slackety-slack-slack-slackers
April 3, 2018 1:00 PM   Subscribe

"After Richard Linklater’s Slacker became an unexpected box-office hit in 1991, every major studio in the United States dropped untold amounts of money trying to clone its success — that is, to duplicate a film that cost $23,000 to make and whose entire raison d’etre was that it did not care about success. Some offerings, such as Cameron Crowe’s Singles (1992), succeeded in spite of their own distributors’ low expectations. Others, such as then “indie comic” (!) Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites, succeeded in spite of, or probably because of, their own craven cynicism. (There was also Threesome, Lord help us all.) These films relied, without exception, on two crucial tropes: the cynical cool of rejecting ambition and popularity, and the mopey, tortured Gen X man-child who embodied that cool." Rebecca Schuman writes for Longreads, You’ve Reached the Winter of Our Discontent: A half-assed elegy for the Cool-Loser Dream Boy of Gen-X cinema.
posted by everybody had matching towels (93 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I sincerely don't understand how Threesome lumps in with Slacker, Singles, and Reality Bites. Neither one of those dudes were a 'Cool-Loser-Dream Boy.'
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


I wondered about that too, and half-wonder whether the author is commingling 'Threesome,' which probably doesn't belong in this list, and 'Two Girls and a Guy' (which, if you squint, kinda might) (not to be confused with 'Two Guys and a Girl,' pka 'Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place'--there are no new ideas).
posted by box at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2018


Threesome is my entry in Brandy Jensen's question "did you ever watch something as a teen that you suddenly realized, while watching, you were too young for? mine were Faces of Death and also Kids". I'd also not group it with those other movies, but like I said I was too young to even enjoy it on a teenling being naughtily precocious level. But I definitely got it loud and clear that neither of the male leads in that movie were remotely cool after hearing them speak for more than a minute.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:21 PM on April 3, 2018


whether the author is commingling 'Threesome,' which probably doesn't belong in this list, and 'Two Girls and a Guy'

...

not to be confused with 'Two Guys and a Girl,' pka 'Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place'

Neither of which should be confused with Six Heads in a Duffel Bag, which was part of a parallel '90s film trend, i.e. violent/foul-mouthed gangster comedies.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:24 PM on April 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


The most amazing thing here is that anyone could have ever said "Hey, let's make a movie about a threesome and let's cast Stephen Baldwin," and not shit themselves laughing.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:25 PM on April 3, 2018 [30 favorites]


Mall Rats
posted by BYiro at 1:26 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


a parallel '90s film trend, i.e. violent/foul-mouthed gangster comedies.

I blame True Romance.
posted by box at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


Also I want to say that I feel extremely seen by this post and also that Gas Food Lodging, My Own Private Idaho, and Night On Earth were all cooler than Singles, Reality Bites, and Threesome.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2018 [29 favorites]


The most ‘90s conversation I can remember having was with a friend of mine who was *outraged* when I predicted that one day all of our favourite bands would be re-forming for cash-in nostalgia tours, and/or would just truck along getting less and less relevant (including his own beloved Pearl Jam), just like all the Boomer bands he hated so much in the Year of Our Lord, 1992. Not *our* bands, mannnnn. Not *our* generation, mannnnnn.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2018 [39 favorites]


Do you never rest? Fighting the battle of who could care less.
posted by gauche at 1:47 PM on April 3, 2018 [29 favorites]


I mean, if you want a picture of Gen X nostalgia and shameless cashing-in, imagine a copy of Ready Player One, stomping on the human face -- forever.
posted by gauche at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2018 [43 favorites]


then “indie comic” (!) Ben Stiller

Pretty fair at that point, I think. The Ben Stiller Show was, you know, cutting edge-ish.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Troy Dyer was never cool, he was just mean. I'm the exact age group they're talking about and I remember watching this movie at the cinemas and thinking, what an asshole. The movie really hasn't aged well. Also the Troy Dyers I knew never actually grew up to have wives and kids and Priuses, they just became greying surly Nice Guys in their forties who whine that no one wants to sleep with them after treating women like crap for twenty years. Because eventually even Leilani gets sick of his shit.
posted by Jubey at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2018 [18 favorites]


The Ben Stiller Show did predict Die Hard 12. We're only 7 away.

