The Importance Of Being Idle, as told by Richard Linklater
I love the Richard Linklater movie “Slacker,” and I love it with the knowledge that it doesn’t belong to me. A child of the ’90s is not meant to relate to it. It’s for the young adults of that decade, which was, in my mind, the coolest time to be a young person. I don’t like Nirvana, I’ll go ahead and get that out of the way as a non-reason the 90s were so cool. Nirvana is no cooler than Pearl Jam, and glamorizing early death is for morons that are bored with their lives. Fuck Nirvana.
The 90s were cool for reasons that Linklater’s “Slacker” captures in full bodied essence. The general mood was aimless and hazy, people weren’t nearly as self-important as they are now, and youth culture was at its peak. Think about it. Giuliani hadn’t touched New York City yet, and Harmony Korine came out with “Kids.” Winona Ryder was the coolest it girl of any period in time for reasons that I’m not nuanced enough to explain. Underground music meant shoegaze, hip hop, and post-hardcore. This is objectively the best kind of music. Objectively. Artists like Pavement, UGK, Slowdive, Daniel Johnston, Mogwai, MF Doom, and Cocteau Twins were laying the groundwork for what would turn into the big musical movements of the 2000s: indie rock and mainstream hip hop. These were the pioneers of our times! Everything about the generation I grew up in is derivative of 90s youth culture.
But anyways, I still really fetishize this vision I have of 90s slacker culture. The closest I’ve come to experiencing a sensation like this lies in my year living in Athens, Georgia. Slacker central.
I can get hard on myself for why I decided to start at UGA, but honestly, Athens is just the coolest town. There’s a little bit of magic there. For the most part, the people of Athens are the students and “townies” (the people that go to college and get so tied up in partying that they end up never leaving, ex: Michael Stipe, Kevin Barnes, and at least thirty landscape architecture majors that just won’t sign up for their last semester classes.) Athens is an oasis of non-pretentious indie bands, cheap rent, cheaper drinks, and goof-off behavior. While I lived in Athens, I did exactly that: I goofed off. And I did it well.
Athens is the type of place where it’s not uncommon to end your night surrounded by a group of strangers, eating feta fries at an all-hours diner. It’s not uncommon to roll out of bed the next morning, hungover, skip your classes, and walk to a friends’ house to find them drinking beer on their porch and join in. It’s not uncommon to find yourself taking a psychedelic drug on a whim there, because the repercussions of having hazy couple of days are never that serious. Drinks always cost less than $5, rent less than $500, and name a night: your friends band is playing at the 40 Watt Club. I recall one of my favorite nights, my friend Jack and I got into a lively discussion with a group of townies about the definition of post-9/11 post-modernism. I can confirm now that I was completely talking out of my ass, but I had a great time doing it. Another night, I found myself in a fraternity house at 3am with a couple friends and none of the brothers knew we were there. The next morning, we woke up feeling like millionaires as we looked at all the booze we stole from them. Athens is a place where there is always something going on, but at the same there is nothing.
This all seems inconsequential compared to my others posts. So does the movie “Slacker” compared to other movies, whereas it has no plot, no message, and no gratification in the end. That’s why it’s a perfect summation of how I feel about that year in Athens. “Slacker” celebrates slacker culture while poking fun at it. I don’t need my year in Athens to have a lesson for me to be glad it happened.
So many of the characters in “Slacker” remind me of my friends in Athens. They so would get in way too deep with JFK assassination theories. They so would get stoned all day in a hot room filled with posters of Karl Marx. They so would say something like “Why would we want to leave the house today? It’s like premeditated fun.” That kind of atmosphere that is so sleepy and paranoid is ubiquitous on state university campuses. Those feelings don’t seem to go together, but they really do. It’s easy to dismiss a world you’re too lazy and afraid to take part in. It’s attitudes like this that create a townie: someone with so much fear and animosity to the outside world, coddled by a complacent comfort with their current situation. A town like Athens is a slippery slope, and I’m glad I left for exactly that reason. Towards the end of my time in Athens, I was so slap happy that I was considering changing my major from journalism to marketing because it was easier. I didn’t put in any effort to find a summer internship, and I was getting drunk at least 4/7 nights of the week. It was too much of a good thing for a person that deviates towards laziness when given the option.
In the beginning of the movie, one character is talking a cab driver’s ear off about a dream he had. In this dream, he realizes how once he makes a decision, then, there exists an untold plotline to his life where he chooses the other option. This is an arresting and terrifying feeling. Though I feel certain in my decision to leave, I can’t help but wonder what my life would have turned into had I stayed in Athens.
“I’m living in this world. I’m what, a slacker?” One of the protagonists soliloquizes. “A “twentysomething”? I’m in the margins. I’m not building a wall but making a brick. Okay, here I am, a tired inheritor of the Me generation, floating from school to street to bookstore to movie theater with a certain uncertainty. I’m in that white space where consumer terror meets irony and pessimism, where Scooby Doo and Dr. Faustus hold equal sway over the mind, where the Butthole Surfers provide the background volume, where we choose what is not obvious over what is easy. It goes on…like TV channel-cruising, no plot, no tragic flaws, no resolution, just mastering the moment, pushing forward, full of sound and fury, full of life signifying everything on any given day…”
What a quote. Pop culture is everything to young people, but we see right through it too. We see all the problems of the world, but feel so powerless to do anything about them. So we just kick it when we can, while we can.
I only indulged my slacker tendencies for a year, but when I’ll think back on my college experience, I’m certain that those fuzzy memories from Athens, Georgia will come to mind before anything else. This is why I envy the young adults of the ’90s. It seems like that entire generation was stupefied by the idea that there was anything better to do than just hang out with your friends while you still could, before adulthood finally reaches you.