Sunday, November 07, 2004

Dispense the nonsense:

This was a piece I wrote for another feature that I adopted for you lucky A.L.B.B.

It is high time – and seriously, who really says high time anymore? – that we here at A.L.B.B. explore the historical and cultural progression of the word Dude. Or, as I like it call it: Dude Reviewed.

(Speaking of high time and such, there are words you can get away with using in print that make you look smart, but if you used them in real life, there is a fair chance, if you hang in rougher circles, you might get punched. Neither and nor spring to mind. High time is another example)

As any right-minded person with a scant knowledge of the west - and especially us viewers of HBO’s “Deadwood” - know, the word Dude’s use originated as a sarcastic insult to somebody who was overly fancy, too educated, overly dressed, urbane, rich and or downright snotty.

Dude’s rich cousin Dandy died a long time ago while Dude, for unknown reasons, continued. It probably continued because Dude is a fun word to say. Dude. Heh heh. See? Try it again. Dude. OK, fine, it’s not as fun as the word biscuit, but it is a fun word, regardless. Or, irregardless, as a wanna-be Dude might say.

Fast forward to Southern California beaches, circa mid 1970’s. The surfing scene had over-grown into something that was no longer just the “cool” 1950’s and 1960’s Zen-like love of the ocean, surfing, music and general soulful peaceful air that defined mellow surfers of the era.

By the seventies, a large sect of surfers had affected an intentionally anti-social, defiantly arrogant and stoned-out rebel persona, partly because of the crowds, partly to distinguish themselves from the older generation of Beach Boys/ California dream mellow surfers and partly due to the advent of better and more drugs. (This social phenomenon is well chronicled in the documentary “Dog Town and Z-Boys” narrated by Sean Penn, who factors into all of this later)

As with most forced trends, the really good surfers didn’t generally feel the need to lower themselves to this new stereotype, it was mostly the hacks and newcomers from inland Southern California, or “The Valley” that stamped, and were identified with, this faux bad-boy image.

This new surfer cult identified each other, for whatever reason, with the term Dude. Like most California surfer expressions, it probably arrived from Hawaii, like the similar pig-English term Brah, or Brauddah (sp?) Dude replaced the too corny terms, buddy and pal. (Part of the reason might also be because, when you are really stoned, the word Dude comes out whether you want it to or not)

For those of us who were then, thankfully, not a member of this odd California cult, the word Dude became a sly put down of these heroic under-achievers: drop outs who only lived to fix up their van, get stoned, surf, eat – or scarf, as they put it - at Del Taco, and live with their parents for the rest of their natural adult lives. The word Dude then, as it had been in the old west, once again became a sarcastic insult.

Most non-surfers only said Dude mockingly imitating how a stoned-out Bellflower, La Hambra, Long Beach or West Covina surfer would say it: Dewhuhuuude. The word Dude was well on its way to die a natural death as a goofy term associated with a narrow cultural stereotype.

Until the movie that launched a billion Dudes: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Writer Cameron Crowe and actor Sean Penn accidentally conspired to expose the rest of the country to Penn’s absolutely dead-on-balls accurate (Apologies to “My Cousin Vinny”) portrayal of this relatively new member of California society. That new society member was, and forever will be, personified in the form of one Jeff Spicoli, the consummate fried-out surf-dude:

“All I need is a cool buzz some tasty waves and I’m fine.”

There is no doubt in my mind that Crowe initially wanted to portray the stoned-out surf-dude realistically and simply as the joke-losers they were. But Sean Penn was so talented an actor, he colored his painting with a texture of sensitivity. And it was an accurate stroke of genius.

Although, granted, at first impression, most surfers were worthless morons, many surfers, after “being one with the ocean,” combined with their intense love of surfing – as well as the effect of constantly being high - actually did possess a peculiar and enviable air of feint mysticism and Penn caught that in his character. And the rest of the country ate it up.

My friends in Illinois didn’t like Sean Penn’s Spicoli at first because they didn’t believe he existed. (It was exactly like when my California friends didn’t understand the Cohen brothers amazingly dark and culturally accurate “Fargo”; they didn’t believe anyone in the Midwest really talked like that)

Once assured that stoned-surfer dudes existed, everyone outside of California became fascinated. Fascinated hell, they wanted to be Jeff Spicoli. But since being Spicoli was geographically, financially and socially impractical, they just adapted part of Spicoli: the word Dude.

And that, Torn Slatterns and Nugget Ranchers, is how we arrived at the overly intense saturation of the word Dude in modern society. Will the word Dude ever die out? It is unlikely, but it might. As John Elway expressed in his Hall of Fame induction speech, his daughters nag him because he is too old to say the word Dude. The word Dude will never be actually truly cool again thanks to how it was mocked by “The Dude” in another movie; “The Big Labowski” But, will it ever go away forever? Sadly, it’s not likely, Dude.

See that? It ain’t all about the grins and giggles up in this hear A.L.B.B. beyatch. Every now and again, we likes us to get us our thinking on.