The Dude Abides For You and Me
I know when night has gone
That a new world's born at dawn.
I'll keep rolling along
Deep in my heart is a song
Here on the range I belong
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.
-- Sons Of The Pioneers
We live in frustrating times for anyone politically opposed to the relentless militarization and financialization of virtually every facet of life in America.
The idealism of the Sixties and Seventies was overwhelmed first by Reaganism, then by the tsunami of post-911 fear and, finally, by the momentum of two, now three, on-going foreign wars. We live in an enforced condition of permanent war and unfettered piracy.
The Left struggles doggedly to remain viable in this mess. It ranges from the Obama mode of accommodation with militarism and corporatism to, on the far left, a tired (and sometimes tiresome) protest movement that suffers from self-reinforced marginalization.
This is certainly an unfair reduction of the movement’s shortcomings, but my purpose is a provocative lead-in to a film that has matured into a hilarious homage to the Sixties antiwar movement.
The 1998 Coen Brothers cult movie The Big Lebowski was a sleeper that slowly grew on audiences and continues to grow in stature. For me it is the perfect movie antidote for our times. The movie is already famous for having generated a following akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Star Trek. I’ve now seen it four times. In earlier viewings, I didn’t realize the subtext that so wonderfully speaks to the frustrations of leftist antiwar activists. When my fellow peace-activist wife and I watched it together the other night we were laughing so hard we were in tears.
The film opens on a piece of tumbleweed rolling through scrub desert with the Sons Of The Pioneers singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” The legendary cowboy voice of Sam Elliot tells us about the film’s protagonist, a man known as The Dude. By this time the tumbleweed has reached the top of a hill to reveal the vast lights of Los Angeles at night. We begin to get it: We’re at the end of the trail of Manifest Destiny. From here westward, it’s Vietnam and all the rest.
The Cowboy says the story he's about to tell took place “just about the time of our conflict with Saddam and the Iraqis. I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man. I won’t say a hero, ‘cause what’s a hero? Sometimes there’s a man -- well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”