows what else) every year. One suspects that they might be under quite a lot of evolutionary pressure. Especially as much of their diet seems to consist of tiny bits of synthetic fabric as much as of anything organic, one might wonder if they could develop some way to actually utilize it. Polyester fiber reinforcement in the keratin of the exoskeleton, etc?

    I suspect that lots of opportunities to evolve to incorporate durable wastes will exist in the future.

    Better links to video are here, direct to YouTube:

  5. @Thomas – I have had the same thoughts on the evolutionary pressures in the basement. Is your carpet completely plastic, or is it a blend? I ask because crickets enjoy a varied diet, and will take an experimental bite out of anything. They love paper, for instance, and if you sit still, they will take a bite out of your toes, I kid you not. They eat each other, too.

    I mention this because I would not put it past a cricket to chew up your carpet to get at either organic fibers in the mix, or if there is other organic matter trapped in the nap – crumbs, a little mold, whatever. Even clean-looking carpets trap stuff, and when the pickings are lean….

    You wouldn’t think that a bunch of tiny spiders could generate enough webbing to clog every last fan in the house in just a month or two, but quite evidently they can. I have got a zip-loc bag of sandwich size, which I have nearly filled in just 3 months

    I feel your pain. The spiders that build the disorganized webs are very productive; I have a Swifter duster-on-a-stick thingy specifically to remove their little dust-magnet homes. Kudos to you for not impatiently falling into the trap of mass-poisonings.

  6. Hljóðlegur, the carpet in question is almost certainly as close to 100-percent plastic as the manufacturers could arrange. It’s also about 30 years old, and evidently flakes off a certain amount of material with age, not to mention actual wear.

    As to the “not with a bang, but with a whimper” fall of empire scenario, well, lots of people are pointing to that being likely the best outcome for which we could reasonably hope.

    Jared Diamond covers it pretty well — with lots of footnotes to peer-reviewed works — in his “Collapse”.

    This very morning, in the Washington Post “Opinion” section:

    Quoting, in-part:

    “[ … ]
    The unclassified study, titled “Global Trends 2030,” is being prepared by the National Intelligence Council, which is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This is the fifth such study (the first, published in 1996, looked toward 2010) and the only one to radically question U.S. staying power.

    In preparing the document, the analysts decided to focus on America’s role in shaping the global future. “You have to be intellectually honest that there are changes in the U.S. role, and the role of rising powers,” that will affect events, explains Mathew Burrows, a counselor at the National Intelligence Council and the principal author of the report.

    [ … ]”

    I definitely need to read that as soon as it is released to the general public,

  7. Seruko , the unique position of US is that, should it default on its astronomical debt (or, alternatively, print a fuckton of dollars to pay it off), the people who will end up with most shit in their face after the default hits the fan are not necessarily the US population or US leadership, but whomever happens to hold the most US debt when the default hits the fan.

    Which, ironically, happen to be everyone except US, most notably China.

    China in general is bound to US in numerous economic and political ways, including (but not limited to) being symbiotically fused to US’s mass consumer market which is one of the main recipients of Chinese cheap goods, and essentially bound to the well-being (or lack thereof) of US economy by holding oh-so-much US debt papers.

    So, should US fail (catastrophically or not), China is quite likely to go down with it (the inverse is also true, US is quite dependent on China remaining both extremely powerful and pretty much as fucked up socially as it is now, if not more)

    Other than that, awesome work.

    Munroe should have made the “original soundtrack” of the mockumentary Russian, to troll chickenhawks mentally stuck in Cold War time extra-hard