“The Dude” Manifesto
A recent New York Times article and reader comments centered on the validity of academically studying Joel and Ethan Coen’s film: The Big Lebowski.
Is the film culturally relevant and therefore worthy of rigorous analysis? Unequivocally the answer is yes, merely based on two facts: a.) rarified (cult) following built steadily from an unassuming release in 1998 and b.) brilliantly subversive, iconic characters.
Examples of the film’s unequivocal Popularity
- The Decade of The Dude
- The Slacker Prince
- 100 Greatest Movie Characters
- "The Top 50 Cult Films". Entertainment Weekly. May 23, 2003.
Four (there are more…) culturally significant Archetypes from the film
1.) “The Dude,” Zen, Survivor of corporate monopoly capitalism
The Dude is no “slacker prince.” He is much, much more. He is a triumphant survivor in the face of capitalism and its relentless, media-driven dogma proselytizing corporate servitude through work, debt and consumption. In the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ, The Dude is in the world but not of it. In the words of The Stranger (narrator) character in the film, “The Dude abides” – no matter what, who or how – he survives, like me, like you, like us – intermittently victim, survivor, Philosopher King , bowler, pothead, American. But unlike most of us, The Dude rarely sacrifices humility or humanity despite living in a dehumanizing world where pet dogs exhibit greater honesty and awareness than most people.
2.) Maude Lebowski as Artist
Maude’s artist archetype is insufficiently realized in the film (to serve brevity and continuity in the story) but remains obvious and therefore recognizable. Thus, as “artist” archetypes I shift focus to the Coen brothers themselves. The Coens’ art is a legitimate means to challenge the hypocrisy of the status quo. But is it effective? Does it change anything? So far, no good! Perhaps that’s why Joel and Ethan poke so much dark-hearted fun at themselves, their religion and their countrymen. Theirs is comparatively high art – serving as both entertainment and therapy.
3.) “Walter” the Pragmatist
Walter’s angry, but religiously compliant. Like America, he’s basically lucky – but it’s mostly only made him fat and lazy. He knows there’s more to life, but doesn’t know how to get it. His talent has been wasted generating a series of base hits rather than risk swinging for home runs. As such, he’s steeped in a kind of hopelessness and self-resentment. So, like Glenn Beck (or me), he judges mercilessly and self-righteously. He’s very good at it too. The pragmatist prefers brutal honesty, but will occasionally lie if it serves the “right” (his) cause. If pressed (as by Bunny’s Nihilists) he can attack or defend -- mostly harmlessly – unless you’re silly enough to fall for rhetoric over substance. Unfortunately, we Americans mostly are.
4.) Jeffrey “The Big Lebowski” and the Fraud of capitalist “achievement”
In 80 years, the capitalist fraud archetype has never been as obviously manifest in American life as now, in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ spectacular September 2008 collapse and subsequent Wall Street bailout by Congress and the Federal Reserve.
As I write this, the bone marrow of every working American (and at least the next two generations) both masks and protects the apocalyptic incompetence and profligacy of Wall Street and Washington – a simultaneously epic and tragic poem consisting of some 30 TRILLION verses.
Inheritance, whereby the moneyed aristocracy transfers its title (wealth) to subsequent, mostly jejune, generations is nothing short of a crime against humanity. Like Wall Street and Washington, the Coens’ Mr. Jeffrey Lebowski neither earns nor deserves his wealth or princely mansion. Like too many American “leaders” he gets it the old fashioned way: through inheritance or simply cheating – embezzling from his wife’s charitable foundation in the same way Wall Street embezzled billions in 2009 bonuses from average working Americans.
America is past due for a modern day Magna Carta between working people, the idle, trust-fund rich and greedy-by-nature corporations. Rarely has this need been more obviously or desperately portrayed than the simpering, pathetic, lame, yet self-aggrandizing Coen Brothers’ character, Jeffrey “The Big Lebowski.” A man that, all things being equal, couldn’t so much as carry The Dude’s jock strap.