It seems to me that this era was before the corporate world learned how to harness the power of geek. I was surrounded by underachievers back then, and there weren't a lot of careers or even jobs to be had that would allow us the freedom to do what we liked on the side. Now I see lots of possibilities - some are handcrafted - artisanal, even - but they exist, nonetheless.

But I'm nursing a headcold, so it may just be the fever talking.
posted by knitcrazybooknut at 2:00 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Counterpoint: Lloyd Dobler. Lloyd may not want to buy anything that's sold or processed, etc., but he's a genuinely kind dude who is not "a guy."

I dunno, I don't blame millennials for being who they are, given the historical circumstances, but if I have to choose between ironic disengagement from capitalism and spending all my time seeking to monetize my every thought and feeling because I'm barely even conscious there's an alternative, I choose door A. You can possibly grow up from it. Where's the future in the other?
posted by praemunire at 2:01 PM on April 3, 2018 [29 favorites]


2305 words is a "long read"? Sheesh. In my day
posted by goatdog at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2018 [24 favorites]


The graphic with the words "THE 90s ARE OLD" in the corner makes me feel like I need to take a nap. I'll try reading the article after I wake up.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:18 PM on April 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


I saw Reality Bites for the first time at like 30 because it was on TV and my now-wife grew up watching it. This experience gave me the distinct impression that it's one of things that appeal to you if you first discover it at a A Certain Age, otherwise no.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'll always have a soft spot for Reality Bites because it gave us gay Steve Zahn practicing coming out, with Janeane Garafalo as his parental stand-in, and her mangled pronunciation of "PFLAG"
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:21 PM on April 3, 2018 [17 favorites]


ctrl+f Clerks = zero results

Huh. I guess maybe they weren’t cool losers, just regular ones. But still. Same bandwagon.

So anyway, the thing about Gen-X slackerdom is that slackerdom for slackerdom’s sake was a new phenomenon. This was the first post-draft generation, to whom “turn on, tune in, drop out” was not any sort of bold political statement, but just another option in life. Viewed through that lens, there’s maybe kinda something interesting to it.

Also, it’s important to note that while these are generally held up as the first big movies made by Gen-X about itself, using its own language, its own fashion, its own attitudes, without any outside-in out-of-touch-ness...the people making these movies weren’t slackers at all; they were hardworking nose-to-grindstone types with a solid work ethic and strong ambitions that they worked toward from a very young age. These are not the films they’re made out to be. They do not idolize slacker dudes. They mock them. The fact that Reality Bites was written by a woman seems like it might have been relevant to the article, yet Helen Childress’s name isn’t mentioned once.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on April 3, 2018 [23 favorites]


That said: why haven't the 90s aged gracefully? I think the 90s have aged just fine, on the whole, aside from maybe the whole "End of History" thing which barely permeated pop culture.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:22 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


The graphic with the words "THE 90s ARE OLD" in the corner makes me feel like I need to take a nap. I'll try reading the article after I wake up.

Please don’t make me do the Dazed and Confused math again. It’s just becoming too sad.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:24 PM on April 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


Please don’t make me do the Dazed and Confused math again. It’s just becoming too sad.

Well now I'm just going to cry myself to sleep.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:25 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Told you.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:28 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


It is entirely possible that, in the words of the angry mime in Singles, love does disappear. But more than love, cool disappears — not just as a measurable entity, but as a metric.

Geez, I fucking hope so. Cool is a 50/50 mix of "No, It's good that I'm an asshole," and "Create anxiety so that you will buy things to fit in/stand out."

Being, not un-cool exactly, but a-cool, is freaking awesome.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:31 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


That said: why haven't the 90s aged gracefully? I think the 90s have aged just fine, on the whole, aside from maybe the whole "End of History" thing which barely permeated pop culture.

90's movies illustrate how far we've come as a society since then. Times that are well within our living memory, and seem not that long ago, were actually just breathtakingly sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. And just fucking emotionally cruel and mean. That was somehow more acceptable then in popular culture. It's really weird in retrospect. Stuff that was still perfectly acceptable behavior then would now rightly have you being shown the door.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2018 [24 favorites]


the opening strains of “Two Princes” will come on. And he’ll know it’s a terrible song

Fighting. Words.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:46 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


Fighting. Words.

In Birmingham there lives the governor!
posted by thelonius at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2018


Where's the future in the other?

