Slacker, Orion Classics, 1991
From The Smart Set:
And so the torch has been passed to a new generation, or so the story goes. This year, the last of the millennials and the first of Generation Z (or post-millennials or iGen or whatever name the culture decides on) are entering the workforce, and analysts, commentators, and critics are using this transition to reflect upon the changing landscape of work at the end of the second decade of the 21st-century. Many of these articles have made a large splash in the cultural conversation — Anne Helen Petersen’s “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” comes to mind — but the discussion has also made clear a certain cultural amnesia exists about these attitudes. Case in point: CBS News ran a story on Petersen’s piece accompanied by a graphic that completely omitted Generation X from its list of generations since 1928.
Such a gaffe from a major news organization may appear surprising; however, it becomes less of a shock when one considers that, for many, Gen-X is defined not by work but rather by its aversion to it. The culture even resurrected the word “slacker,” a term used in World War I to refer to draft dodgers, to characterize the so-called aimless, apathetic youth of the 1980s. However, one thing these recent examinations of work in America make clear is that the culture is paying a price for ignoring the work ethic of Generation X. Turns out Gen-Xers were not avoiding work at all but were attempting to change America’s conception of labor altogether.
The best example of Generation X’s attitude toward labor is also one of its most significant artifacts, right up there with Nevermind and Straight Outta Compton: Richard Linklater’s film Slacker. Today the film, which was shot 30 years ago in the once-small town of Austin, Texas, demands to be read as a treatise about labor in capitalist America. Even though hardly anyone in the film is gainfully employed and almost no money changes hands, Slacker and its many slackers do not shirk work: in fact, they are preoccupied with labor and its meaning. In appropriating the culture’s pejorative name for Generation X for the film’s title, Linklater transforms the word’s meaning, ardently calling for a revolutionary reimagining of work in his own affable, unassuming way. For Linklater, the most important work in life is also the work American society respects and values least; however, engaging in this work is the only way one can awaken from their workaday slumber and find meaning and freedom in this brave neoliberal world.