The Slacker Hero

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite is an example of a “Slacker” hero from the 21st century.

Written by: Sarah Carter

  • The “Slacker” hero paradigm is not considered an ancient hero paradigm; the idea of the “Slacker” hero has evolved within the context of more contemporary literature and forms of media.
  • “Slacker” heroes are usually characterized as non-conventional, non-aggressive individuals who are unmotivated and unaffected by popular culture and society.
  • “Slacker” heroes experience different challenges than more traditional heroes (such as Superman), but they do experience similar emotions, including love, fear of loss, and vulnerability, along with similar struggles, such as good versus evil, love versus lust, and loyalty versus undependability.
  • Without meaningful relationships, “Slacker” heroes would be considered unsuccessful;  friendship is the mutual motive that inspires “Slacker” heroes to be successful.

The “Slacker” hero encompasses a particular hero paradigm that has evolved within the context of modern literature, novels, films, video games, television shows, and other forms of related media. Consequently, there are few to virtually no ancient representatives of the “Slacker” hero to discuss. However, the modern representation of the “Slacker” hero resembles a typically non-aggressive, laid-back individual who successfully maintains strong friendships with other characters, despite and sometimes because of his or her consistent efforts to avoid work and the ultimate achievement of the American Dream. In some cultures, this dream represents the epitome of success in life: gaining social mobility and prestige within the working world. Because the “Slacker” hero often develops strong, meaningful friendships during his or her venture toward non-conformity to the standards and values of conventional society, he or she will generally encounter certain situations where decisions must be made that will influence not only his or her own life, but the lives of his or her friends. In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off[1], Ferris attempts to take full responsibility for the destruction of Cameron’s dad’s refurbished Ferrari since he pressured him into using it during their downtown escapades. Cameron does acknowledge Ferris’s good motives behind standing up for him, but he insists that he will handle the situation and speak with his father himself.

Even though “Slacker” heroes face different challenges and circumstances than more traditional, modern heroes[2] (ex: Batman, Spiderman, or Superman), Slackers still experience similar emotions-vulnerability, pain, desire, or ambition-and similar struggles, such as between good versus evil, love versus lust, loyalty versus undependability, or responsibility versus irresponsibility.

In the movie The Big Lebowski[3], Jeff Lebowski, also known as the “Dude” by his companions, sacrifices his own personal dilemmas by not only maintaining close friendships with his two best friends Walter and Donnie, but by attempting to help them with their own individual problems: Walter often experiences violent anger while Donnie is typically more timid and reserved but speaks his mind when necessary. On the other hand, Peter Gibbons, from the comedy Office Space[4], is spontaneously promoted at work due precisely to his brash personality and his seemingly realistic interpretations of his workplace’s atmosphere. For example, even though Peter nurtures an unusually indifferent attitude toward work responsibilities, his boss (Bill Lumbergh) does not make any effort to reinforce policy rules and regulations or reprimand his irresponsible activities, which includes actions such as playing Tetris or other online games and even de-gutting a fish on an office desk. Consequently, Lumbergh was either consciously or unconsciously allowing employees (such as Peter) to prolong their unprofessional behavior(s). However, the newly established management team at Initech seemed to see promotional potential in Peter, despite his unproductive track record and negligent conduct. Specifically in Peter’s case, “success” was unrealistically achieved through virtually no effort or thought on his part.

In summary, each “Slacker” that is discussed within this module exhibits a shared sense of ingenuity, quirkiness, and non-aggressiveness that appropriately characterizes the paradigm of the “Slacker” hero.