The future is maybe you get to make rent until capitalism finally crushes everyone and everything. Honestly, Gen-X nostalgia for slackerdom (which oh god do I share) will lead to us sounding like the Boomers criticising Millenials for choosing toast over mortgages if we’re not careful.

When Netflix inevitably remakes Party of Five if they have any honesty it won’t be a heart-warming tale of pulling together, it’ll be a neo-Dickensian look at the horrors of the gig economy.

Give the millennials a break, man, be cool.
posted by bonaldi at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2018 [11 favorites]


When I saw Reality Bites I totally thought it was Shortcuts and spent the whole film waiting for an earthquake that never came.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Fighting. Words.

Sounds like somebody’s a Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2018 [20 favorites]


Reality Bites works pretty well if you watch it as a satire of the attitudes of the mid-90s (and also, much of what we think of as "the '90s" is basically ... '91 to '96, maybe). Lelaina's documentary is terrible! They mock Jeneane Garafalo's character for having a stable job! I am glad this essay discusses how terrible Troy is because oh my god is Troy terrible.

(I was about the age when I should've watched Reality Bites when it was first out but I didn't watch it until much later, so that may color my feelings about it.)
posted by darksong at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


I was about the age when I should've watched Reality Bites when it was first out but I didn't watch it until much later, so that may color my feelings about it.

SAAAAAME, I was inundated with messages that it was the best and coolest movie for much of my late adolescence, but didn't see it until a few years ago, and I was blind with RAGE that I was somehow supposed to root for the most toxic of masculinities just because the movie implied I should.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 3:30 PM on April 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


But more than love, cool disappears — not just as a measurable entity, but as a metric.

Geez, I fucking hope so. Cool is a 50/50 mix of


my understanding is that "cool" came out of WW2 -- the ability to not lose your shit while all hell was breaking loose. In that context, I sometimes think we could use way more of it these days.

And for the record, Reality Bites is magnitudes better than the 80s version, St. Elmo's Fire, which actually makes it magnitudes worse, because St. Elmo's rapturous and absurd foolishness achieves absolute magnificence before it's done ...
posted by philip-random at 4:01 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


These films relied, without exception, on two crucial tropes: the cynical cool of rejecting ambition and popularity, and the mopey, tortured Gen X man-child who embodied that cool."

Oh, so like Mike Leigh's "Naked."
posted by rhizome at 4:29 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Cool story.
posted by box at 4:29 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Like I say every time the 90s comes up.. TOO SOON!
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:29 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was 19 in 1992. Someone told me Linklater was casting for his new film which was about "kids listening to Kiss in the 1970s" (Dazed and Confused). I was planning to go audition but I got to stoned/drunk to make it there. I was overqualified for the part. (This really happened).
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:36 PM on April 3, 2018 [32 favorites]


OK, but Lara Flynn Boyle though.
posted by signal at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


But a key thing to understand about a lot of the breathtakingly sexist, etc, etc artifacts of the 90s is that they were in fact strikingly less sexist than comparable seventies or eighties material. The nineties were the decade of Third Wave feminism, a very visible revival of feminism after the revanchist eighties. Ditto for the meanness of at least some nineties culture - South Park not so much, but the stuff that was at least sorta in touch with the counterculture, or monetizing the counterculture but not totally ill-informed.

When I read contemporary histories of the nineties, that's the thing that's missing - the early-mid nineties were a left wing time compared to the Reagan eighties. "Multiculturalism", for instance, has been justly criticized for its inadequacy, but I remember very, very clearly what a raging froth the right went into the minute that it was seriously suggested that Beloved be considered part of the canon. And the furor over Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead, which suggested that - gasp! - some folks just might not like white people, and with reason.

It may seem silly now to say, "in 1992, arguing that there needed to be more Black writers taught in high school was a radical position, honest", but it was - I was just starting to have political opinions around then and I remember those things more clearly than some of the stuff that happened in the GW Bush administration. (Ah, youth.)
posted by Frowner at 4:38 PM on April 3, 2018 [49 favorites]


Troy Dyer was never cool, he was just mean.

So I just watched this, and here's my take: Troy's neither particularly cool nor just mean. First and foremost he's a late adolescent barely-not-kid of a young adult who isn't fully formed, who is too smart for his own good, who has figured out the world isn't going to hand him anything for that along with exactly how bad his chances are of getting a hold on an ambition that he really wants. And he resents it. His nihilism isn't exactly wrong, but it isn't right either, nor is his light wry verbal abuse in the form of various potshots and, well, mooching. I don't think the narrative of the film takes any particular pains to be kind in its portrayal of him. Plenty of other characters recognize his shortcomings and land accurate criticisms.

