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Film - "The Big Lebowski" as Postmodern Posterboy (or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love Baudrillard) 

Deepsouth v.6.n.1 (Winter 2000)
Copyright (c) 2000 by
David Larsen

by David Larsen

Victoria University of Wellington

  All rights reserved.


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Baudrillard similarly writes of a hyperreality, where the "real" is no longer engaged in a structural tension between itself and its artifice. The real and the artificial have, in the post-industrial proliferation of the commodity sign and simulation, imploded upon each other. He writes, "Today everyday political, social, historical, economic etc, reality has already incorporated the hyperrealist dimension of simulation so that we are now living entirely within the "aesthetic" hallucination of reality...there is no longer any fiction that life can possibly confront, even as its conqueror".6 Again, "The hyperreal...effaces the contradiction of the real and the imaginary. Irreality no longer belongs to the dream or the phantasm, to a beyond or a hidden interiority, but to the hallucinatory resemblance of the real to itself".7

This 'aestheticization of everyday life' is fully assimilated by the world portrayed in The Big Lebowski. The Dude is confronted by a plethora of characters whose very selves are fabricated by the commodity-signs they consume and use to display themselves and orient themselves to others. Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, makes the point that 'here, in a film set at the time of the Gulf War, are characters whose speech was shaped by earlier times: Vietnam (Walter), the flower power era (the Dude) and Twilight Zone (Donny). Their very notion of reality may be shaped by the limited ways they have to describe it'.8 The film is full of a hyperreal display of self, where a character such as John Turrturro's paedophile can reinvent himself as a purple-suited bowling celebrity known as 'The Jesus', where a man living off the wealth of his dead wife can fabricate himself as an all-American self made millionaire, and where the Dude can unreflexively 'dig the style' of a man who appears to have chosen to write himself as a Hollywood western style cowboy, complete with a penchant for saspirrella. Jameson's concerns for the oppositional status of modernist traditions of art find their realisation in the characters of Maude Lebowski, a feminist performance artist, and her acquaintance Knox Harrington, a video artist. In the context of the film the production of modern art appears to be merely another 'life style' choice, complicit with the swamping of all facets of life with the aestheticized commodity signs of late capital. 

The Dude inhabits the hyper-aesthetisized, post-industrial world described with concern by Jameson and Baudrillard with a seeming nostalgia for a feudal historical epoch, when signs referred to a well-policed social reality; when millionaires were millionaires and cowboys were cowboys. The anxieties which would plague a modern, anxieties of distinguishing the real from the appearance, seem to elude the Dude, whose experience appears to be that of Jameson's and Baudrillard's archetypal pomo schizophrenic; he swims in the hyperreal like water in water, unaware of any vague anxieties about the artifice of his environment, or the inauthenticity of Baudrillard's 'aesthetic hallucination of reality'. 

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6 Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, (London, Sage, 1993), p 73. 
7 Ibid, p 72.
8 Roger Ebert, 'The Big Lebowski' at Chicago Sun Times On-Line.