You could already be a loser. Lose more now, ask Dylan Muhlenberg how

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Illustrations: Amber Pretorius

In 1991 Beck was a homeless musician who returned to LA after failing to make it in New York. While down and out in the big apple, Beck worked minimum-wage jobs so that he could perform at coffee shops and clubs to indifferent audiences. Inspired, Beck wrote and recorded 90s anthem Loser, emulating Chuck D’s rap style, something he found lacking, hence the chorus, “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me”. Beck not only thought that he was the worst rapper in the world, he felt that Loser was mediocre, too, and only agreed to its release on the producer’s insistence. 

The zeitgeisty anthem perfectly captured the mood of the time and resulted in coast to coast airplay, Beck signing with Geffen, hitting number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts, certified gold with 600 000 domestic copies sold, Rolling Stone including Loser in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and VH1 ranking the song 22 on their list of the 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s. Beck went on to become the poster child for the slacker movement, a highly awarded artist, and got that rarest of things -an apology from Kanye West! 

Perhaps there’s something to the signoff sample he chose to end the track: “I’m a driver/I’m a winner/Things are gonna change, I can feel it”. 

Never before has losing and/or being a loser felt so good.

I dunno where you’re from, but just before we wrote our final exams all the matrics at our school would take a school shirt, put something on the back of it, and then get our peers and teachers to sign it. Having matriculated in 2000 at the height of lad culture at an all boys’ school, this meant that screen-printed FHM tear outs of Kerry McGregor, Candice Boucher, Christina Storm and Theresa De Klerk were the order of the day.  Not for me though, I weighed 50-something kilograms and where I lacked in things like weight, self-esteem and pubes, I made up for in braces, acne, a Jewfro and a SpaceCase full of stationary that I used to scrawl the word LOSER across the back of my shirt. This did two things: it separated me from the herd and provided a platform for my classmates to show off their 17-year old wit. 

“Hey MuhlenZITS you ARE a LOOSER… HUR HUR HUR…” 

Three years later I had dreadlocks, a killer smile and the start of a mustache that would go on to help define the Cape Town hipster movement. Oh, and a job where I got to interview the women that my schoolmates had put on the back of their matric shirts. And it’s not just the great Muhlenberg success story that serves to illustrate how it’s better to start slow and finish strong in the feel-good teen-movie of our times. In fact, history is full of them.

Never has being a loser been so #winning. Especially when you consider who’s actually winning – the ANC, Pop Idols, Jurassic World…  It’s better to stay on the down low, to walk quietly and carry a big stick, than stand proudly on a podium of lowest common denominators. 

Which is why we have guys like Maps Mopanyane emulating Steve Urkell, all thick frames and comfy knits, instead of typical alpha-male icons, like, say, that bully Biff from the Back To The Future movies. As guys become more comfortable in our skins we realize that we don’t need to protect our fragile masculinity and have the power to redefine traditional stereotypes. 

Professional surfer Ricky Basnett made history when he became the first surfer to lose every single heat he surfed in his 2008 WCT year. That’s 22 events and a stone last result on the world tour rankings. He then quit the tour to do things like explore the African coast on throwback boards and live on the Bluff. He has never surfed better, or had more fun doing it. In fact, when another surfer failed to register a single heat win, Ricky Bobby laughed it off and told Surfline in an interview, “I’m bummed to be sharing the record, as I worked really hard for it!”

On an international level, Leo Di Caprio has never won an Oscar. That doesn’t mean he’s not the greatest actor of his generation. Because what is the Academy if not a bunch of Operating Thetan Level Sixes who use their positions of power to promote mediocrity, thus forcing Leo to drown his sorrows in MDMA fuelled super soaker fights with models and to use his trophy cabinet to store magnums of Moët. 

Which is fine, because it’s like Phife-Dawg says in A Tribe Called Quest’s Award Tour, “I never let a statue tell me how nice I am.” According to Rap Genius this means that Phife doesn’t need awards to determine his self worth or let the ones that he does win get to his head and make him cocky. 

Because winning isn’t everything. In fact, sometimes it is better to lose than win. Especially if that means winning by any means necessary. Take my mom for instance. There’s no such thing as a friendly game of 30 Seconds with her and teary-eyed partners are the norm. (Yes, mom, you’re right, everybody should know the name of the guy who built the ark, but you didn’t have to call my wife stupid). And best you check my old lady’s card after she’s done with it because chances are she’s just rattled off a bunch of easy to explain names that aren’t even on there (Guy who built the ark!) Also, wasn’t that red marker further back, and, what, did she just drop the dice so that it landed on zero? So while my mom wins at board games she loses friends and alienates people. Nice going mom.

Same goes for Lance Armstrong. Despite being a cancer survivor and role model doing more with one testicle than what most men could do with three, the man who got everyone to wear a yellow rubber bracelet will forever be known as “a bit of a dick”. Not only was he cheating, guy taught other people how to cheat and then intimidated and threatened anyone who got in his way. 

Losers are more endearing, and it’s human nature to want to see the underdog win. Like when Bradford beat Chelsea 4-2. What a day! But winners? Ha, who wouldn’t want to see that oligarch’s mall team and their flareless pedestrian style of football, which is everything wrong with the modern game, see their comeuppance?

Losers are the most appealing part of pop culture and everyone loves seeing the misfit make right in the end. From Mitch Kramer in Dazed and Confused, to Laney Boggs in She’s All That, to the Superbad guys, not only are these guys way more fun to party with than the Plastics and jocks that mock them mercilessly, these movies prove that it’s the so called “losers” who enjoy stronger bonds and truer friendships.

Maybe it’s because misery loves company or that those guys who are at the top are so preoccupied with trying to stay at the top that they then compete with their friends instead of being friendly. Whatever it is, losers are just that much more chill, and someone who is chill can sit with us any day.