So I don't think his arc is one of the breezy cool-loser who's redeemed by comfortably organizing his life around a blessed slacker ethos. I think he's a story of potential and privilege *almost* wasted on nihilism until he takes at least two criticisms seriously -- Lelaina's ("you wanna be in a band? Fine. Go ahead. Play everynight. Play three times a night! Don't just dick around the same coffee house for five years... I mean try at something for once in your life.") and Michael's ("Everyone dies all by himself" "If you really believe that, who you lookin' for out here?") and realizes, hey, wait a minute, if life isn't going to be just empty, maybe I need to let myself value something, and if I'm going to value something (like, say, music and Lelaina), maybe I need to grow up and actually act like it. Which he then tries to do.

I think you can argue that the film falls short of portraying that arc in some ways (show us more value-oriented Troy, maybe?), but I don't think you can argue it isn't a more accurate reading than Troy as Cool-Loser-Dream-Boy or Troy as 90s-Cool-But-Actually-Terrible-Person.

And maybe it's just me, but from where I sit, that's always been the Gen X thing over enshrining slacker-ism. You realize you have values beyond material success and social norms that you could see had failed the previous generation in some way, and you understand that a meaningful life involves figuring out how to live them out in some way, but it all feels so far out of reach at times, what do you do about it?

Gen X isn't the first or last generation to ask that question, and nobody always has the perch of young adulthood from which to ask that question, but the question is often current.
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:46 PM on April 3, 2018 [15 favorites]


What Frowner said. The battle over "ethnic studies" departments, for instance! Round one in trying to get my university to rename a major residential facility named after an enthusiastic promoter of slavery (a fight not won til last year, great work, young people of today)!

Also, while the present day is better on lesbian/bi women and trans women (a little, I'm sure not arguing it's great or anything), I'm frankly not sure it's less sexist. A lot of what passes for present-day feminism is a repackaged, defanged corporate version of 90s feminism.
posted by praemunire at 4:51 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


From T.F.A.:

The questionable artifacts that millennials have made canonical aren’t just not cool. They do not seem to place any value on being cool. It’s not cool to be a hipster, unless you’re one of those evangelical Christians with a rock worship team. It’s not cool to stay at an AirBnB — it’s just a cheaper way to cram all nine of your squad into one place. It’s not cool to be on Instagram; it’s just the gateway to monetizing your thinkfluence. Your most annoying friend does not object to Uber because it sold out and got too popular, but because of its litany of labor abuses.

That's cool.
posted by signal at 4:52 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


Also, I remember that Reality Bites landed in my social circle with a thud as an embarrassing and cynical attempt to monetize a phenomenon it didn't really understand. I seem to recall the reviews mostly leaning that way, too. I'm a bit surprised to hear that some folks our age took it seriously.
posted by praemunire at 4:55 PM on April 3, 2018 [16 favorites]


Yes, Jubey! Troy Dyer was never cool, he was just mean. . . .[the Troy Dyers] just became greying surly Nice Guys in their forties who whine that no one wants to sleep with them after treating women like crap for twenty years.

And god, how hard it was to be the person who knew that and was not just saying it to be cool.

ALSO. Sure, the Janeane Garofalos of the world did not use the phrase "toxic masculinity" but the manboys they directed their impotent snark at never felt lucky about--they just felt threatened by it and got more toxic.

Schuman's essay is a great reflection--and I struggle constantly with re-evaluating a lot of my youth (I'm about 5 years older than she is) in light of better social attitudes about feminism, masculinity, rape culture and the like. I want someone to write about what it was like to be recognizing toxic masculinity and having the thoughts about it before we had language for it and when it was not safe to seek out people who had the same thoughts.
posted by crush at 4:58 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


a parallel '90s film trend, i.e. violent/foul-mouthed gangster comedies.

