The Big Lebowski’s image of the American Dream falls afar from its traditional associations. The movie’s commentary on American society centers on the American dream and its anti-hero, the Dude, providing a counter-dimensionality created through the interplay of events and characters.
The Dude has never tried to achieve the American dream since he is aware that the ideal is actually an illusion people struggle to achieve, yet usually end up in frustration. His situation appears as a conscious choice, and he enjoys his personal dream – a rather simplified life in his little close community in Los Angeles. He is usually seen bowling, driving around, drinking White Russians –also chasing his rug. Unemployed, he does not seem to be looking for a job either. Even though he gives the impression of a man who marginalized himself from society, or hypothetically that of a hedonist, as the movie flows his complex character unravels within a different frame. His past as an intellectual activist in the 1970s and his statements throughout the movie explain his appearance as a misfit of American society.
Within the postmodern as late capitalism (in the Jameson sense), the Dude introduces a different pursuit of happiness to the people who feel lost among permanently shifting idea(l)s and facts. His anti-heroism subverts both the mainstream and its supposedly counter-cultural opposition.
1) The Antihero
The Dude “slips the expectations of an emotionally deranged society” (Ashe 2009:56). The Big Lebowski sets this dread within the urban maze of Los Angeles, paradigm of the contemporary capitalist city. L.A. imperatives of city life, but also in the aspirations it manufactures through the film industry--- aspirations which invisibly condition how so many of us live our lives […] The Dude, in Los Angeles, materializes through the film industry to embody the antithesis of this sort of aspiration. (Ashe, 2009: 56)
The dude’s character is mainly based on Jeff Dowd’s personality and past experiences by the 1970’s, who is currently a film producer and political activist. When he was a student at the university, Dowd got involved with SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) and became one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement in 1962 (cf Hayden, 1962). The statement’s aim was to debate and change the distorted perceptions of society, to bring along a consciousness against the apathy of the public; towards education, racism, (un)equality, “participatory” democracy, politics, the cold war and many other significant concerns of the time.
Dowd then joins the Seattle Seven in the early 70s, the leading group of the Seattle Liberation Front, which was an anti-war movement. The Seattle Seven was “charged with inciting one of the largest and angriest Vietnam War protests in Seattle” (Lippman 1990). Each seven of them was sentenced to six months in jail. Despite the remarkable effect they had, both the Port Huron statement and the Seattle Liberation Front trials ended in frustration.
Up to here, the fictional and historical Dudes share the same story. Afterwards, Jeff Dowd ends up being a film producer. However, the fictional Dude goes briefly into the music business and works as a roadie for Metallica, but he doesn’t appreciate the work ethics of the music sector. He figures out that nothing is ever going to change and he wouldn’t be satisfied with personal success or achievements either. He chooses his own way of life following his motto of ‘abiding’ and proudly appears as a non-achiever of the American dream; hence a misfit in American society.
Within the postmodern dynamics, the Dude’s fictional character inspires thousands of people today, especially the latest generations. As late capitalism has risen, “ an inverted millenarianism in which premonitions of the future, catastrophic or redemptive, have been replaced by the end of this and that (the end of ideology, art, or social class; the crises of...
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