Why The Dude is The Dude

"What about The Dude?", you ask. It's true, there is  mention of The Big Lebowski from the original article. So, as Lebowski Fest is upon us (both in Kentucky and New York, at least), along with special events at my favorite local pub, it's a good time to talk about The Dude.

If you already know The Dude well, great (some of you will know him well enough be able to make his favorite drink, and know what to call him if you aren't into the brevity thing...). For those of you who don't, let me introduce him. His full name is Jeffrey Lebowski, a contentedly-unemployed man living in LA, where he regularly bowls with his pals Donny and Walter. His fashion is casual-casual, as is his demeanor. The actual plot revolves around a mistaken identity and The Dude's search for some compensation for a rug that is micturated upon, because the rug "really tied the room together."

Simply as an embodiment of the 60's counter-culture in LA, The Dude's moniker makes sense -- Before dude was widespread in the rest of the country it was likely popular among the Califormia counter culture (first beat, then hippies). But it's The Dude's lifestyle, underlying worldview and demeanor -- the stances he takes with others -- that really make his nickname appropriate. Of course, a lot of these are valued in the cultures that led to the rise of dude, namely surfers and skaters, and later teenaged men (or boys? I guess it depends on the guy). If dude is all about cool solidarity -- being friendly but not in an an entusiastic, bouncy, smiley, way -- then it fits with the ethos of these groups.

And so does The Dude. He just doesn't seem very enthusiastic, does he? About anything. He does get upset, especially when Walter, his very good friend, acts like, well, an asshole, or when his head is held in the toilet. Or, of course, when his rug is disrespected. But even in the latter two cases it is with a kind of resignation that stops at a verbal protest, mainly showing his own state of disappointment. The Dude has a lot of his stuff ruined, smashed, hit, burned, and other things in the film, but he always just registers this disappointment, and then moves on (except his fear of when the German Nihilists are going to cut of his "Johnson," which I cannot read without hearing them say it [chonsn]).

The Dude contrasts with  Walter, played by John Goodman, a quick-to-anger, profanity-spewing loudmouth ("Yeah, you're a loudmouth" "Shut the fuck up Donny!"). In fact it sometimes seems like he and Walter are always at loggerheads, but that could be mostly attributed to Walter's demeanor: confrontational ("You're entering a world of pain"), condescending ("amateurs"), and ever suffering in his righteousness ("Lady, I got buddies who died face down in the muck so you could enjoy this family restaurant!"). Walter does not know about resignation, or letting it go. Any confrontation must be be won, even if it means he really loses.

The Dude does not go along with everything, but the one time he does it is about trying to recover some recompense for a possession, and it is this one act that sets in motion all the the crazy bad stuff that happens to him (although one could argue that impregnating Maude may not have been totally unpleasant...). Finding the other Jeffrey Lebowski -- The Big Lebowsi -- is Walter's idea , and it issues from his overactive sense of justice ("And he has the wealth, uh, the  resources obviously, and there is no  reason, no fucking reason, why his wife should go out and owe money and they pee on your rug.  Am I wrong?"). So it is when The Dude does the most un-Dude thing he does in the film that gets him into trouble.

A pub here in Pittsburgh is having a Lebowski night Saturday (it should be pretty cool). One of the proprietors says it perfectly in this post, so I will quote:

What makes the Dude and Walter compelling characters is not their lifestyle, but their underlying world view, which is generally the same, despite drastically different personalities resulting from very different personal histories dating back to the late sixties.  As the movie's characters wrangle for their desired share of one million dollars, the Dude and Walter's world view comes into conflict with the varying ethos of the other characters in the movie, each of which represents a different generation, each of which represents a world view prevalent in LA in the late 80s and early nineties.  Although the Dude and Walter, like we all do, struggle to understand and remain faithful to their own ethos from time to time, they both always come back to their jointly held, grounded belief:  that at the end of the day, no matter how shitty the world around them is, they can always say "fuck it, dude.  Let's go bowling."  That world view -- i.e.  that it is best to leave the rich and powerful to fight their own power struggle -- is pure, and the movie makes that clear by juxtaposing it with the hedonistic greed of Jackie Treehorn, the hypocritical ambition of the "Big" Lebowski, the nihilism of Uli and his gang, and the pretension of Maude.  Things only go bad for the Dude, Walter and Donny when they chase after money.  They should have stayed at the lanes, where they have friends, lively conversation, good music, beer, "caucasians," and that good sioux city sarsaparilla.  It's not escapism on an emotional or psychological level.  It's escapism as an ethos -- a conscientious objection to material culture.

In the end, what matters to The Dude are his friends, as weird and messed up as they are. And he is loyal to them: He goes to his neighbor/landlord's horrible dance recital, and even shushes Walter during the performance. And the movie ends when Donny ends, and we see The Dude truly upset at the way Walter eulogizes his friend. The bowling lanes are where this friendship is most purely enjoyed for them, and it is the refuge from all the craziness of the rest of the world (and sometimes and interesting window on it, as embodied by "the Jesus"). It is a place of true homosocial closeness, just like the address term. This analysis nails it: "The core attraction of the movie is the relationship between the Dude and Walter. It is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the greatest portrayal of male friendship ever put on screen."

So The Dude is The Dude because he embodies everything that the address term means: laid back, go with the flow, let's all get along, don't strive too hard. Friends. Dude, I like your style.