Thursday, December 31, 2009

Friday fun on New Year's Day - The Big Lebowski is the subject of serious academic study

Ok, so there's no literal connection to legal writing, as Walter Sobchak would say, but the "Friday fun" column entitles me to some latitude.  If you're a fan of the Coen Brothers' film The Big Lebowski, then you'll really enjoy this recent article from the NYT entitled "Dissertations on his Dudeness."  And if you're not, you can probably stop reading now, man.  

The cult film that's already spawned a couple of books is also the subject of serious academic study including this collection of essays called “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies” published in October by the Indiana University Press.  In one essay, called "On The White Russian,"

Professor Craig N. Owens [who] teaches literature and writing at Drake University in Des Moines — divides the world into two factions: those who float the cream on their White Russians (“the floaters”) and those who mix it in (“the homogenizers”). He praises the Dude’s “middle way,” avoiding the hassle of “shaking and straining.”

At times Mr. Owens sounds as if he’s been hitting the minibar himself. He writes about how Leon Trotsky is “doubly implicated” in the White Russian, first because he helped defeat the anti-Communist White Russian army during the Russian civil war, and second because he later fled to Mexico, “Kahlúa’s country of origin.” Mr. Owens suggests that the Dude has a kind of “Trotskian positionality.”

The Times article also tries to answer the question:  Why has The Big Lebowski become "the decade’s most venerated cult film?"  Here's one explanation offered by the novelist Umberto Eco:

'What are the requirements for transforming a book or movie into a cult object?' Mr. Eco asked. 'The work must be loved, obviously, but this is not enough. It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan’s private sectarian world, a world about which one can make up quizzes and play trivia games so that the adepts of the sect recognize through each other a shared expertise.'

. . . .

[A] cult movie must be 'ramshackle, rickety, unhinged in itself.' He explained: 'Only an unhinged movie survives as a disconnected series of images, of peaks, of visual icebergs. It should display not one central idea but many. It should not reveal a coherent philosophy of composition. It must live on, and because of, its glorious ricketiness.'

That helps explain my attraction to other cults favs like Stranger Than Paradise and Repo Man (as well as help to date myself).  But what is it about "the Dude" that appeals so much to a younger audience?  

In another of this book’s essays, “Professor Dude: An Inquiry Into the Appeal of His Dudeness for Contemporary College Students,” a bearded, longhaired and rather Dude-like associate professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., named Richard Gaughran asks this question about his students: “What is it that they see in the Dude that they find so desirable?”

One of Mr. Gaughran’s students came up with this summary, and it’s somehow appropriate for an end-of-the-year reckoning: “He doesn’t stand for what everybody thinks he should stand for, but he has his values. He just does it. He lives in a very disjointed society, but he’s gonna take things as they come, he’s gonna care about his friends, he’s gonna go to somebody’s recital, and that’s it. That’s how you respond.”

Happy New Year, Dude.

For those of you still reading, here's a special New Year's Day bonus - a recently taped, short interview with John Turturro talking about inspirations for his character "The Jesus."

Happy New Year, dudes!

I am the scholarship dude.


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