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A screening of The Big Lebowski goes sideways
I love The Big Lebowski. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to long-time readers of Situation Normal. My newsletter has as many Lebowski references as a bowling alley has pins. Once, I even wrote a story about pretending to be Marty Ackerman, an unseen character from the movie, to fool a tarot card reader who performed at Christina’s birthday.
My love for The Big Lebowski shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers of my novel, either. Not Safe for Work is a Chandleresque mystery wrapped inside of a stoner comedy. Some people call this genre mashup “slacker noir.” But even before that term was coined, I knew I wanted to tell stories about amateur sleuths who’d rather do anything else—go bowling, drink white Russians while practicing Tai chi, give their apartment manager notes on their dance quintet—than get dragged into this corrupt world.
But my love for The Big Lebowski goes beyond the realm of the arts. I see wisdom in The Dude, and I’m not alone. Since the film’s 1998 release, more than a few fans have converted to Dudeism.It’s not exactly an organized religion, or even a disorganized one, but Dudeism is an ethos—a way of being a human in a world that is often inhumane. Here’s a description of the Dudeist philosophy:
The Dudeist belief system is essentially a modernized form of Taosim stripped of all of its metaphysical and medical doctrines. Dudeism advocates and encourages the practice of “going with the flow,” “being cool headed,” and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, believing that this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature and the challenges of interacting with other people. It also aims to assuage feelings of inadequacy that arise in societies which place a heavy emphasis on achievement and personal fortune. Consequently, simple everyday pleasures like bathing, bowling, and hanging out with friends are seen as far preferable to the accumulation of wealth and the spending of money as a means to achieve happiness and spiritual fulfillment. As the Dude himself says in the film: “the dude abides,” which essentially just means one should relax, enjoy the simple pleasures of life, be generally tolerant of others, maintain equanimity in the face of adversity, and encourage others to do the same.
Am I a Dudeist? On my better days, yes. I tend to go with the flow. I try to stay cool headed, especially when the situation gets hot. I work hard, but I see value in taking it easy. Above all, I abide.
But this past Sunday, my Dudeism was put to the test in the unlikeliest of places. In honor of the 25th anniversary of The Big Lebowski, the film was re-released in theaters. Naturally, Christina and I bought tickets, and we encouraged our friends to do the same.
The vibe at the AMC theater in Burbank was about what I expected. There were a few people wearing tattered brown bath robes, just like the Dude wore in the film. Other fans wore The Dude’s cardigan. Christina and I thought about reprising the Ackerman costumes we wore for Halloween one year, but since Cynthia and Marty Ackerman don’t actually appear in the film, and since you can’t bring a show dog, even with papers, into a movie theater, we figured the joke might get missed. Instead, we wore our favorite Lebowski t-shirts. My t-shirt read: “Lebowski 2020: This aggression will not stand, man.” Christina wore her “Little Lebowski Urban Achievers” t-shirt. Going in to the movie, it felt like we were in good company.
But as soon as the film began, we—and here I’m using the the royal we, you know, the editorial—had a problem. The problem was a man in the row behind me. He was talking, which is always a rude thing to do in a movie. But he wasn’t asking questions about the plot, or telling his friend to pass the Milk Duds, or even talking on the phone. All of that would’ve been terrible. But what this man was doing was unforgivable. He was quoting, verbatim, every single line of the movie. And he was loud. Like outside voice loud.
“Shut up!” said a woman in front of us.
“This isn’t a quote-along, man,” said another voice in the darkness.
For the next minute or so, the man behind us was quiet. But as soon as Woo finished peeing on The Dude’s rug, the man behind us began talking again. He wasn’t as loud this time, and he didn’t say every single line this time. But his second act was even worse than his first act because he said every single punchline—of which there are many in The Big Lebowski—a half-beat ahead of the characters in the film.
By way of example, just before Walter Sobchak pulls out his gun and says, “Smokey, my friend, you are entering a world of pain,” the rude man behind me would say, “Smokey, my friend, you are entering a world of pain.”
For Lebowski fans, listening to some asshole step all over the Coen brothers’ dialogue is a world a pain. Throughout the movie, the audience continued to shush the man, but he wouldn’t stop. He stepped on all the classic lines:
Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!
Smokey this is not ‘Nam, this is bowling, there are rules.
I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. You know? That or His Dudeness, or Duder or, you know, El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.
The man, in the parlance of The Dude, was a human paraquat.
A typical movie audience might’ve escalated the situation with the human paraquat. Popcorn might’ve been thrown. Theater management might’ve been summoned. Had there been a Walter Sobchak among us, things might’ve turned violent. But the people who come out to see a 25th anniversary screening of The Big Lebowski are not typical, and we are certainly not adherents to the tenets of Sobchakism. We are Dudeists, and even when confronted with an insufferable human paraquat, we will try to go with the flow, try to stay cool, try to take it easy, and above all, we will abide.
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I love writing Situation Normal! When I say I’d do it for free, I’m not kidding. For the first two years, I didn’t take a dime, or a doge coin. But carbs and bad life decisions can only take you so far in the humor game. Thankfully, Situation Normal also runs on the generosity of paid subscribers, like:
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Don’t Get Fucked
In case you missed it, I wrote about doing our taxes this year. Like everything else in my life, taxes are a source for humor, even if the experience isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. You can read that story here👇
The editorial calendar for Situation Normal has a weird kind of poetry this month. Last Sunday, I wrote a story titled “Don’t get fucked this tax season.” Next Sunday, I’m publishing another Smutty piece about a woman who owns an adult novelty store in Mississippi. I don’t have a title for the story yet, but given the nature of the business, I probably could call my interview “Get Fucked.” I’m not going to do that. But if I did, there’d be something poetic about Situation Normal advising its readers to avoid getting fucked one week, then telling them how to get fucked the next week. ANYWAY, be on the lookout for next week’s interview with Tami Rose.
Have you read my slacker noir? You should!
Obviously, I’m just trying to sell my book here, but if Situation Normal makes you laugh, there’s a 420% chance Not Safe for Work will make you laugh too.
Stick around and chat!
You know the drill. I’ve got questions, you’ve got answers.
Are you a Lebowski?
Why do people talk in movie theaters? All theories welcome, especially if you’ve got an unhinged theory to share.
Do you talk during movies? What’s wrong with you?
What are your strategies for dealing with a human paraquat?
See: “Dudeism, the faith that abides in The Big Lebowski” in The Guardian