Just in time for Christmas way back in the year 2000, 20th Century Fox delivered a masterwork of the stoner comedy film genre with, Dude, Where's My Car?, that now stands as nothing short of a prophetic metaphor for life as a Chicagoan in our modern 2021. Did the writer Philip Stark, or the director Danny Leiner, know at the time that the motifs so dazzlingly explored throughout this visual exposition would prove so prescient in capturing the political and cultural landscape of early 2020s Chicago life? I won't pretend to know. Still, the film remains a veritable wonder and bonafide tour de force channeling the delicious absurdity of our age.
The film follows two best friends, Jesse and Chester, played by the incomparably accomplished thespians Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott, respectively, who deliver a masterclass of the artform.
Jesse and Chester awaken with hangovers and no memory of the previous night. Their television is on, showing an Animal Planet program about animals using twigs and rocks as tools to get food. Their refrigerator is filled with containers of chocolate pudding, and the answering machine contains an angry message from their twin girlfriends Wilma and Wanda as to their whereabouts. The two also learn they have almost been fired from their jobs. They emerge from their home to find Jesse's car missing, and with it their girlfriends' first-anniversary presents. This prompts Jesse to ask the film's titular question: "Dude, where's my car?" Because the girls have promised them a "special treat", which Jesse and Chester take to mean sexual intercourse, the duo begins retracing their steps in an attempt to find it. Along the way, they encounter a transgender stripper, a belligerent speaker box operator at a Chinese restaurant's drive-through, UFO cultists led by Zoltan, a Cantonese-speaking Chinese tailor, the Zen-minded Nelson and his cannabis-loving dog Jackal, the attractive Christie Boner, her aggressive jock boyfriend Tommy and his friends, a couple of hard-nosed police detectives, and a reclusive French ostrich farmer named Pierre. They also meet two groups of aliens, one group being five gorgeous women, the other being two Norwegian men, searching for the "Continuum Transfunctioner": an extraterrestrial device that the boys accidentally picked up.
I won't describe the entire plot but if you can read the above and not feel as if punched in the face with the artistic parallels to our modern life, well, I can't help you and we're just unlikely to get along.
In the film's quintessential scene, where we find our most impactful and stirring allegory of life in our modern Chicago, Jesse and Chester discover two tattoos on each others backs. It's here that Kutcher and Scott are at their Meisnerian best in a bravura that would make Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and Lemmon and Matthau hang up their Thalia masks.
The poetry! The prose! I imagine that if not Shakespeare than Saul Bellow himself turned over in their graves and wept with jealousy at this political Chicago metaphor.
Don't worry, viewer. I reassure you that you would not be at fault if you mistakenly believed our heroes, Jesse and Chester, were cast as stand-ins and surrogates for the political leadership and cultural class of our great city. The parallels are truly remarkable.
What may as well be an eternal search for the source of their woes as they attempt to stitch together a record of their poor decision making, the duo are so lost in buffoonish futility and their intellectual capacity so dim that they're unable to fundamentally communicate with each other. Each implores the other to respond with any hint of understanding that would lead them toward some awakening within their mental faculties but, no matter how hard they try and while doing nothing more than repeat the same old words and phrases, their conversation devolves into the confusion, infighting, and blame residents of this city know all too well. Rather than attempt to face any sort of criticism or consequences their decision making has resulted in, it is the Asian shopkeeper who eventually grows so frustrated that he forcibly intervenes. And yet, alarmingly, the pair remain blissfully ignorant and satisfied that no mistake could have possibly been made by them or required elementary correction and they continue along their merry way in their fresh new track suits.
"Why Jesse?" We viewers beg.
"Why Chester?" We viewers plead.
Why? Why are they incapable of taking just a moment to pause, evaluate their argument with reasonable integrity, prepare themselves to communicate their response, and deliver the information so the other can best understand? Why? Why are they incapable of taking just a moment to listen? Are they incapable of self reflection? Do they lack any and all abilities to communicate? If so, are they incapable of using their God given creativity to find other ways to clarify their argument? And, lacking that ability, is there no room for creativity to merely try another approach to fixing such a fundamental problem? Why not just try another way? Just...try? Something? Anything different to discover where it has all gone so wrong?
These questions are profound even for those of us so clearly in the intelligentsia class, like myself, let alone our hapless heroes, Jesse and Chester.
Jesse and Chester don't do any of the above, of course. They won't. The narrative simply wouldn't work if they did.
