[17 August 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
What, exactly, is a slacker? Your dad would probably be a good source for such a definition. How about your teachers, or your college professors? Maybe your boss or your wife could come up with a decent ID. Then there’re your friends, associates, buddies and other partners in passivity. By their very nature, slackers are sensitive to being mislabeled. Just because you work 70 hours a week and can’t find time to fire up a fat one doesn’t mean the purposefully prone should be citied for their seemingly endless ability to do so. In fact, when measured against the rallying rat race of this or any other future shock society, the slacker is our cup of good cheer. He or she is wish fulfillment in a Taco Bell shaped body.
Naturally, the movies have made them masters of their own particular domain as well. Everyone from Cheech and Chong to Harold and Kumar have been championed for their choice of recreational pharmaceutical (and reaction to same). Between old school interpretations (beatnik joke butt Maynard G. Krebs) and au current examples (James Franco in… well… everything), we get the media defined details. Luckily, the films featuring these fun loving freeloaders have worked their way, like cannabis smoke, deep into the public consciousness (like The Big Lebowski, now out on Blu-ray in a classy Collector’s Edition). In fact, the ten examples here could contain every possible permutation of the slacker conceit ever created, beginning with a pen and ink version that still remains a viable illustration of humorous human inertness…
While many believe this heavy metal damaged pair are the direct product of a popular MTV cartoon series, true fans remember when Mike Judge introduced them as part of the classic “Frog Baseball” short. As accurate a reflection of wayward adolescence that’s ever been caught on camera (or in this case, animation cells), these hopelessly lost teens are the direct byproduct of a latchkey lifestyle, too much free time, too little common sense, and way too much media influence. The result is a kind of specialized regression, an existence made up of incessant talk about sex and a significant lack of same. Even their ineffectual laughs indicate a certain belittling brain damage.
If the aforementioned uber-dorks had human counterparts, they’d probably be this undynamic duo. Created by writer/director Kevin Smith as a humorous homage to the kind of losers who used to hang around his local convenience stores, the drug dealing, smack talking team, boom box move busting pair are the Greek Chorus to all the geek angst going round. They represent the very essence of slacker - serious without being secure, savants without a requisite skill set to be good at. Indeed, if loafing and dropping the F-bomb were talents, Jay would be a genius. Instead, he’s the profane yin to his silent partner’s profound yang.
Talk about failing upward! Seth Rogen’s character in this classic Judd Apatow comedy has absolutely nothing going for him. He has no job. He has no game. He has no sense of responsibility. So naturally he gets to bed E! News hottie Katherine Heigl and wind up her bumbling baby daddy. As the proto-ideal of the post-millennial male, this dumpy dude with a solid sense of humor brought unlikely sexy back to slacker. He also argued that men are meant to be weaned and toilet trained, just like infants, reared by their women to dispense with the Neanderthal Id of instinct and become decent, hardworking semi-humans.
He’s the lothario icon for the ages, a mid-20s tease whose chasing skirt that could easily land him in jail bait… jail. Still, David Wooderson is an idol to those in his Me Decade purview, the goal every girl-less guy wants to emulate explicitly. Like a wise white panty guru, actor Matthew McConaughey puts on the lazy, laconic drawl, giving every one of his line reading the necessary black light sleaze a character like Wooderson requires. Even better, writer/director Richard Linklater gives him memorable dialogue that, today, acts like the Gospel According to a Seemingly Inebriated Muscle Car Jesus.
Surfer stoner meets classroom cut-up in Cameron Crowe’s homage to growing up confused in late ‘70s SoCal. As the blond bohemian with a comical comeback and a wicked case of the munchies, Spicoli is the worst kind of influence. He’s preternaturally half-baked, doesn’t mind ordering pizza in the middle of class, and with tired teacher Mr. Hand has his arch nemesis, is never at a loss for a rejoinder - or another trip to the school administrator’s office. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this gnarly dude? Super serious ‘actor’ Sean Penn essayed the role, making this mindless bong head a household name.
It’s a minimal role. Blink and you’ll probably miss him. Yes, that is indeed honored himbo Brad Pitt as the ultimate pot head, playing foil to a bunch of angry hitmen in Tony Scott’s take on Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. While not as hypersonic as the writer’s on realization of his own work, this amazing movie provides more than enough adrenalin to keep Floyd’s filtered high nice and nimble. Even in the face of an undeniable threat, this toasted troublemaker can’t help but go with the flow. Instead of a Vega Brothers film, Tarantino should create The Adventures of Floyd. Ultimate slacker stoner hijinx would definitely ensue.
The first question, right up front…is Ferris Bueller really a “slacker?” He’s capable of countermanding an entire Illinois school system, managed to get his hypochondriacal pal out of his sick bed and into his daddy’s forbidden sports car, is hooked up to the resident goddess, and makes Chicago his oyster all while playing hooky from both his principal and his parents. He has high tech gadgetry at his disposal (well, high tech for 1986) and can whip up a languid Loop audience into a stirring rendition of The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” complete with complementary Thriller choreography. So, does Ferris really fit the definition? Without a doubt.
No one knows what he does, except for drinking White Russians, hanging out, and bowling. No one understands his aesthetic, save for fellow rug connoisseurs. He ends up being an inept bagman, an even worse liar, and a lackadaisical friend to all around him, and yet The Dude - otherwise known as Jeffrey “the Other” Lebowski - is indeed the ultimate cinematic slacker. He gets by without said visible means of support and always has a cache of pals willing to put their life on the line to save him. His hippie dippy dynamic transcends time and space, making him both a reject from the ‘60s and an myth to all other eras after. Indeed, with his shaggy hair, dirty robe, and half-and-half soaked facial hair, he’s the decisive lazybones, a poster boy for the idle ideal in all of us.