I blame True Romance.


more Reservoir Dogs and/or Pulp Fiction (funny if you could remember to laugh), but yes, Mr. Tarantino rather kicked that door open
posted by philip-random at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2018


Millennials, like Gen Xers, are still plenty mean — but not in a “cool” punching-up way. They’re mean in a “sanctimonious” calling-out way.
I was never enough of-my-time to know whether this is an accurate summation, but I do know that the current culture does occasionally give me flashbacks to the sanctimoniousness of growing up in an '80s evangelical church.
posted by clawsoon at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


I did not care for the movie, which I saw several years after it came out, but this was at least partly due to my irrational hatred for Ethan Hawke. I am pretty sure I already loathed him before seeing this movie, but this certainly did nothing to persuade me I should like him.

However! The soundtrack was mostly very awesome, with the notable exceptions of "My Sharona" (that song ALWAYS gave me the creeps) and, of course, the inane song by Ethan Hawke. (Turns out my hatred is for his voice as well as his face.) I had it on cassette tape (!) and used to fast forward past those two tracks. I am not ashamed to admit how many times I rewound so I could listen to Lisa Loeb's "Stay" just one more time. And Juliana Hatfield! The Posies! Crowded House! Dinosaur Jr! U2 I already knew of course.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:22 PM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was all ready to dismiss this with a long-practiced slacker eye-roll, and then I read this passage:

Most of the Troys now probably have mortgages and children, upon whom they lavish a possibly unhealthy amount of attention and affection in clear renunciation of their divorced ’70s parents’ cigarette-and-landline-gabbing neglect. Like me, they probably spend most of their time looking for their kids’ cleanest pair of pants and trying to avoid the news.

That nailed me so cleanly that I'll just go ahead and hush my mush.
posted by ga$money at 5:37 PM on April 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


The real Troy Dyer sued Helen Childress (RB screenwriter) because he claimed that people thought he was really the real Troy Dyer. Nobody wants to be that guy.
posted by queensissy at 5:58 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


So are we're just not going to talk about Empire Records, then?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:14 PM on April 3, 2018 [12 favorites]


Nice Mr. Show reference in the title, btw.
posted by symbioid at 6:34 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


a parallel '90s film trend, i.e. violent/foul-mouthed gangster comedies.

...

more Reservoir Dogs and/or Pulp Fiction (funny if you could remember to laugh), but yes, Mr. Tarantino rather kicked that door open



Theory: Pesci in 'Goodfellas'/'Casino' is, essentially, the Adam from whence the rib was pulled.
posted by mr. digits at 6:35 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


I think we'd all be better off not talking about Empire Records. But Canadian director Allan Moyle's other 90's film? Pump Up the Volume? I'm surprised that one isn't mentioned, especially in light of the mention of Threesome in the article (of all movies... why not mention the Chase as it has just as much right as a 90's "youth culture" movie as the stupid Threesome). Pump Up the Volume echoes pretty soundly in the films that followed, especially with its hip soundtrack emulated by the likes of Singles and Reality Bites.

FWIW none of my circle thought much of Reality Bites. It was pretty phony. It reflected our reality as much as Stanely Kramer's R.P.M. must have to 70's youth. 1995's Kicking and Screaming on the other hand? Oh boy that one was like a f-ing documentary for us.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:44 PM on April 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


I fucking love Pump Up the Volume. Talk hard!
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:09 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


I think we'd all be better off not talking about Empire Records

Say no more.
posted by wildblueyonder at 7:11 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


1995's Kicking and Screaming on the other hand? Oh boy that one was like a f-ing documentary for us.

Gahhh, Kicking and Screaming is soooo much better than Reality Bites and one of the reasons for that is that the Cool Loser Dream Boy character in Kicking and Screaming is a minor character and not a character directly related to the love story, unlike Reality Bites where the Cool Loser Dream Boy character is clearly a major character and a love interest.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:20 PM on April 3, 2018


Pump Up the Volume echoes pretty soundly in the films that followed, especially with its hip soundtrack emulated by the likes of Singles and Reality Bites.

That was a great cassette! It has the best version of Wave of Mutilation.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:58 PM on April 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


So are we're just not going to talk about Empire Records, then?

Why did you clue these quarters to the floor?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:59 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


...did you ever watch something as a teen that you suddenly realized, while watching, you were too young for?