No, Jesse and Chester, just as it is in Chicago, must continue as they are. There's simply no other course of action or path for the pair to take. Just as in Chicago, Jesse and Chester live an existence only few could ever dream. A fictional utopian wonderland where every problem will always and forever work itself out, dude.
An apt metaphor for Chicago, indeed.
Most political and cultural commenters would not dare to approach let alone touch such serious critique as I do with this type of skill and that's what makes me the best in this city, the best on this side of the Mississippi, and probably the best on the other side, too.
Forget that homicides in January of 2021 were at a four year high, even after last year's spike, that's old news. Carjackings are the fresh new hotness up 130% over last year, which was already the highest figure seen since 2001 and a number that would likely be substantially higher if February had not had such heavy snowfall.
While a carjacking is a more difficult crime to pursue, the carjacking arrest rate is currently 2.9%, which is almost impossibly a percentage point less than last year's abysmal 3.9%. The carjacking arrest rate is down from a previous decade high of greater than 15%. Hey, at least the homicide detectives over at 3510 S. Michigan can sleep a little better at night now that some of the spotlight has been taken off them as their solve rate, while still not as bad as the 2016 rate of 29%, remains 20 points below the national average.
With over 300,000 Chicago Public School children still without, well, anything to do, nearly 50% of the arrests for those carjackings and suspected carjackers have been juveniles.
Just yesterday, while Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports was filming a segment it appeared he was witness to a live carjacking in the middle of the afternoon, broad daylight, while on camera in front of a police officer. Fortunately, as reported by CWBChicago, the police quickly clarified that no, Portnoy did not witness a live carjacking, the car had been stolen earlier and he merely witnessed a more traditional auto theft.
And yet, what is the political and cultural class in this city worried about?
Well...you know, the usual. Optics. Future political ambitions. How the media will cast them. Political legacies. Backroom deals that keep their voting blocks complacent and them in power. Spending more money we don't have on nonsense buzzwords. You know, all the vital parts of the perpetual competition in this city over who can present themselves as the most virtuous to the assembled gaggle while they do nothing more than kick the can of right and wrong further down the road so no actual consequence for any decision making that would happen on their watch could happen on their watch and for which they may get blamed.
So the problems perpetually continue.
Two best friends, the political and cultural class of Chicago, so obtuse in their ineptitude and inability to get control of their unbelievably still growing crime problem they've long since passed so far beyond caricature that only an obscure stoner comedy from the twilight of the millenium starring Kelso and Stifler is able to fully quantify the absurdity of the condition it feels like as an audience member watching this leadership perform.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot likes to play the tough-talkin', straight-shooting, no-nonsense-takin' BOSS but talk is all it ever seems to be. If she cared half as much about actual, real solutions rather than how popular she is in memes, maybe this city would begin to the see the former as much as we see the latter. Rather than start to genuinely back her police department she prefers to mean mug law abiding small business restaurant and bar owners she's kept locked down for a year. Rather than do all she can to make the conditions better so businesses and taxpayers stop fleeing to the suburbs and states elsewhere, she and her crack team are reviewing statues for nonsense buzzword criteria. The mayoral equivalent of a Vicks Formula 44 commercial, she just plays one on TV.
Kim Foxx seems have some yet to be discovered bet not seen since the Book of Job with San Francisco's Chesa Boudin to see who can destroy their respective once great American cities the quickest. Foxx is not so much a prosecutor as she is a political ideologue pretending to be one. She's admitted as much as late as last week in an interview with Politico. How a community expects the law to be enforced and crime to be combated when the lead person in the position to enforce their laws openly flaunts she does not care what their law requires is beyond me, yet the fact remains that Kim Foxx was actually reelected in this town. While that will forever remain a great mystery to me, it will forever serve more as a testament to the complete and total complacency, insouciance, and all around nonchalance that "leaders" in this city feel toward the general operation.
Jesse Sharkey, the dear glorious leader of the neo-Marxist organization operating under the name Chicago Teacher's Union, that controls and unashamedly manhandles every aspect of Chicago Public Schools and the 340,000 children that fall under the CPS district ecosystem, a system that had over 400,000 students less than a decade ago, continues to not give one single damn about the juvenile crime problem beyond how he can best use those kids as hostages in the next CTU work stoppage complaint, which will most certainly take some form of gobbledygook demand that Tuesday's are racist. But that's to be expected from neo-Marxists like Jesse Sharkey and his apparatchiks. Still, I don't know if I've seen an organization so overplay their hand and turn more parents against them and even teachers secretly against its leadership than I have in how Jesse Sharkey has played his tenure. It's impressive, really. And yet the parents and teachers who privately tell me how ashamed they are by the behavior of the Union these last few years remain terrified of speaking up and taking action against its leadership for fear of retribution. Again, a classic expectation of neo-Marxism but, at some point, someone will have to challenge them otherwise nothing will change.
