In which we discuss Slackers, reading, and their inexplicable connection.

Reading and slacking have a time honored connection that I feel I should expound upon a bit, especially considering the week we seem to have had. Reading was the thematic through-line with the introduction of the Slacker Book Club and Better World Books in the FAOW, so now seems as good a time as any to talk about this unlikely connection.

First, let’s look at our terms. Here at Modern Slacker, you’ll find I use the term “slacker” in the sense I most identify with, which is that of the 90′s era. Classically lazy and unmotivated, but with substantial intellectual wherewithal, the 90′s slacker pontificated on the meaning of life and his place in social machine, and did so in the small time coffee shops that caused the Starbucks revolution. The 90′s slacker read Nietzsche to Gaiman, watched Bergman to Linklater, played guitar and SNES. The 90′s slacker didn’t just smoke pot and play Call of Duty, with the occasional appearance on “Mac Row” at Starbucks like the pseudo-slackers of today. The 90′s slacker was cultured, perhaps even too cultured, but simply chose not to do anything with said culture, except accumulate it like an intellectual horder. These are the real slackers. These are the Modern Slackers.

Other generations of slackers have followed similar paths. Most notably we saw it with the beat generation and the strong literary pedigree the exciting world of slackerdom hails from. The two great slacker generations of recent memory were no slouches when it came to the printed word. But therein lies an interesting irony: Reading, especially novels or other substantial works, requires considerably more effort to consume than any other form of media. Reading isn’t easy.

Now, let’s be clear, when I say “reading isn’t easy,” this isn’t like the kind of statement the mindless goons who waddle into the video store everyday utter when they find out that movie they were so stoked about has been rendered unwatchable by the knowledge that they’ll have to read subtitles. They don’t want to read because they either can’t, or don’t want to. I am a huge proponent of literacy, but as far as the mechanisms behind it go, you can’t argue that it isn’t the same walk in the park that watching a Michael Bay movie might be.

Reading isn’t a passive form of media consumption. Reading is active. You aren’t being spoon-fed the visual narrative and emotional cues in the same way you are when you pick up something from the Sandra Bullock oeuvre. You need to put the effort in to get the meaning out. Mind you, that isn’t to say that all books are brainy, smart-folk fare (Nicholas Sparks, looking in your direction!), nor that film, television or music can’t be that complex. They can, and often are. It’s just decidedly less common these days. Studios, networks, and labels all have a bottom line they are beholden to, and the path of least resistance to that bottom line isn’t the one fraught with thoughtful, layered, nuanced storytelling. Nope, it’s the one that features a guy in a fat suit for 96 minutes.

I’ve digressed considerably here in to a very unfunny essay that’s boring me as I write it. The original point was just that it’s a weird thing that traditional slackers, those who shun effort in nearly all its guises, are the ones most drawn to the most labor intensive form of entertainment. Perhaps our noted love of irony has caused this behavior to manifest out of that subconscious draw. Then again, maybe we’re just dicks who like to think we’re better than everybody else.

This isn’t to say that we, the slacker nation, are entirely better than the people we condescend to. Common among our numbers is a need to show off intellect your haven’t actually attained. Cliff Notes pseudo-intellectuals run rampant in these circles. It’s an easy trap to fall into, since most of the dullards you encounter will never check up on your arcane quotes. And at the end of the day, lazy does still win out a lot of the time. Check the wiki on Ulysses and let it ride. Are we really in a noble pursuit of knowledge, with our slacker behavior the anti-depressant to our overwhelming feeling of societal impotence, or are we the same as the common middle-achievers, selfishly searching for a niche to give our lives meaning? Perhaps the more important question is, do I really care?


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