The Last American Virgin(1982)
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:05 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


The only 90s movie that really resonated with me on an identity level was Party Girl because raves.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:13 PM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


you guys. let’s not fight this close to rex manning day, please.
posted by palomar at 8:49 PM on April 3, 2018 [15 favorites]


I remember seeing Reality Bites in the theater. I was in high school, and a huge Winona Ryder fangirl. The only thing I recall about the movie is that my friend circle thought Troy was a poseur, and the name of his band was a byword for tryhard alterna-guys for years afterward. Pump Up the Volume was far far more affecting.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:09 PM on April 3, 2018


And for the record, Reality Bites is magnitudes better than the 80s version, St. Elmo's Fire, which actually makes it magnitudes worse, because St. Elmo's rapturous and absurd foolishness achieves absolute magnificence before it's done ...

About the only thing in St. Elmo's Fire that deserves the silver lining of "rapturous and absurd foolishness" is the fact that Demi Moore's character's apartment has a giant, neon-trimmed portrait of Billy Idol on the wall, for no particular reason. Otherwise, it's a bunch of people who didn't go to college themselves playing recent college graduates, none of whom you'd want to spend five minutes with (except for Mare Winningham's character, who sticks out for that reason). It came out the summer before I graduated from college, and their experiences couldn't have had less to do with mine if I'd been born with green blood.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:46 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Never saw it myself, but apparently lightning didn't exactly strike twice with Linklater's 1996 SubUrbia. (Though the current average rating on IMDB - 6.8 - is a higher score than I remember people giving it at the time). Actually, come to think of it, aside from Singles (which has the best cameo ever, thanks to Tad) I never did get around to catching most Gen X cinema. (Want to say it was due to antipathy towards corporate attempts to co-opt Our Scene, but it was probably also due to left over psychic scarring from such proto-Gen-X-cinema efforts as St. Elmo's Fire.

And another shout out for Pump Up the Volume, even if Slater's character kept talking over the songs.
posted by gtrwolf at 9:51 PM on April 3, 2018


I was 15 when this came out and, yeah, Troy seemed cool, and hot. He also seemed like a jerk, but those things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive when you're 15. I remember thinking Troy was cooler, but Ben Stiller's character would definitely have been a better boyfriend. She probably would have been better off without either of them though!

I think the most interesting bit about this essay though, is her reflections on cool, and how much less currency it has now. I work with a lot of millennials, and it's definitely something I've observed. But I can't tell if it's actually that cool has less currency, or if the definition of cool is just really different than it used to be.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


The most amazing thing here is that anyone could have ever said "Hey, let's make a movie about a threesome and let's cast Stephen Baldwin," and not shit themselves laughing.

To be fair, he was pretty much unknown at the time, save as a cheaper, slightly more rat-faced version of Alec Baldwin. Looking at IMDB, I think the only thing I would have seen him in at that point was Last Exit to Brooklyn, which was not exactly a mainstream feel-good flick. Threesome was far from a great movie, but SteBald is not in the top five reasons for its shortcomings.

BTW, the same trip to IMDB reveals this:
Was baptized a Roman Catholic, but became a born-again Christian in the Evangelical church shortly after the September 11 attacks. Since converting, he has been on missions to evangelize the youth of the nation through projects such as The Breakthrough Ministry, which involves skateboarding and extreme sports and Christian rock concerts.
Suddenly his story seems like a guest plot arc rejected from Arrested Development because even that writers’ room could not make the character funny.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:58 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also, while the present day is better on lesbian/bi women and trans women (a little, I'm sure not arguing it's great or anything), I'm frankly not sure it's less sexist. A lot of what passes for present-day feminism is a repackaged, defanged corporate version of 90s feminism.

I'm not sure the present day is less sexist at all, but I also feel like that's because things went backwards for quite a few years and no one ever talks about that. There is a tendency with people to always view things as moving forward, and extrapolating the past from the present.

Also, I remember that Reality Bites landed in my social circle with a thud as an embarrassing and cynical attempt to monetize a phenomenon it didn't really understand. I seem to recall the reviews mostly leaning that way, too. I'm a bit surprised to hear that some folks our age took it seriously.

And a tendency to look back at movies and old media as a realistic portrayal of the past.
posted by bongo_x at 11:03 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Houston was a horrible location for Reality Bites. If memory serves, many of the locations where the characters hung out were not where people hung out at all, because they weren't convenient.