A sampling of the most well-known representatives of the “Slacker” heroes today include, but are not limited to, the following list of characters: Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; the Dude (Jeff Lebowski) from The Big LebowskiNapoleon from Napoleon Dynamite;[5] Shawn from the popular detective comedy/drama Psych[6]; The “Freaks” (Lindsay Weir, along with Daniel Desario, Ken Miller, Nick Andopolis, and Kim Kelly) from the late twentieth century teen drama/comedy Freaks and Geeks;[7] and Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie from the original HBO television series Flight of the Conchords.[8]

The “Slacker” Heroes-Character Traits/Attributes:

  • the “Dude” (Jeff Lebowski): laidback, blunt, non-conforming, quirky, spontaneous, non-aggressive, fantasizer, free spirit, unusual, unconventional
  • Shawn Spencer: charismatic, tactical, humorous, dramatic, goofy, manipulative, creative, spontaneous
  • The “Freaks” (Lindsay Weir, along with Daniel Desario, Ken Miller, Nick Andopolis, and Kim Kelly): risk-takers, vulnerable, young, impulsive, easily influenced by others, independent spirits
  • Peter Gibbons: lazy, unmotivated, impulsive, unconcerned, easily annoyed, irresponsible, unconventional, unsatisfied, stubborn, disgruntled, blunt, scheming
  • Napoleon Dynamite: lazy, immature, vulnerable, possesses a sense of fearlessness, social misfit, non-conformist, quirky, loyal in friendship, unusual, listless, alienated
  • Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie: foreign singers/composers, performers, vulnerable, humorous, creative, laidback, unassuming, non-aggressive, appreciative of music, self-expressive, bankrupt, commuters, loyal in friendship
  • Ferris Bueller: cunning, deceptive, humorous, manipulative, adventurous, daring, sly, an innovative thinker, devising, schemer, loyal in friendship

[1]Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Directed by John Hughes. USA: Paramount Pictures, 1986. DVD.

[2]For a more psychoanalytical approach on superheroes, such as Spiderman, Superman, or Batman (among many other superheroes), see the following book: Rosenberg, Robin S., PHD, ed. The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration (Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc., 2008).

[3]The Big Lebowski. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. USA: Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1998. DVD.

To read more about the character of “the Dude” and the movie The Big Lebowski, see the following magazine article: Greene, Andy. “The Decade of the Dude.” Rolling Stone (September 2008): 38-45. Accessed July 4, 2013. Advanced Placement Source.

[4]Office Space. Directed by Mike Judge. USA: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1999. DVD.

See the following journal article on how researchers have used the movie Office Space in an experiment with students in order to study concepts of organizational communication: Bunz, Ulla. “Reviewing Organizational Communication Concepts with the Movie ‘Office Space.’” Communication Teacher 20, no. 2 (April 2006): 36-39. Accessed July 4, 2013. Communication & Mass Media Complete.

[5]Napoleon Dynamite. Directed by Jared Hess. USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004. DVD.

To read more about the issues of gender identity and geeky masculinity in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, see the following journal article: Russo, M. Rosie. “The Gender of Napoleon and the Power of Dynamite.” Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research 5 (Fall 2006): 1-16. Accessed July 4, 2013. Communication & Mass Media Complete.

Also see the following article for additional information on how the persona of the “nerd” has been currently examined: Bach, Jacqueline. “From Nerds to Napoleons: Thwarting Archetypical Expectations in High School Films.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 22, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 73-86. Accessed July 4, 2013. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson).

[6]Psych. Created by Steve Franks. USA: GEP Productions/USA Network, 2006-. DVD.

[7]Freaks and Geeks. Created by Paul Feig. USA: Apatow Productions, 1999-2000. DVD.

For a critical analysis of the television show “Freaks and Geeks,” see the following journal article: Gourley, Catherine. “Was Freaks and Geeks Too Real?” Writing 23, no. 1 (September 2000): 6-10. Accessed July 4, 2013. MasterFILE Elite.

Also see the following book for additional information: Milner, Murray. Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption (New York: Routledge, 2004).

[8]Flight of the Conchords. Created by James Bobin, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. USA: Dakota Pictures/HBO, 2007-2009. DVD.

To read more about the television show “Flight of the Conchords” and its effect on popular culture, see the following journal article: Gibson, Andy. “Flight of the Conchords: Recontextualizing the Voices of Popular Culture.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 15, no. 5 (November 2011): 603-626. Accessed July 4, 2013. SocINDEX with Full Text.