Read these boards, and comments like yours, has opened up my eyes a bit.
I was curious after rewatching some of the film after all these years, why I felt a sort of clanging, dark cloud of sadness. I hadn't even remembered some scenes, like the man who murders his own mother, or the darkness of some of the people.
In many parts it is a bleak film. Like you say, all salesmen. Almost nobody says "thank you" for anything, almost nobody smiles, almost nobody laughs, almost nobody tells a joke. There isn't apparently much intimacy. There are very few characters who actually have any kind of emotional relationship with any of the other characters. When the Anarchist daughter says that she loves him, it is a tiny window into some kind of recognizable human emotion.
I used to think the anarchist was a charming old intellectual sort. When I was younger. Now that I actually understand some of the things he is talking about, I am a bit horrified. This man is in no way, shape or form a hero. He talks about the UT Tower shooter as some kind of role model, and also the man who shot McKinley. Both were literally insane people - the UT Tower shooter actually had a brain tumor that was discovered after his death, and the tumor had effectively caused him to go mad.
Maybe I missed the whole point of the film. Maybe I was never even supposed to listen to the old anarchist. Maybe I was supposed to spend time with him in order to understand some of what the daughter went through. Or does she also have to listen to him talk about his *beep* wife", her mother, causing him to "miss" the Tower shooting? Ugh.
Just ugh. Ew.
I completely understand, on an emotiona level, why this film was such a hit in a certain group of people in the 1990s. It was about a real place that existed. And it wasn't just Austin. It was a lot of places. Especially places with large colleges nearby. Austin is home to UT, when the "TV Guy" says 'did you hear about the grad student in the history department', we dont wonder which university, we know. Its like saying "did you hear about the guy at the corner shop". We are assumed to know which shop, in the circles these characters live, you dont need to specify any further than 'the history department'.
I also think I understand, now that I'm older, why it rubs people the wrong way. It's bereft of things that almost every story has. Think of your top 10 favorite films. What do they have? Romance? Intrigue? Suspense? Do they deal with weighty social issues? Politics? Death? Do they deal with a heart wrenching relationship and its evolution? Parent child relationships? Illness? Well, strip all of that away, and make a movie about life without any of those things, except as tiny brief mentions in the background. Before you can get your toes wet into any of them, the water is taken away. Then you have Slacker.
Perhaps if we followed any of these people for more than 10 minutes, we would have some kind of grand and beautiful portrait of the human condition. We have a portrait here, I just don't feel like it's grand. Maybe beautiful. But almost claustrophobically small.
I can imagine every one of these characters, now, would have a smartphone. It's almost like they are desperate to reach out to something bigger than the table full of empties and the guy theorizing about the smurfs. And so am I. I wouldn't want to go back to Slacker land, where some of us lived in the 1990s. I am happier with the here and now.
I don't quite agree with you, but your comment is quite well stated. You should get a trophy for how to disagree on the internet.