Ironically (hahahahaha) the most logical place for the characters to congregate would have been the mostly buried underground Galleria mall, but that would not have been the vibe they obviously wanted, so viewers unfamiliar with the city got the false impression that Houston had a viable vibrant urban center. Not true then. Barely true now.
posted by Beholder at 11:17 PM on April 3, 2018


So anyway, the thing about Gen-X slackerdom is that slackerdom for slackerdom’s sake was a new phenomenon. This was the first post-draft generation, to whom “turn on, tune in, drop out” was not any sort of bold political statement, but just another option in life.

No, the thing is that Gen X was the first generation to come of age after the post-war dream of American prosperity, a chicken in every garage and a car in every pot, had been deliberately destroyed in the name of shareholder value.

Slackerdom wasn't just another option, it was a response to an economy that had tanked and few options to actually, you know, start a career as well as a political landscape where there was no alternative to the greyness of Bush or Major, no energy left after the rearguard fights against Reaganisation of the eighties.

spending all my time seeking to monetize my every thought and feeling because I'm barely even conscious there's an alternative

Again, you cannot detach this sort of lifestyel choice from the economic realities with which millennials grew up. Gen X had the "luxury" of slackerdom because there were still rudimentary safety nets in place, the economy hadn't quite been hollowed out yet, there was room to faff about for a few years and then get your nose to the grindstone.

But now the grindstone doesn't even exist anymore and you have your choices of joining tech bro Silicon Valley if you're lucky, making it big on Youtube (but that's increasingly closed off to anybody not a privileged Logan Paul asshole) or the gig economy.

It's the economy, stupid.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:17 PM on April 3, 2018 [17 favorites]


This was the first post-draft generation, to whom “turn on, tune in, drop out” was not any sort of bold political statement, but just another option in life.

It's impossible to separate the personal and the public, but what seems left out of these histories of Gen X is the all encompassing nihilism, not just as a posture. Even the bright bubbly parts of the 80's were mostly satirical "who gives a fuck, we're going to die", might as well wear some crazy clothes and get high.

No, the thing is that Gen X was the first generation to come of age after the post-war dream of American prosperity, a chicken in every garage and a car in every pot, had been deliberately destroyed in the name of shareholder value.


I was too lazy to write this, but you poked me with a stick right before I posted. I grew up hearing that The American Dream was dead, I would likely never have a career or own a house, everything was corrupt and broken, and we were going to die in a nuclear war anyway. And that was from school and TV, my parents were actually pretty positive. So yeah.
posted by bongo_x at 11:25 PM on April 3, 2018 [12 favorites]


i had some, like rilly crucial insights and maybe some anecdotes but, like, I forgot what I was gonna say. Being in my fifties and all.
posted by mwhybark at 12:13 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


About the only thing in St. Elmo's Fire that deserves the silver lining of "rapturous and absurd foolishness" is the fact that Demi Moore's character's apartment has a giant, neon-trimmed portrait of Billy Idol on the wall, for no particular reason.

Ok, if we're going to talk about the apartment decor in St Elmo's Fire, Judd Nelson's giant Nike wall gets the gold medal.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:17 AM on April 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also, while the present day is better on lesbian/bi women and trans women (a little, I'm sure not arguing it's great or anything), I'm frankly not sure it's less sexist. A lot of what passes for present-day feminism is a repackaged, defanged corporate version of 90s feminism.

I think I disagree with this, at least a little bit? I'm a bisexual woman who started high school in 1999 and it was so bad, SO bad, and I felt like you weren't even supposed to talk about how bad it was? Now things are really bad but at least you can say so more openly, and your anger can be seen as feminist anger and not just the same general low-boil slacker rage that so many guys had which was so cool when they did it and you were supposed to find attractive in them and not necessarily express yourself.

I was so, SO angry in middle school and high school and it took me over a decade to figure out that a lot of the reason was the patriarchy (and some other stuff, but that was a huge chunk). Maybe some of this is that now I'm old and pudgy and not young and mentally ill and vulnerable and hot, maybe if I were still all those things I'd have the same experience now that I did then, but I hope I could at least talk about it whereas at the time I felt so isolated from other girls and from anyone I could talk to about how I was feeling. I hope that doesn't happen so much anymore.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:46 AM on April 4, 2018 [10 favorites]


Not sure what people thought I was referring to when I said "given the historical circumstances" other than that the economic pressures have shifted and intensified? I didn't really think I had to go into a lot of detail on that.
posted by praemunire at 8:00 AM on April 4, 2018


I've always enjoyed St. Elmo's Fire because it is so, so stupid.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:50 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


The most amazing thing here is that anyone could have ever said "Hey, let's make a movie about a threesome and let's cast Stephen Baldwin," and not shit themselves laughing.

