Austin’s 1st Gift to the World: Slacker

From November 26th to December 2nd, Metroblogging sites around the globe will be unveiling seven gifts their cities can share with the world – one gift a day for seven days. Metroblogging Austin’s first gift is … um, 3 days behind.

slacker.jpg“Sorry, I’m late.”
“That’s okay, time doesn’t exist.”

Sure, it would have been nice to launch our gifts with the rest of the network. But this is a town that embraces the afternoon wake-up call, the intellectualization of pop-culture, and the underemployment of the overeducated. In other words, Austin is for slackers, and it just wouldn’t have been fitting for Austin to blog along in step. Especially since it was a gorgeous weekend better spent wandering around. And then there were those unwatched episodes of Battlestar Galactica waiting on iTunes. But I digress …

It was 15 summers ago that Richard Linklater helped define the decade emerging from the wreckage of the 80’s. Out of the throes and woes of the oil bust, disenchantment and cheap rent sowed the seeds for the slacker ethos that Linklater then cultivated and captured in a low-budget cinematic feature that augured the rise of indie films. Slacker only grossed $1.2 million domestically, but it struck a chord with 20-somethings nationwide, and indelibly linked Austin with the creative hedonism portrayed in the film.

Today, many of the shooting locations have been radically altered or disappeared entirely, transformed by the economic and demographic realities of the tech boom and Austin’s surging popularity. And while it’s hard to imagine any of the film’s iconic characters thriving in an environment of luxury condos and toll roads (how many Yuppies will sell you Madonna’s pap smear?), Austin’s film industry has evolved and grown up to keep pace. Linklater’s commitment to the region and to independent production has been instrumental in building the film industry in Central Texas, most obviously manifested in the Austin Studios production facility at the old Mueller Airport.

Slackers existed long before the movie, but Linklater’s film gave them faces and dialogue that defined the term for a generation, and helped define Austin in the process. While the film’s very popularity may have helped erase the environment that spawned it, there’s still a tangible slacker spirit that resonates in Austin, even amid the cranes and brushed aluminum. Linklater pegged it during a retrospective interview on Salon:

I like Austin more now. I think the mind-set’s still the same. The campus alone takes care of that: We’ve got 50,000 young people; a certain percentage of them are gonna be cool.

Click here to see what other Metroblogging Cities are giving.

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3 Comments so far

  1. Robbie (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

    I couldn’t disagree more with your dreamy depiction of Austin.

    The 50K kids at UT and the folks who live in 78704 (uh…yeah, it is just a zip code) are just a tiny fraction of this city’s population. And a majority of the rest of us don’t “embraces the afternoon wake-up call, the intellectualization of pop-culture, and the underemployment of the overeducated.”

    I’d counter that the only ones who do embrace the “slacker” culture as a positive are the dwindling number of slackers themselves.

    Keep Austin wierd? Hardly. This town’s just not that weird to begin with.

  2. wae (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 5:15 pm


    I’m not sure what you find dreamy about my depiction. There was in fact a movie called Slacker, and it did in fact evolve from a culture that is identified with Austin. You’re not a fan of the film or the gestalt, but that doesn’t erase the city’s recent past or explain why so many people have been drawn to the Austin lifestyle.

    As for the slacker culture, it’s waning but still pretty evident to me because:
    * Even on the hottest days, Barton Springs is more or less empty before noon.
    * There is a “museum” dedicated to pop culture (in 78704, amazingly enough).
    * I’ve learned more about Kant and Hegel listening to my local baristas than I ever did in college coursework.

    I’ve never understood the reactionary desire to extinguish weirdness from Austin. Sure, the slogan is forced, but at least it’s indicative of a desire to be different. Slacker isn’t the be-all, end-all of Austin culture, it’s just part of a culture that refuses to automatically accept the status quo, and to ask questions that don’t get answered by watching SportsCenter. You don’t have to be a dreamy hippie to find those qualities appealing.

    Austin has the unique gift that a moment in our history was captured on film, and plenty of people in and beyond the city admire it on varying levels. Sure, it’s not for everybody. But if you really dig on cultural monotony, there are a whole lot of other options besides Austin, and they’re all getting more similar every day.

  3. Spook (unregistered) on November 30th, 2006 @ 6:42 am

    One gets the impression that Robbie hasn’t lived in Austin for very long.

    If you weren’t living here in the mid- late- 80s (when the Austin slacker culture was flourishing), then you really don’t know what you’re talking about, now do you?

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