Preface: In my class this week, we are studying Marxism and its more modern offspring, Structuralism, World Systems Theory, Cultural Hegemony and others. Since I challenged my students to find an example of Marxism in modern pop culture, I thought it is only fair that I put myself up to the task, so here goes:This is my Marxist interpretation of The Big Lebowski applied to the current economic crisis and President Obama.(Yes, I have noticed that the title of this post reads like it should end with "all walk into a bar," but that is not the challenge I have set before myself today. I would, however, welcome comments from readers who would enjoy taking on such a challenge.)
In The Big Lebowski, The Dude would be Marx's hero who refuses to fit into the role of either worker or consumer in the economic system. The wrongdoers in the movie are the spineless pacifists [Steve Buscemi], senseless post-modernists [Julianne Moore], violent realists [John Goodman], thoughtless nihilists [The Nihilists] and the greedy bourgeois capital owner [The Big Lebowski] and his materialist trophy wife [Bunny].
By refusing to cave into the demands of these false ideologies or capitalist systems that try to force The Dude into denying his true self -- a job-avoiding, white russian-slurping, bathrobe-wearing, joint-puffing hero -- he emerges at the end of the movie unscathed by the crisis that has left all the others dead, maimed or otherwise scarred in its wake.
If we further exhume these ideas from the past, swirl them around with a 90's cult movie and slap them into the present-day economic nightmare, it becomes clear that President Obama is meant to be our guide through this mess, our own national version of The Dude's missing rug.
Back to Marx: Since Marx's version of the story doesn't allow for happy endings, let's skip to one of his ideological buddies who, unlike Marx, was taking his Zoloft: Antonio Gramsci. According to his Cultural Hegemony Theory, the powerful elite now control the working class through ideas; they define what is in, what is out, what is patriotic, what kind of jokes are funny, what kind of haircuts are so 2004 and whether a celebrity is considered saintly, sexy or sleazy. Sort of like this clique-ish bunch from Mean Girls.
According to Gramsci, the only way to defeat the mean-girl-bourgeois-moral-authority is for a strong leader to emerge from the uncool group -- an "organic intellectual" (which sounds REALLY uncool) who can challenge and eventually win over the ruling ideology to his way of seeing things, but he must stay true to his uncool roots instead of becoming one of them. Sound familiar? (No -- it's NOT Lindsay Lohan! Think Nerd-In-Chief!)
Dear President Obama: The Marxist lesson behind The Big Lebowski is that the only way out of the current global crisis of capitalism is to stay true to who you are, win a ticket to the White House (which you did) and then tell everybody what's what (which you are). Now let's go bowling.