Academic journal article Text Matters

In Praise of Slacking: Richard Linklater’s Slacker and Kevin Smith’s Clerks as Hallmarks of 1990s American Independent Cinema Counterculture

Academic journal article Text Matters

In Praise of Slacking: Richard Linklater’s Slacker and Kevin Smith’s Clerks as Hallmarks of 1990s American Independent Cinema Counterculture

Article excerpt

Ronald Reagan once joked: "It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?" (Berecz 136). Enjoyable as the quip is, its opening premise could not be more wrong. A rather drastic example of how deadly work can be is the number of post office massacres in America in the 1980s and 1990s, the most tragic of which in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986 took place during Reagan's presidency. As Mark Ames observes, these killing sprees, as well as the majority of the 1990s office shootings, cannot be blamed on the mentally fragile perpetrators, lax gun control laws, and violent culture alone-"something deeper and unexplored in the culture was causing these murders to take place" (85, 84). Ames argues that most of the massacres can be linked, directly or indirectly, to the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 signed by Nixon as well as to Reaganomics, the economic tactics of the Reagan administration privileging the rich, creating an even bigger wage disparity, and enhancing new work regulations, some of which increased the already stressful atmosphere and "institutionalized top-down harassment" at the workplace (Ames 68, 71, 73-75, 77). "[A] recurring theme in rage massacres" which comes up during the interviews with people who knew the individuals responsible for the killings is: "He was stressed, yet he didn't talk about it" (Ames 86). "Even when the stress is too much," Ames adds, "the sufferer doesn't want to talk about it, since even admitting one's unhappiness or inability to deal with the stress is to be a loser" (86), and even more so in modern America. Of course, the killing rampages are not the only side effects of longer work hours and unfavourable working conditions. Americans generally seem not to know how to relax. "The United States, unlike a mere 137 other countries, has no annual leave statute on the books" (Robinson), and, consequently, Americans remain one of the most vacation-deprived nations in the world, which is directly linked to, among other ailments, a higher risk of heart attack and, unsurprisingly, death (Gini 5). The advance in technology has not solved the problem either, and Nixon's 1956 prophecy about a four-day workweek for Americans "in the not so distant future" never materialized (Honoré 188), as with the advent of the World Wide Web Revolution in the 1990s, which was supposed to create more free time, people actually started working more than before. "Anyone who has worked in the 1980s and 1990s," Ames observes, "knows that technology-through cell-phones, pagers, Blackberries, the Internet, and so on-has blurred the line between work hours and off hours" (95). Today, Americans deprive themselves not only of off hours and vacation time but also of "free time within the office: the traditional one-hour lunch break has fallen now to an average of twenty nine minutes" (95).

Luckily, the 1990s did not go down in American history only as the period of work-related mass murders, low-paying jobs, the doubling of required overtime work, and the Internet craze which failed to "free up the American worker to spend more time . . . with his or her family, at home or on vacation, reaping greater benefits for less and less work" (Ames 77, 95). To paraphrase Newton's third law, for every action there is bound to be an opposite reaction. The Transcendentalists in the 1830s, the Beats in the 1950s, and the Hippies in the 1960s are probably the three most widely known American movements which in their respective times rejected various social norms, most of all materialism, the traditional work ethic, and a stressful lifestyle. In the 1990s, American movie theatres were flooded with so-called slacker films. Such culturally significant works as Slacker (1991), Singles (1992), Wayne's World (1992), Reality Bites (1994), Clerks (1994), Kicking and Screaming (1995), Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Office Space (1999) all feature characters whose relation to work is rather unconventional. …

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