Haunted by the Slacker

It’s hard to remember a time when scrolling through Instagram was anything but a thoroughly exhausting experience.

Where once the social network was basically lunch and sunsets, it’s now a parade of strategically-crafted life updates, career achievements, and public vows to spend less time online (usually made by people who earn money from social media)—all framed with the carefully selected language of a press release. Everyone is striving, so very hard.

And great for them, I guess. But sometimes one might pine for a less aspirational time, when the cool kids were smoking weed, eating junk food, and… you know, just chillin’.

Finding it hard to stop thinking about Rosie Spinks’ essay on neoliberal professionalism and her hope for the return of the archetypal Slacker: “The Age of the Influencer has Peaked. It’s Time for the Slacker to Rise Again.

It’s something that haunts me quite a bit. I’m all too aware that this blog seems to exist more and more on a precipice between that thing I do for fun and for its own sake to scratch an itch and that thing which seems to offer a better chance at self-sustainability than any of the “real jobs” in my life.

Then again, I’m also all too aware that this is an issue exacerbated by a London existence which is rapidly approaching a peak of its own. I miss living in Hull, to some extent. It was very easy to be a slacker in that city, existing on next to no money at all. The feeling that living the dream is only achievable via geographic and economic disconnection is very real — and, to be honest, quite attractive.

My girlfriend and I keep daydreaming about moving out to Cornwall and living out our lives exploring its weird crevices and beaches. There aren’t really any jobs out there, however, and we’re told it can be an isolating place out of season. The former is an obvious issue but the latter sounds just fine. A new attempt to turn on, tune in and drop out.

Spinks continues:

Is it even possible to truly be a slacker anymore?

The neoliberal economic conditions that gave rise to the influencer — and all those side hustles and personal brands — simultaneously have made it harder to attain a normal middle class existence. Even if your goals are of the modest, slacker variety — an hourly wage job, a roof over your head, junk food to eat, and TV to watch — that’s all a hell of a lot harder to come by these days. 

“Thinking about Reality Bites, I feel like they were relatively privileged, but they were sort of lazing around and they could sort of consist on hardly any money at all,” Scott said. “It’s really impossible to live an urban life on very little money.”

But perhaps that realization will lead some to divest from the belief that hard work and self-optimization will lead us to some capitalist promised land. The neoliberal ideal has reached its peak and, well, it’s not as though we’ve solved income inequality with all our hard work. Quite the opposite. As Storr writes of our culture’s failed promise: “It wants us to buy the fiction that the self is open, free, nothing but pure, bright possibility … This seduces us into accepting the cultural lie that says we can do anything we set our minds to … This false idea is of immense value to our neoliberal economy.” 

Today, the evidence of that myth’s failure to deliver is all around us. 

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