Is it fair to include new Police Superintendent David Brown, who only arrived in the spring of last year? Despite his reputation as a focused, progressive reformer working behind the blue line, I doubt anyone could have prepared Superintendent Brown for the...unique...political and cultural machinations required to operate in a town like this. Particularly coming from somewhere like Dallas, a city whose crime statistics may not be as far off from Chicago's as the national press would make it seem but with a citizenry that is ostensibly a little more kind to their police department and those who serve to protect and the results, a homicide clearance rate 35 points higher than Chicago, to prove it. But David Brown is the Police Super now. He's here. It's his job and his department. And I don't see much push back or defense from him when his officers are constantly torched as oppressive racists, including from the top prosecutor's office. I don't see much push back from him when the city uses one hand to deliver his officers yet another 12 hours on/0 days off shift schedule while the other hand is on the phone dragging them through the media muck. It's David Brown's watch now and his crime rate is climbing and the warm weather isn't even here, yet. He'd better start implementing whatever reforms he has planned and learn to do some politicking real quick so he can get back to focusing on crime protection.
I could go on until I'm red in the face and, with a few drinks in me after the sun goes down, I often will.
I suppose what I'm trying to enunciate is this town has a disarming lack of leadership and a constituency that doesn't seem to care. Families and businesses are suffering with no end in sight because no one in any position of power can seem to offer or seem bothered to provide any sense of direction toward anything resembling logic, reason, and common sense.
I know this city has an affection bordering on an obsessive penchant for group think, but this is simple stuff. It shouldn't take this long for someone to suggest an alternative approach. It doesn't require everyone run for political office or be constantly engaged, but it does require residents to be paying attention and have the courage to make the difficult demands when required.
There is no leadership here. Titles do not measure talent and elections do not gift expertise. Without leadership, without demands for the difficult decisions to be made and the courage to make the difficult decisions, don't be surprised when 50% of violent crime like carjacking Chicagoans at gun point in broad daylight is being committed by juveniles. Don't be surprised when your city becomes the butt of the joke and the negative excuse for every town elsewhere, "Hey, at least we're not Chicago..."
Without a sudden change in this leadership and current way of thinking this city operates under, forget bringing business back to Chicago, people are terrified to even visit let alone open a business. Without a sudden change in this leadership, forget being a center for conventions, forget having every entertainment option at your disposal, forget being a world-class destination for restauranteurs, forget being the best bar town in the United States. You may as well forget anyone living here at all. I know U-Haul is standing by. This state is already among their best customers.
Whether anyone in this town likes it or not, cities are in a competition for resources and people are a city's resources. In Chicago, the resources are being greatly mismanaged. And the lack of leadership and the cavalier attitude toward its future prosperity are driving those resources away.
Until the people begin to care, until the constituency begins to believe in this place as home and fight for it rather than flee to Florida and Arizona and Texas and Indiana and wherever else, that leadership will continue to live in some alternate utopian reality where there are zero consequences for their actions and all we'll see is more of the same endless back and forth of absurd nonsense and the home will never get fixed. The dust will begin to pile in the corners of the window sills, the doors will start to slump on their hinges, the paint will begin to peel, and, slowly but surely, the home will be consumed by time and fall into dilapidation, disrepair, and eventual abandonment like so many once prosperous cities across the Rust Belt and Great Lakes region have in recent memory.
But maybe we'll have our own Cantonese-speaking Chinese tailor to intervene in the idiocy someday? I don't know.
CWBChicago. “Did Barstool Sports Really Record a Live Carjacking in the Loop? Not Quite, CPD Says.” CWB Chicago, March 13, 2021. https://cwbchicago.com/2021/03/did-barstool-sports-really-record-a-live-carjacking-in-the-loop-not-quite-cpd-says.html. ↩︎
Minters, Brooke. “Chicago's Kim Foxx Was 'Triggered' by #Meghanharryoprah.” POLITICO, March 12, 2021. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/the-recast/2021/03/12/chicago-kim-foxx-meghan-harry-oprah-492093. ↩︎
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