The slacker is Generation X boiled down into a single film trope. Coming off the slick and soulless 1980s, an entire generation gave up, turned up the volume and lit a joint.
To baby boomers and millennials, slackerdom represents everything that was wrong with the apathetic, directionless, could-do-better, plaid-wearing, bong-blitzing ’90s. Depending on your standpoint, the slacker’s mumblings could be interpreted as the serene utterances of an enlightened being or the inane hypothesising of a total loser. Wisdom is in the ear of the beholder. Or something like that.
As Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused turns 25 this month, there’s no better time to cast our minds back at cinema’s great disaffected. Note that they’re all men. There’s a whole other essay that could be written about that.
10. Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar (Wayne’s World)
Wayne and Garth are prime work-shy, bumbling slackers who’d be much higher on this list but for one crucial fact: they actually manage to put on a music festival. Billy McFarland will tell you just how difficult that is to achieve. That kind of get-up-and-go is severely frowned upon in the slacker world.
Most slacker-y moment: It’s got to be the Bugs Bunny conversation on the hood of Wayne’s car. Busy people do not have the time to dwell on such things.
Best quote: “I once thought I had mono for an entire year. It turned out I was just really bored.”
9. Rob (High Fidelity)
Rob is an energy vampire, a weary shuffle in human form, a mumbling, navel-gazing record store slacker who should have grown out of all of that by his age. To fellow slackers, he’s a role model, crafting a world that allows him to sit around making mixtapes for girls who will quickly outgrow him while he obsesses about reorganising his record collection. What a life.
Most slacker-y moment: Imagining that he’s brutally assaulting his ex-girlfriend’s new age beau (Tim Robbins) because there’s just no way that he’d ever have that kind of energy in real life.
Best quote: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
8. Cliff Poncier (Singles)
If Singles was the precursor to Friends, then that would make Cliff the Joey Tribbiani of the Seattle grunge scene. Frontman of the wonderfully titled ‘Citizen Dick’, Cliff’s directionless idiocy and egotistical buffoonery is tempered by a well-hidden soft side. He gets bonus grunge slacker points for having three members of Pearl Jam in his band (Eddie Vedder provided Cliff’s vocals) and hanging out with Chris Cornell.
Most slacker-y moment: His romantic gesture of a new car stereo which instead shatters all the glass in his girlfriend’s car. Decent low end takes precedence over windows.
Best quote: “‘Touch Me, I’m Dick’ in essence, speaks for itself, you know… I think a lot of people might think it’s actually about, you know, ‘My name is Dick, and, you know, you can touch me,’ but, I think, you know, it can be seen either way.”
7. Randal Graves (Clerks, Clerks 2 etc.)
When I was 18, I worked in a video store with a guy called Gerry. Gerry’s antics included destroying any video I liked, playing The Birthday Party at ear-splitting volume to drive customers away, and switching the labels between soft porn and Barney anthologies. Every video store has a Gerry and Clerks’ is Randal Graves: aggressively lazy, odiously obnoxious and utterly convinced of his superiority.
Most slacker-y moment: The whole film is just one long slacker-y moment from Randal but his Return Of The Jedi monologue is the kind of useless theorising that only comes from having too much time on your hands.
Best quote: “Everyone who comes in here is way too uptight. This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.”
6. The Lone Rangers (Airheads)
Nothing defines slackerdom quite so succinctly as a desperately average, workshy band trying to find a quick route to the top. Meet The Lone Rangers (Brendan Fraser on guitar and vocals, Steve Buscemi on bass, Adam Sandler on drums), a nonsensically titled power trio whose fool proof shortcut to fame consists of hijacking a radio station and forcing them to play their single on the air.
Most slacker-y moment: Bringing their demo tape on an obsolete format and then accidentally setting fire to it.
Best quote: “I’m average and screwed up enough that I might just write a song that will live forever. And then it’s all going to be worth it.”
5. Jay and Silent Bob (Clerks, Mallrats etc.)
Jay and Silent Bob take slackerdom to its extreme, spending their days hanging around outside convenience stores, malls and fast food restaurants where they deal drugs, attempt to intimidate the locals and generally contribute less to society than anyone since society began. Silent Bob can’t even be bothered to talk.
Most slacker-y moment: Their entire lives.
Best quote: “You know, sometimes I wish I did a little more with my life instead of hanging out in front of places selling weed and shit. Like, maybe be an animal doctor. Why not me? I like seals and shit. Or maybe an astronaut. Yeah. Like, be the first mother**ker to see a new galaxy, or find a new alien lifeform… and fuck it. And people’d be like, ‘There he goes. Homeboy fucked a Martian once.’”
4. Dale and Saul (Pineapple Express)
Seth Rogen has always excelled at schlubby slackers, but Dale is his masterpiece, a vortex of ambition who bumbles his way into a plot straight out of a Lethal Weapon film. Saul, his witless companion, is the dictionary definition of a slacker, sitting around smoking pot and watching YouTube videos. If we’d had the latter in the ’90s, we’d never have even graduated from school.
Most slacker-y moment: The “trifecta joint” that Saul creates is both a feat of engineering and the most slacker-y thing anyone has ever done.
Best quote: Saul: “I wish I had a job like that. Where I could just sit around and smoke weed all day.”
Dale: “Hey, you do have that job. You do sit around and smoke weed all day.”
Saul: “Hey, you’re right. Hey, thanks man.”
3. Wooderson (Dazed & Confused)
There’s a reason every slacker is nostalgic for their school years. No other time in your life is more perfectly suited to goofing off and getting high. To the kids in Richard Linklater’s hazy-eyed paean to the late 1970s – and those of us watching it – Wooderson seemed like the coolest guy alive. To anyone with an iota of ambition, he’s maybe the biggest loser on this list, stuck in permanent adolescence, railing against ‘the man’ and hitting on high school girls.
Most slacker-y moment: His anti-motivational speech to Pink on the football field. This man’s advice should never be heeded.
Best quote: “Let me tell you this, the older you get, the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.”
2. Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure etc.)
Is it harsh to include Bill and Ted? Yes, they are about as useless as a chocolate toaster, have the motivation of a heavily sedated sloth and boast the intelligence of a breezeblock, but they do save the world with their righteous riffs. Twice.
Most slacker-y moment: Quoting the lyrics from Poison’s über ballad ‘Every Rose Has A Thorn’ to God.
Best quote: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K”
1. Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (The Big Lebowski)
The previous nine entries on this list are all very fine slackers, but have any of them started a slacker religion? The Dude’s feckless dogma transcended the film that gave him life and found a home in the hearts and souls of actual slackers the world over via the creed of Dudeism. Also, thanks to him, bowling alleys remain profitable solely off sales of White Russians.
Most slacker-y moment: As if going shopping in slippers and a bathrobe wasn’t enough, The Dude excels himself by paying for a carton of half and half with a cheque.
Best quote: “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”