Off the Beat: Welcome to Dude-ville


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Correction Appended

The first time I watched "The Big Lebowski," my knee-jerk response was, "What the hell?" For those of you who have never seen it, here's a brief description of the plot: these dudes come and pee on the Dude's rug (which totally tied the room together), so the Dude, i.e. Jeffrey Lebowski, a burnout living on unemployment in L.A. during the early 90s, and his best friend Walter go to find the other Jeffrey Lebowski-the rich one-in Pasadena. The Dude wants the rich dude to replace the rug-that-totally-tied-the-room-together because those dudes that peed on that rug thought that the Dude was the rich dude; next thing, the rich dude's wife, Bunny, gets "kidnapped," and somehow this is all related to nihilists, bowling and porn.

"The Big Lebowski," a 1998 film by the Coen brothers, is one of those movies that's better the second time-and the third time, and the time after that. It's the only DVD I own. I stole a copy from Blockbuster. I rarely re-watch anything, but I've watched the whole slew of bowling scenes and "vaginal art," beginning to end, in every state of mind I've ever been in. I've watched the movie while having sex. See, what happens is each time you watch "The Big Lebowski," it starts to make sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that there are academic symposiums centered on the film and annual "Lebowski Fests" around the country.

The first fest and symposium both started in Louisville, Kentucky. I'm not sure why that is, but I guess Louisville is the Lebowski capital of the world. According to the Lebowski Fest Web site, the concept of the festival was hatched at a tattoo expo in Louisville by some guys selling t-shirts and swapping quotes from the movie. The festivals typically last two days long and are populated by of a bunch of "Achievers," as the Web site calls fans, named after the "Lebowski Little Achievers," a group of underprivileged children for whom the rich Lebowski acts as a benefactor (to feed his own ego, of course).

The Achievers dress up as all things Lebowski, from bowling pins to Saddam Hussein, who makes an appearance in a dream sequence of the movie. The first night of the festival, there's a showing of the film and the second night, a bowling party. Unfortunately, the festival in San Francisco happened back in July, but cities like New York will get their fill later this month.

While I've attended neither fest nor symposium, I've read and heard my fair share of commentary about the film. I read an essay once in which the author analyzed the various types of men in "The Big Lebowski." (Even the name of the movie suggests a phallace-the big Lebowski, implying that there is also a small Lebowski.) The essay, "Logjammin' and Gutter Balls," was assigned in an English class at the University of Vermont. The essay asserts that the Dude is the perfect man. He's the middle way of masculinity-all others are too much of one thing or another. The rich Lebowski compensates for impotence with trophies on his wall and a trophy wife who's probably in someone else's bed. Walter screws himself over with his own testosterone-charged aggression. The Dude goes with the flow-the Dude abides.

Some even choose to abide by the Dude. There's a religion called "Dudeism," which unsurprisingly rhymes with Buddhism. According to, principles of Dudeism include peacefulness, right thinking and "not worrying about shit because life goes on."

As you can tell, there's more to "The Big Lebowski" than one can gather from a single viewing of the film. And just as a cult following has grown around the movie, the movie is centered on an individual who inspired its main character. The Dude is based on Jeff Dowd, an independent film producer from Seattle who the Coen brothers met once and became enamored enough with to make a movie about him. I heard from someone that Dowd's kids went to see the movie, and when they saw the Dude, they asked, "Why is that guy wearing Dad's clothes?"

I was introduced to the Dude by this really short guy I went to high school with who I would say is Dude-like in a few ways. A bit more antagonistic than the Dude, this guy once wrote an essay called "Fucking Shit" in which he compared the words "fuck" and "shit" just to piss his English teacher off. (The Dude never would've done that. He just wouldn't have turned a paper in at all.) The main thing this guy had in common with the Dude was that he was a total stoner. He introduced me to that, too.

Correction: Friday, September 4, 2009
An earlier version of this column misspelled the title character's name, Lebowski, and the Coen brothers' surname.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Ask Tess to go bowling with you at [email protected]

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