I love The Big Lebowski. I’ve been to Lebowski bars, I’ve dressed up to go to Lebowski parties — I’ve been known to write a thinkpiece or two. But travel thousands of miles to hang out with other people who love Lebowski? That sounds crazy. Yet hundreds of people did just that this past weekend in Louisville, to attend the 15th annual Lebowski Fest, at a funky bowling alley called Executive Strike and Spare across from the exposition grounds. One guy dressed as Walter Sobchak had come from Seattle. Another guy in a Jesus Quintana getup was there from Orlando. Two young ladies in viking helmets and bowling ball boobs (from Gutterballs, The Dude’s roofie-induced Busby Berkeley hallucination) were from The Netherlands.
So what is it about a movie that makes people put in this much work to celebrate it? As much as I love the movie, going in, I thought the idea of Dudeism, or some kind of guiding philosophy gleaned from the movie, was a little dumb. I mean, it’s not a religion. And, isn’t it a little unfair to the original work to assign it significance the creators never did?
It’s impossible to escape, though, when you’re surrounded by 20 guys in nearly identical Pendleton cardigans (there were at least 10 dead ringers for The Dude, at different stages of his life), the notion that “The Dude” really does exist as a sort of unifying idea. There were the more casual fans, sure, but around the third person I talked to who claimed to have made a big life change based on The Big Lebowski, the “more than just a movie” thing became harder to dismiss as a fringe view. One guy told me he’d recently been ordained as a Dudeist Priest (which would also make a great novelty metal band). I asked another what “The Dude Abides” meant to him and he spent the next 15 minutes explaining his life philosophy, using his yin/yang pinky ring as a visual aid.
So are these people crazy or what? Well, yes, most certainly, but I think I get it now. People who hate The Big Lebowski most commonly cite The Dude’s shiftless lifestyle (and the abundance of swearing). As one IMDb review put it, “we need not immortalize a character who is a dope smoking, booze swilling, careless, jobless, wreck as a hero. The Coen brothers need to get out of their Hollyweird environment and get a grip on what’s real in our society.”
For people who come to Lebowski Fest, The Dude’s lifestyle was just as much of a rallying point. It isn’t his shiftlessness that’s the draw, not quite. After all, if you idealized shiftlessness, would you really travel 500 miles and spend hundreds of dollars on a costume? Achiever after Achiever (“Achiever” being the preferred nomenclature for Lebowski Fest attendees) told me that they loved The Dude’s relaxed lifestyle and “f*ck it” attitude, though they claimed not to imitate it in their daily lives.
No, it seems that they love The Dude’s adaptability. Strange things keep happening to him, but The Dude stays the same. Life keeps putting boulders in his way but he flows around them, like a stream (is that like an Eastern thing?). I got the sense that for a lot of these people, The Dude was their Jimmy Buffet concert, their metaphorical Corona Beach, an aspirational figure that says no matter what life throws at you, you’re not going to let it harsh your buzz. Get a lot of people who subscribe to that philosophy in the same place and what do you get? Well, you get a pretty good time. And lot of white Russians.
This was a father and daughter. Weird that they dressed as two characters who have sex with each other? Eh, maybe a little.