The year is 2040 and it has been two decades since the American economy tanked. North America is a sprawling mega-slum and the population of the West is viewed as a massive, cheap labour force for China and India. This is the setup for Ghosts With Shit Jobs, Canadian author Jim Munroe’s self-described “lo-fi sci-fi” meditation on labour and everyday life in a dreary future Toronto. Filmed as a pseudo-documentary, a Chinese news show sends reporters to the West to gain insight in to the daily grind and perspective of ‘ghosts’ (Cantonese slang for indigenous North Americans) and portrays a selection of these low-level workers as they struggle to make ends meet. These protagonists have taken on jobs nobody else wants—robotic toy construction, spider silk foraging, online copyright protection, conversational product-placement—and employment is the lens through which the economy and everyday life are inspected. Doesn’t exactly sound like traditional science fiction fare does it? Well, Ghosts With Shit Jobs is immensely successful as speculative fiction because rather than overwhelm the viewer with CGI setpieces and genre clichés it provides a nuanced, character-driven plot that is chock-full of insight on technology and culture. The super-smart script shines and is delivered as kind of a future vérité that is so blasé about the world it constructs that the viewer has no choice but to be drawn into the headspace of each of the main characters.
While the film is definitely effective in schematizing contemporary global economic woes, the way it explores the robotics industry, scarcity, the digital commons and branding also warrants close attention. The narrative has a built-in conversation about gestural interfaces and augmented reality without even being remotely interested in either of these topics beyond the fact that they are just ‘tools in the world’. Additionally, every line uttered by the covert-marketing ’human spam’ sociopath Serina is pure gold – she’s a horrid SEO/branding endgame that is probably too grounded in reality to be dismissed as dystopian caricature. Fans of the irreverence of Keiichi Matsuda’s Augmented City 3D and the microbudget Modus operandi of Shane Carruth’s Primer should definitely seek out Ghosts With Shit Jobs at one of its upcoming festival appearances or its pending digital release as it is undoubtedly a cause for celebration – to quote the exuberance of central character Anton of the ‘silkgatherer’ Corento brothers, “we will be drinking water tonight!”