Slacker as Hero: A New Hope

We’ve all seen them, they walk among us everyday. Some are more obvious than others. Here are a few ways you can spot them. They will probably be walking at a pace that will make you have to change course and go around them. They are usually male although every once in a while you’ll see a girl fall victim to this stigma. If you look hard enough you can witness their casual indifference towards work or goals. I’m talking of course about slackers.

Now slackers are not bad people and I, being a recovering procrastinator — thirteen months clean and sober — know a thing or two about what it’s like. However, there is a new trend in popular media I felt should be pointed out for those who would care to notice. Slackers are a growing portion of movie and television heroes. I’ve taken the time to identify their flaws that make them funny, but also their strengths and why they make for solid protagonists who are capable of vulnerable in their weaknesses and strong in their journey towards personal improvement in modern comedies.

The slacker in films have similar characteristics, a few changes here or there but most of their inner workings are pretty standard. The Subject must always be considered less desirable, not physically mind you. Making the person less than desirable usually involves more than one humiliating trait such as:

  1. The subject may live with his parents, or his sister, or grandmother.
  2. The subject doesn’t work or is attempting to do something seemingly “unimportant” to sustain himself. This is usually not work but a hobby or an obsession with something that is totally unimportant i.e. video games, or Star Wars.
  3. Some emotionally traumatizing event is usually to blame for all or some of their personal flaws.
  4. The subject is almost always stuck in an unending rut, and he’s “happy” with this for the most part. Except for the fact that they are miserable and feel isolated.

Now these negative effects will either all be overcome before the end of the story or are all used in some way to move the story forward. In addition to these negative traits, slackers do have positive ones as well.

  1. The slacker is always good in some way even if not conventional they are a stand up guy. They will always give up something important to them in order to help out their friends or loved ones.
  2. Their seemingly pointless skills always play a role in the story’s resolution. In essence the source of shame will become a source of pride at one point.

I think the slacker has been and is still one of the best sources for comedic leading men in movies still because the slacker is all of us at some point in our lives. We have all been on “cruise control” at some point in our lives. Some people work that out at age 18 others take a bit longer. These movies are for the people who can laugh at themselves. I know I can.

Back to the Future

Martin “Marty” McFly in Back to the Future (1985)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Don’t believe he’s a slacker just ask Mr. Strickland. Marty McFly was literally skitching through life riding his skateboard. Hanging out with crackpot Dr. Emmett L. Brown and wasting time with his rock band and not focusing on his studies. The day before his adventure began his band was rejected from playing at the Prom (keep an eye out for the Huey Lewis Cameo). Until one day he went back in time with the help of an invention of Dr. Emmett L. Brown’s time machine, meets his parents, and threatens his own existence.  Check this movie out if a slacker’s story about overcoming fear of rejection, and how our parent’s behavior shapes our behavior. This is one of my favorite movies here. Alan Silvestri does the soundtrack which is composed brilliantly.

Charles “Chuck” Bartowski in Chuck (2007-)
NBC Television Series
Chuck Bartowski was a regular guy, working at a certain giant electronics retail store named Buy More. Chuck lives with his sister and is just a nobody until an old friend from college sends him an email containing CIA and NSA secrets. His life is turned upside down faced with a eternal imprisonment or a partnership with the CIA and NSA agents who are chasing him, his life is now split into two parts. In one he is just a regular guy doing mediocre work with his whole crew of slackers that work with him.  In another he is a spy working to take down all of the bad guys that frequently come to sunny California. It’s worth watching for sure.

Freaks and Geeks

The entire cast of Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
NBC Television series, Produced by Judd Apatow
The show centers around Lindsay Weir and her brother Sam, but nearly everyone in the show qualifies as a slacker in their own way. The show takes place in the early 1980s. Lindsay was an overachiever the year before, but like most teenage girls decides to change her behavior to impress a boy. So she starts to hang out with the “Freaks”.   Her brother Sam Weir, played with great gusto by John Francis Daley, is first entering high school and is awkward with his “Geek” friends.  This show is great, emotional and hilarious. Everyone of the cast is perfect in their role and it would be hard not to spot some of the people we all went to school with in this one.  Although it only ran for one season, this show was totally brilliant.

Honorable Mention

Pretty much anything by the Apatow crew counts: Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Drillbit Taylor (all not for children). Also, Back to the Future Part II.


Brandon Roper

Brandon Roper is a Technical Assistant at the Kansas City Public Library. His expertise is in cinema culture and film scores. He also presents the Saturday showings in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault.