Bromancing the Stoned: Boho Buddies in Popular Culture.
Over the last 60 years or so, a distinct sub-genre has emerged across film, TV and literature: the slacker buddy narrative. Inspiring devoted cult followings, these often comic tales follow the misadventures of two males on the bohemian underbelly of society who are usually co-habiting in conditions of abject squalor.
The two main characters generally fall into two distinct types: a relatively grounded and rational individual who instigates most of the pair's schemes and adventures, and a more hedonistic figure who lives purely for kicks and has no sense of consequences. At least one of the pair is often dreaming of stardom in some creative field, but drug-taking or general chaos derails their plans.
Plot is often of limited importance in this genre, the events being as spontaneous as the characters themselves. It's a world where women are on the periphery, but this has less to do with any homo-erotic subtext than the fact that the characters are so warped.
In no particular order, here are four examples…
On The Road (Book 1957, Film 2012)
Jack Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness novel introduced the world to two quintessential beatnicks: aspiring writer Sal Paradsise and hyperactive drifter Dean Moriarty (based on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady).During their road trip across America, Sal and Dean write-off several cars, party with friends in different cities, listen to jazz, visit Mexico and essentially, live in the moment. This book laid the ground for the 'beat generation' and the importance of getting ‘kicks’ over a conventional lifestyle.
Midnight Cowboy (Book 1965, Film 1969)
Sick of his kitchen job, self-proclaimed ‘stud’ Joe Buck (John Voight)leaves his native Texas for New York with the aim of becoming a gigolo. After he falls on hard times, Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman)puts him up in his unheated squat and offers to be his ‘manager’. Having little success in their business venture, the two survive by petty crime, conning and hustling their way through New York’s seedy underbelly. After mixing with bohemians at an arty ‘happening’, Joe’s fortunes pick up, but Rizzo has fallen seriously ill and persuades Joe to take him to Florida, but he dies on the Greyhound bus.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Book 1972, Film 1998)
This novel is a semi-factual account of Thompson’s journalistic assignment to cover a three-day car race in Los Angeles in 1971, which is actually an excuse for herculean feats of drug-taking. Thompson is accompanied by his 'attorney', who resembles a demented Dionysis on a mission to imbibe, snort and fuck everything in his path, Thompson documenting the chaos while also ruminating on the demise of the 60’s counterculture. On one level the book is a wild drug adventure, but it is also a diatribe against what Thompson found frightening in America - the forces of police, capitalism and conservatism.
Up in Smoke (Film, 1978)
The first film featuring perpetually stoned hippy musicians Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong. Up in Smoke is a road movie wherein the twosome drive around California in search of dope, get deported to Mexico, then re-enter the states driving a van made of hashish. On the way they pick up a pair of girl hitchers, goof around in a police station and say “man” a lot. A LOT. Cheech and Chong went on to release eleven albums and twelve films, the latest Cheech and Chong’s Animated Movie, in 2012.
Withnail and I (Film, 1987)
Two aspiring actors live in a cold, filthy flat in 60’s London. Out of work and drinking heavily with only their menacing drug dealer for company, they decide to escape to the countryside and stay at a decrepit cottage owned by Withnail’s uncle Monty. At first unable to handle rural life, they struggle to look after themselves until the amorous Uncle Monty arrives…This film has built up a huge cult following, in no small part due to an unforgettable performance from Richard E Grant as the tortured and iconoclastic drunk, Withnail.
These examples are part of a wider culture depicting slackers, stoners and struggling creatives. Other examples include: The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (Comic 1968-), This is Spinal Tap (Film 1984), Slackers (Film 1991), the comedy music duo Tenacious D and Kevin Smith’s films featuring the characters Jay and Silent Bob.
Words by Tom George. Originally published at Tom George Arts where you can read the full version here.