Monday 19 August 2019

How The Big Lebowski inspired Boris Johnson

The Dude from The Big Lebowski
The Dude from The Big Lebowski
Boris Johnson

The Dude no longer simply abides. Now he has taken up residency at 10 Downing Street. That was the rather surreal takeaway from Boris Johnson's UK Conservative party leadership victory speech this week.

With cameras clicking, and the world's media looking on, Johnson appeared to go out of his way to reference 1998 cult Coen brothers classic, The Big Lebowski.

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Even for the larger-than-life Brexit champion, it felt a stretch. He anointed himself as the acronymic 'Dude' - He would "Deliver Brexit, Unite the party, Defeat Jeremy Corbyn and Energise the country".

D.U.D.E - what could be simpler?

Johnson knew perfectly well what he was doing of course. The idea of the 'Dude' was crystallised by the Coen Brothers in The Big Lebowski, where Jeff Bridges plays a layabout for whom taking it easy (and wearing a dressing gown in lieu of pants) represents a personal philosophy.

What is a dude? He is always relaxed. He never becomes flustered. The 'Dude' has been described as a "lazy deadbeat". A kinder reading would be that he has raised living in the slow lane into a quasi-religion.

The Coens based the Dude on their movie producer friend and writer Jeff Dowd. "He's a character who's very loyal to his friends, but in some ways, he's a real intellectual drifter," said Dowd, when asked to sum up the essentials of "Dude-ism".

"A person who doesn't really care what people think about him. I mean obviously, if it's the middle of night, and you're in Ralph's [a 24 hour convenience store] in your robe and jellies, then obviously you don't care all that much about what people think of you. He's a character that sees the truth."

It's clear why Johnson would be drawn to the Dude and the philosophy of Dude-ism. Through his life, he has projected a heightened scatter-brained quality. He will never be mistaken for a fantastic orator nor a great political thinker.

But he has a scruffy, shambling presence. And in the UK, where posh eccentricity is admired if not fetishised, this has done its bit to spring him to the highest office in the land.

How very clever it all is. With his speech this week, Johnson underlined his supposed rumpled likeability while distracting from the impossible mission he has set himself of achieving Brexit without devastating the British economy. Who, after all, could dislike the Dude?

He isn't the only one to see the wisdom of the Dude's ways. The Church of the Latter-Day Dude is a quasi-fake religion that has sprang up to honour the Dude and his principles. It boasts of being "the slowest growing religion in the world", but has nonetheless ordained over 100,000 "Dudeiest" priests (Johnson is not believed to be among their number). There's even a Dudeist 'Bible' - The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski.

"We, the Dudeists, in order to form a more perfect groovin', establish just taking it easy, and promote inner tranquillity, do ordain and establish this guide on abiding," the sacred tome begins.

"For in this world, there are two paths you can go by.... There's the uptight way and there's the Dude way."

The Big Lebowski didn't invent "Dudeism" so much as clarify what it meant to be a Dude (or Dudette... though really, one can nurture the Dude within regardless of gender, creed, ethnicity or dressing gown preference). The term has been in circulation in the United States since 1870s when, as a derivation of "yankee doodle dandy", refers to a fashionable dresser.

Dudes were a feature of New York cafe society in the late 1800s and seemed to have been the equivalent of the modern hipster. The descriptive duly went mainstream through the 20th century. And yet, in popular culture, dudes languished until 1969 when Henry Fonda in Easy Rider made history by using the word on screen for the first time.

It later became the linguistic currency of Wayne's World and Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. And then, in 1996, "dude" had its moment of crowning glory in The Big Lebowski. "I think there's a little dude in all of us," Jeff Bridges told NPR in 2008. "That's probably why I like him, because I see a lot of myself in the guy."

So do we all. Boris Johnson, in particular, it seems.

Irish Independent

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