Special Feature: Dazed and Confused

‘Generation Y’, filled to the brim with jobless university graduates and unemployed professionals are currently facing a very thinly-spread job market. According to the world’s media, what seemed like a very promising generation is now on the verge of becoming ‘lost’. Is it out of our hands?

Maybe so, but a dip into the past may well provide the escapist refuge within which to wait out this global slump. And with its light-hearted but thoughtful dialogue, its casual but thorough reference to all aspects of pop-culture, and its focused aim to entertain the younger generations, I propose a revisit to the American ‘Slacker’ films of the 1990’s as the perfect antidode for the 21st Century blues.

Considered by many as the two films that started the slacker revolution, Linklater’s Slacker (1991) and Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994) are very open to character identification. The protagonists in both seem to surf effortlessly upon a sea of consciousness, with each seemingly redundant conversation as in-depth and heated as the last. In the case of Slacker, the viewer is almost made to feel inadequate in the presence in the film’s ensemble cast; as Linklater states himself, these characters, ‘have their reading material in place.’

Smith presents us with a more light-hearted approach; films such as Clerks and Mallrats (1995) fill their screen with comic-book nerds, toilet-humour and explanations of crude sexual acts e.g. ‘snowballing’. Despite this, the films’ dialogue and reference-heavy scenes are still rich pickings for the educated viewer, helping to create a niche (if relatively small) target audience.

Following the Slacker genre’s inception in the mid 90s, titles appeared containing characters suffering from the same occupational misfortune, exploring central themes based around the concept of ‘self-worth’ and utilizing a distilled Hollywood aesthetic used to push either the film’s romantic or comedic content further. The genre’s growing popularity can be seen as a double-edged sword, especially when considering the ‘slacker-striver’ structure (‘boy’ meets ‘girl’; ‘girl’ makes a man out of ‘boy’; ‘man’ thanks ‘girl’). However, recent additions to the genre (e.g. Knocked Up [2007]) have proved just how enjoyable this concept can be.

When looking at the later work of Kevin Smith, the key to the director’s consistent success lies in a neat balance of the intellectual, funny, and romantic elements of the genre. In Mallrats, we once again see a celebration of the ‘slacker’, albeit in a self-referential, ‘tongue-in-cheek’ style; the verbally confrontational Brodie (Jason Lee) successfully defeats the physical and occupationally successful Shannon (Ben Affleck) to win the affections of Rene (Shannen Doherty), who finally gives in to his ‘Sega-boy’ charm.

With characters ranging from Beavis and Butthead (Beavis and Butthead [1993]) to Lelaina and Tray (Reality Bites [1994]), what the American ‘Slacker movie’ provides for an English audience is a loose blend of escapism and realism, a touch of intellect, and an adoring absurdity. It gives us a chance to relieve our stress with a collection of ‘odd-ball’ characters who may well remind us of old friends (e.g. Dazed And Confused [1993]) as well as allowing us to relate to the themes and concepts explored within (e.g. confused identity in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion [1997]).

Further, more hybridist examples of the genre have often taken more of a purely ‘comic’ approach, allowing for a different kind of ‘slacker-celebration’; these films often favour characters devoid of logical thought such as Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World (1992) or Harry and Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber (1994), or a rejection of traditional narrative/cause and effect structure (e.g. the Cohen brother’s fantastically meandering study of Jeff Bridges’ iconic ‘Dude’ in The Big Lebowski [1998]). Never-the-less, all ‘Slacker movies’ arguably share the same ultimate goal; to relax their audience into a giddy, care-free haze, be it ‘herbally-assisted’ or otherwise.

Ricky Clark