Red vs. Blue and the Slacker Revolution
In the early 90′s, a few independent film directors sought to hone in on the thoughts and ideals of the Generation X. Director Richard Linklater’s film Slacker is often credited with popularizing the term as well as inspiring other independent filmmakers of the 90′s like Kevin Smith and his film, Clerks. Both films provided a peek into the lives of bored twenty-something movie/convenience store employees left ostracized by society. And for good reason: they were losers.
In a society that favors hard work, initiative and dedication, slackers stand out because they lack any ambition; they’re aimless and apathetic to the world.
Yet as others have suggested, Generation Xers have seen through the way their parents lavished them with consumer goods. They realize they were too often left alone at home to watch TV. Dissatisfied with the pursuits of society and watching their parent’s marriages fall apart, these “slackers” pursued a value system that emphasizes relationships over material goods. When Dante and Randal waste time talking at their dead-end jobs as clerks, they’re simply valuing a relationship over the material definitions of success.
They’ve seen how much happiness working high-stress, high-income jobs has given their parents, and they’ve rejected it.
In an interview with the Austin Chronicle, Linklater said:
Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.
Red vs. Blue is a strange thing–a meme that grew and grew until it warranted the release of The Best Red vs. Blue DVD Ever of All Time. It started as what seemed like frat boys making jokes into their Xbox headsets, pantomiming with their avatars in the original Halo multiplayer. Even the “camera” was only someone with a pistol and a reticule that turned red when hovering over a character. In later seasons the show expanded to full motion battles, special effects and basically became an animated series in the full sense of the word.
Yet, the reason Red vs. Blue garnered a cult following is because it struck a chord with a new generation of slackers.
Gamers are the new Clerks.
We appear lazy for playing hours of mindless multiplayer matches; we spend days and nights in our basements with no material value to show for it. We have amassed no wealth in climbing the leader boards, no diplomas for fragging our friends, nothing our parents would value.
But we made friends. We created connections.
Generation X, the one I narrowly missed, though idolized in school, grew up in during the introduction of the PC, the genesis of videogames and MTV. And it’s these shared experiences of TV and games that created a common lexicon shared between an entire generation. Videogames are the new time sink of our generation. Blood Gulch was my mall hangout, the background of my everyday life. Red vs. Blue’s characters are endearing because my friends would stay up all Friday night after school orchestrating our own battles.
We still goof off and talk about everything under the sun, only now much of the generation of young men share a common ground in videogames, and the culture of multiplayer. Like the clerks of the 90s, we infuse the seemingly futile nature of our arrested development and time spent gaming, with our hopes and fears. We mix stealing flags endlessly with our daily stresses from relationships: dealing with a jerk, a dumb coworker or an inept boss. These experiences, for many in my generation, are connected with coming to terms with a broken society and the feeling of being lost in the cracks.
Clerks was a movie about losers whose lives are just as meaningful and thoughtful as hotshot CEOs.
With Clerks, Smith artfully points to our poignant spiritual, political and economical musings. The U.S Census Bureau records that Generation X is highly educated, and as gamers of the early Y generation, we too have become highly educated. Yet here we are, without jobs, without any means to repay our enormous student loans, and spending our time playing videogames.
But we play games and “waste time” with our friends.
“In our Blue vs. Red space battles, there are two colors,” Caboose says in The Best of RvB, “And sometimes those colors fight other colors. But do colors really matter? On the inside aren’t we really just scared people who figure out how to get out of our armor after 10 years?” The intelligent humor, combined with crude yet brilliant appropriation of Halo avatars neatly defines what gamers are: irreverent, inventive, intelligent and playful.
The opening conversation of season 1, episode one of Red vs. Blue perfectly encapsulates the theme of the show and captures the character of this next generation of clerks.
“Do you ever wonder why we’re here?” Simmons asks.
Griff replies, “It’s one of life s great mysteries isn’t it? Why are we here? Are we the product of some cosmic coincidence, is there really a god watching everything? You know, with a plan for us and stuff? I don’t know man, but it keeps me up at night.”
“What? No I meant why are we here in this canyon… What was that all about god?”
We wax poetic about the state of our lot in life, death, god, and politics, in the dynamic of mundane workplace. There’s the druggie, Caboose, the ambitious Church who could go places if he wasn’t tied down to these low-lifes he calls friends, there’s the incompetent boss Sarge and over everything is the pervading sense that, like working as a clerk, stealing the other team’s flag is meaningless.
Eventually the reds and blues discover they truly are a meaningless cog in society, yet they find meaning and humor in life, as do the viewers, in the quirky relationships with the people they live and work with.
To appropriate Linklater’s words, gamers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. A more modern notion of gamers would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.
Gamers are the new clerks, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.