Who could have guessed that all these years later, Billy would turn out to be the one good Baldwin?
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:52 AM on April 4, 2018


Now things are really bad but at least you can say so more openly, and your anger can be seen as feminist anger and not just the same general low-boil slacker rage that so many guys had which was so cool when they did it and you were supposed to find attractive in them and not necessarily express yourself.

I totally agree. It also seems a lot more socially acceptable for young women to be feminists, and I see a lot more of young women understanding that things are the fault of the patriarchy and not just their own problem, if that makes sense. Obviously we have a far way to go but it does feel like things are better in this way.
posted by lunasol at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]



I've always enjoyed St. Elmo's Fire because it is so, so stupid.

yeah, I keep waiting for the Musical.

but what seems left out of these histories of Gen X is the all encompassing nihilism,

or as the movie (Slacker) itself puts it -- withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Although it took place in the 80s, the 90s movie that actually turned out to be my life's trajectory was SLC Punk! We were all Matthew Lillard. Almost all of us knew/saw/was there when someone OD'ed and thought fuck this. Almost all of us went back to college in our mid twenties and got one or more degrees, settled down, bought houses. (We're all also out there protesting the government, but that's so mainstream now.)

19 year old me watched that movie with very different eyes than 38 year old me.
posted by Ruki at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


>I've always enjoyed St. Elmo's Fire because it is so, so stupid.

yeah, I keep waiting for the Musical.
CHORUS: He can drink! 
        He can smoke! 
        He can fight! 
        He can cry!

BILLY: I can sinnnnnng!
posted by rhizome at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


St. Elmo's Fire was the last time anyone ever attempted, in any medium, to make a front man in a rock band who plays saxophone seem cool.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:15 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


First and foremost he's a late adolescent barely-not-kid of a young adult who isn't fully formed, who is too smart for his own good, who has figured out the world isn't going to hand him anything for that along with exactly how bad his chances are of getting a hold on an ambition that he really wants.

Despite my prior criticism, I largely agree with this. When you adjust for his age, he's not really *so* bad. He's just annoying. And I do think the movie mostly adopts, or is at least sympathetic to, Troy's point of view which is hard thing to stomach when you're old enough to realize it for what it is. Which, I'd guess, is some combination of privilege and immaturity. And while focusing on the privilege part of that equation is fine, I do think 2018 culture is a bit too quick to dismiss the immaturity part in situations like this. It's not realistic to expect any 20-year-old to have a nuanced and grounded perspective on the world and their place in it.

Still, Troy was annoying as hell and I definitely wanted to slap him in the face.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


St. Elmo's Fire was the last time anyone ever attempted, in any medium, to make a front man in a rock band who plays saxophone seem cool.

At this time I feel I should draw your attention to Ron "Duke Silver" Swanson.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Duke Silver plays jazz.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


This one's called, "Hot 'n Heavy." Alas, also jazz.
posted by rhizome at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2018


I will never forgive you people for getting “St. Elmo’s Fire” stuck in my head.

Habadeedum hokum habba
Habbadaba hunkum blah
Habbaddeedum horkum habba
SAAINT ELLMO’S FI-EE-YURR

posted by Sys Rq at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


Okay what about Tim Capello in The Lost Boys?

I, personally, still believe.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


Sys Rq: I do that all the time!

I'm driving down the freeway
In a car that's got four wheels
I'm going 65 and
SAINT ELMO'S FIYAH

posted by rhizome at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


St. Elmo's Fire was the last time anyone ever attempted, in any medium, to make a front man in a rock band who plays saxophone seem cool.


Ahem. Clarence Clemons.
posted by jilloftrades at 5:41 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


St. Elmo's Fire was the last time anyone ever attempted, in any medium, to make a front man in a rock band who plays saxophone seem cool

Lost Boys disagrees with you.
posted by meehawl at 5:51 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm driving down the freeway
In a car that's got four wheels
I'm going 65 and
SAINT ELMO'S FIYAH



I'm pretty sure those are the actual lyrics.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:04 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ahem. Clarence Clemons.

not a front man, and anyway he'd established his cool long before St. Elmo's came along.
posted by philip-random at 8:34 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


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