Although they’ve been in prominence in the indie circles ever since their blood-soaked debut film Blood Simple (1984), the Coen brothers can even boast something more than an exceptionally successful body of work. As a matter of fact, Joel and Ethan have been able to shape Western pop culture in a way that no one could have ever predicted. And they did so through one of the most colorful and irreverent characters of all time, Jeffrey Lebowski, or even better, the man who wanted to be known as “The Dude.”
The reference to their debut film, though, is not a casual way to put things into perspective. In fact, to understand how these two laconic brothers from Minnesota got to tell the Dude’s story, it is necessary for us to look at their first film’s release.
…the Coens were repeatedly struck by a presence in particular, right there, in that bowling alley…
It was 1984 when Blood Simple came out, and an affable film distributor by the name of Jeff Dowd threw a party to celebrate the forthcoming release. Dowd at that time helped out to secure the distribution for the film, and as the deal was finally sealed, hundreds turned up at a fifties-style bowling alley in Santa Monica. Cast, producers, directors, and close friends of the Coens. But as the party was going on, the Coens were repeatedly struck by a presence in particular, right there, in that bowling alley that later went on to become the sacred temple of their story. That presence was Dowd himself in his messy attire. The brothers were struck by the confidence in his exceptionally casual being and his laid-back composure, and of course, they noticed that the man would start any conversation by asking the guests to address him as “The Dude.” And voila, the embryonic idea behind The Big Lebowski (1998) was born.
Over twenty years since its release, The Big Lebowski has inspired theme parties, an annual festival celebrated every March 6th (the day the film came out), private clubs, and of course, a religion based on The Dude’s philosophy. What we may or may not have witnessed during the course of these last two decades, therefore, is definitely more than a movie – it’s the genesis of a lifestyle, which ultimately turned into a religion.
Genesis of The Dudeism
Before getting into the mysticism stemming from what the film represents to its adherents, we should perhaps ask ourselves what’s so appealing about The Dude, and why his lifestyle became so iconic. Roger Ebert described it as “the Dude’s attitude” rather than the convoluted and ultimately irrelevant plot in which he is asked to take action. The Dude’s attitude is perfectly embodied in the opening image where a deep, affable, Western-accented voice-over accompanies a tumbleweed that rolls along the deserted streets of Los Angeles at night. The suggestion here is that if we stop pushing and forcing movement we will be open to a wide range of possibilities, just like the tumbleweed that goes with the flow. And that’s just what The Dude does, he just wants to go with the flow, and by doing so he unconsciously opens himself to a more meaningful life experience.
The Dudeism was accepted as a lifestyle first, and then it slowly assumed the connotations of a religion, ultimately turning into one. Its followers, who intuitively accepted Chinese Taoist and Ancient Greek concepts, while nodding to California’s laid-back lifestyle, joined a revelatory religion that has illuminated its U.S. founder, Oliver Benjamin, while he lived in Thailand in 2005. Known as Church of the Latter-Day Dude, the group counts an estimated number of 450,000 Dudeist Priests worldwide as of today. The Dudeism encourages a passive lifestyle detached from the standards of masculinity, machismo, and self-achievement that our beloved Western culture has administered to us in so many forms and shapes – mostly pill shapes. In contrast to that, this group believes that simple everyday pleasures like bathing, bowling, and hanging out with friends are seen as far preferable than the accumulation of wealth or fame as a means to achieve spiritual fulfillment.
Competing with Christianity Has Never Been a Prerogative
Even though the Dudeism has sometimes been associated with a gag or a mockery to religion due to the fact that its devotees refer to a Hollywood dark comedy a little too often to be taken seriously, its founder takes the underlying philosophy as a conscientiously articulated doctrine.
March 6 is The Day of the Dude, and according to the Dudespaper, A Lifestyle Magazine for the Deeply Casual, “the Dudeists recommend celebrating The Day of the Dude by getting together with like-minded Dudeists, drinking white Russians, watching the sacred film, and going bowling. This is the day when our founding text, ‘The Big Lebowski’, was released in the theaters. It’s also a day of great easy taking as we strive to do as little as possible. It’s our main holiday, so don’t be sacrilegious and work too hard at it.”
The Dudeism encourages a passive lifestyle detached from the standards of masculinity, machismo, and self-achievement…
“Money is power. Dudeists don’t tend to be the upper crust of society,” Benjamin said. “We’re never going to compete with the really wealthy religions like Christianity. Ideally, we’d like to help people find ways to earn money with less work, but of course that’s always a challenge. Fifty years ago, everyone thought that robots would be doing all the work for us and people would be living lives of leisure. That this has not come to pass is surely mankind’s biggest tragedy,” Benjamin laments, and us with him.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.