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A little Duderonomy of 'The Big Lebowski'

February 16, 2007
Abide. It means to wait for something, patiently. Or "to endure without yielding, to accept without objection," according to the official word-definers at Merriam-Webster.

Abiding is no easy feat, especially not in a culture that is success-driven, instant-gratification-oriented, and pathologically impatient.

True abiding is a spiritual gift, mastered only, it would seem, by the more fully evolved among us.

Perhaps that's what makes the Dude so dang appealing. Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski is the central character of the 1998 Coen brothers' masterpiece "The Big Lebowski," and apart from spawning a cult following rivaled only by the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "This Is Spinal Tap," the Dude is the catalyst for a new religion: Dudeism.

Maybe religion isn't really the correct word. Like-minded followers of the way of the Dude might be more appropriate. Or, as the creator of Dudeism.com puts it, "The Church of the Latter-day Dude," complete with Dudeist priests. (I got ordained as a Dudeist online earlier this week in less than a minute. Now I can preside at Dudeist weddings, which is a nice fallback if this journalism thing doesn't work out.)

"Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don't do anything about it," the explanation of Dudeist theology -- I suppose you could call it its creed -- says on Dudeism.com. "Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you'll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others -- that is to say, abide."

In "The Big Lebowski," the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, is a bathrobe-wearing, White Russian-drinking, mellow, lie-about, aging hippie philosopher/bowler/toker. He endures physical assaults -- including a swirly in his own toilet and a marmot tossed into the water during an otherwise serene bubble bath -- theft, kidnapping and general disrespect from all quarters.

A pacifist and an idealist
But the Dude, ya see, abides. He doesn't answer violence with violence, or ill will with the same. He is kind and mellow, lazy but not lackadaisical.

Oliver Benjamin, the clever author of Dudeism.com who could not be reached for comment (apparently he lives part of each year in Southeast Asia), claims the Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu was the original Dude because, in part, he taught the idea of wei wu wei, or "non-doing doing."

That's the Dude in a nutshell.

"The Dude is a very genuine person, and he is always the same person no matter what situation he's in or who he's dealing with," said Will Russell, self-described "co-founding dude" of Lebowski Fest, annual events in Louisville, Ky., and other cities that have been drawing thousands of Lebowski fans since 2002.

"As far as abiding goes, he takes things as they come. He keeps rolling with the punches. They pee on his rug and he goes and gets another rug," Russell said, referring to one of the more unforgettable scenes in the film. "He's just content to go bowling. . . . The Dude defines his own happiness. He endures the world around him and the world around is going at a different pace. He's in the middle, just hanging out."

The Dude is a pacifist.

The Dude is an idealist.

He's also something of an avatar of simplicity for the information age whose abiding appeal is essentially spiritual.

"It strikes me that it has something to do with the kind of ironic appeal of this simultaneously shallow and deep attention to being," said Jeffrey Mahan, professor of media and culture at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

"One of the things that the Dude embodies is this possibility that we really could do this, that it's not some unattainable being, someone who is hugely smarter than us, or somebody who has the kind of spiritual presence of the Dalai Lama who could have this attention to being, but that it really is a matter of choice and will. We could choose to do this and don't."

The Stranger comes calling
To that end, on his Web site Benjamin provides a few tips for the would-be faithful in a "Dudeo-Coen" version of what he calls "Duderonomy." There are 38 laws, including:

• • Thou shalt always use fresh creamer when preparing the sacrificial beverage.

• • Respect everyone's point of view. It's just, like, their opinion, man.

• • Never go to a tournament with a negative attitude.

At the end of the film, The Stranger (Sam Elliott), seated at the bar of the bowling alley, offers his condolences to the Dude on the untimely death of his friend and asks how he's doing.

His answer? "Well, ya know, the Dude abides."

Doesn't he, though?

"I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that," the Stranger says. "It's good knowin' he's out there, the Dude, takin' her easy for all us sinners."

I second that emotion.

cfalsani@suntimes.com



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