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Back in 2003, I was living at home, wearing purple eyeliner to my boring service industry job and spending most of my time collaging. I had a fresh driver’s license and the thrill of rolling around in my mom’s car at night listening to the Raveonettes and using her Hollywood Video rental card to check out Marlon Brando movies was unparalleled.
The guy at the counter was a plump ginger with a long ponytail under his Hollywood Video-issued baseball hat who I suspected had a crush on me since I was the only teen coming in without my kid and buying the king size pack of jujufruits. I ignored his halting glances since I didn’t really start talking to boys until I was about 20, even ones I had no interest in.
One day, I checked out Slacker, because the case looked weird and I had just recently discovered that I was cooler than anyone I knew, having been educated at a prep school in which my peers’ interests ranged from the fall j. crew catalog to the spring j. crew catalog. I got home, popped in the VHS (earnestly) and got to work stenciling “London Calling” lyrics onto t-shirts I’d just picked up at the Gap on sale for $9.99.
Slacker was weird, I couldn’t really make sense of the characters and the lack of plot line got lost in my intense stenciling session– I later moved onto Bowie lyrics.
Eight (!!!!11) years later, my life is eerily (depressingly?) similar to that of my eighteen year old self. Despite my B.A. and having traveled the world, the only tangible element that’s different today from the scene described above is that I now use my mom’s Netflix account. And I know how to talk to boys now, but that’s a different story entirely. Tonight as I was sitting around making record cover journals, feeling inexplicably attracted to Ted Nugent, I decided to scroll through the Netflix collection, and Slacker caught my eye once again.
The film that I watched tonight, of course, is the same as the VHS I rented a thousand beers ago, but oh how my perception of it has changed. What once seemed like dreamy esoterica has since become the soundtrack to my own life; the characters, once just that, are now people I have met over and over, comprising my own anchor to post-collegiate reality. While I was completely engrossed in the film and finding myself in conversation with these people, a thought entered into my head: Is this movie making fun of us? Is Richard Linklater looking at 20-somethings who sit around drinking beer, talking about their lives and the world, politics and their relationships, with their friends and roommates and strangers, and deeming it all a waste of time? The film is called Slacker. Is the film’s thesis that we’re aimless, rootless, wasting our time and our potential to fulfill that great American myth of “making something of ourselves”?
As anyone with a hundred thousand dollar degree in Why The World Sucks and a barista job to prove it knows, “Our Generation” is the topic of a thousand porch/bar/breakfast PBR 30-packs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “slacker” as “a person regarded as one of a large group or generation of young people (especially in the early to mid 1990s) characterized by apathy, aimlessness, and lack of ambition”. They may have to alter the era included in their definition. Is it not “Our Generation,” the children of those hardworking model Americans, the baby boomers, that has been called out on a hilariously frequent number of occasions by the New York Times for being lazy, ego-driven, sext-crazed narcissists? Slackers, in the truest sense of the word? Intra-generational hand wringing abounds at the NYT as their op-ed columnists tell us to stay out of restaurants and save our money. In preparation for footing the bill for “Their Generation’s” gross mistakes, of course.
Every conversation over porch beers at noon on a Tuesday elicits the same conclusion: we’re not unmotivated, the ones pushing papers and paying their bills are. We’re the ones who are looking for something more, the ones who refuse to settle for what we’ve been given. We’re taking the path of least resistance, fighting with ourselves and everyone else for answers instead of with the TV over Dancing With the Stars.
And it turns out Linklater agrees: “Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.”
Slack on, “our generation.”