Slacker is a postmodern spin on the concept of ‘the outsider’. It shows that what it means to live outside society’s norm has changed since modernist times. To understand how Slacker achieves this, one can relate it to Albert Camus’ modernist novel The Outsider (1942).
In the film, there is an overlying sense of alienation for all its characters, whose “lives traverse eachother with no sense of community or connection.” From Madonna pap-smear promotors to dreamers of false civil war heroisms, all the people (slackers) in the film seem to exist outside ‘normal’ lifestyle in 1990s America. They are outsiders because they act for themselves independent of society. This, according to Linklater in his essay on the film, is the foundation of the ‘slacker culture’: “the intention is to be constantly discovering your own path”. For this reason the slacker “prefers a nomad education of movement that features a changing curriculum of their own making, based on the passion and pursuit of the moment”. Linklater’s use of the Surrealist anti-narrative technique heightens the feeling of disconnectedness and nomadism. In fact, Linklater anthropomorphises the camera into a kind of slacker. It moves freely from person to person, vignette to vignette, following the slacker method of transient, self-directed, outsider living. Meursault, the protagonist in The Outsider, also lives and thinks in a way that seems quite foreign to the social, judicial and even moral norms of his society. He shares the slacker present-mindedness – that goal of “attaining a realm of activity that runs parallel to their desires.”
Meursault, in his seeming lack of basic emotion and simple, amoral honesty, does not relate to the culture of his time. When he kills a man because of the stress and the heat of the sun, the courts calling him a monster does not feign him. “He observes the facts of life, death and sex from the outside.” Fifty years later and beyond this modernist simplification, Linklater provides a sketch of the new outsider – or a collection of outsiders – who has developed a paradoxical trait that makes him different from his predecessor. In the film, Linklater shows that a slacker will exist outside or against the cultural norm, but unlike Meursault, he will always be drawn to it. Post-Reagan cynicism and various ‘anti’ philosophies are collaged with theorists on the NASA cover-up of alien existence and comments like “I don’t know…I’ve travelled…and when you get back you can’t tell whether it really happened to you or if you just saw it on TV.” The can of soda is a recurrent motif in the film and it is a symbol of the participation of mainstream, commercial America. For all their anti-conservative intellectualism, abnormal obsessions and alternative opinions, the slackers in Slacker are wading through Austen knee-deep in mainstream social and political culture.
Linklater’s film has a cynicism that Camus’ novel does not posess. It is the cynicism of the post-cold war, post-Reagan outsider who, according to Giroux, spends time “trying to put off the future rather than take on the modernist challenge of trying to shape it.” On the one hand, Camus wrote with a purpose. According to Cyril Connolly, in writing about an outsider in a French colony, Camus opposes the outlook of the French bourgeois. This relates to its delusion (Meursault is told he may be acquitted if he repents to God) and lies (his total honesty about how he feels is considered evil). On the other hand, Linklater mirrors the lethargy and ennui of the postmodern slacker: having many opinions that ultimately don’t really mean anything. Camus wrote about the outsider with a message but Linklater merely follows with interest. Camus opposes mainstream bourgious culture but Linklater understands the American passive acceptance of magazines, MTV and celebrity. Both philosophise about the outsider in relation to their world in different ways.