If Texas Has a Soul, It Lives in Matthew McConaughey

We’ve been learning from the man from Uvalde’s shirtlessly Zen approach to life for decades.

I moved to Austin in 1997, but I didn’t feel as though I’d truly arrived here until nearly nine months later, when I first saw Matthew McConaughey ambling alone down Sixth Street one late and beery night. This was long after he’d broken through in films like Dazed and Confused and Contact, but before he’d truly sidled into the A-list with a string of tepid romantic comedies. It was also pre-cellphones, before anyone had ever heard the word “selfie.” McConaughey was thus unencumbered, radiating self-possessed serenity (and pot smoke) as he strolled along the sidewalk, giggling to himself whenever drunk strangers shouted “alright, alright, alright” at him and flashing the occasional hook ’em Horns. My friends and I must have trailed him for a block or two, watching people’s faces light up as he floated by, awed just to be in his orbit. At that moment, McConaughey seemed like the freest man in the world.

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The notion of Matthew McConaughey as some sort of modern-day philosopher is nothing new. The man himself has craftily shaped this perception over the decades, giving magazine interviews and award-acceptance speeches that could double as motivational TED talks, and even writing an entire book about his shirtlessly Zen approach to life. The “Tao of Matthew McConaughey,” as it has been dubbed, boils down to some beyond-basic tenets: Be open to opportunities. Learn from setbacks. Stay true to yourself. And above all, just keep livin’. As a doctrine, it’s pretty straightforward, even when it’s wrapped up in McConaughey’s winding Lincoln ad poetry. Still, the Buddha kept his teachings simple, too, and he didn’t have the benefit of McConaughey’s West Texas drawl to make them sing.

The truth is, people just love to listen to Matthew McConaughey talk, and perhaps none so much as himself. He’s really great at it. You watch him on screen waiting in anticipation of the McConaughlogue—the big ol’ speech where he slowly reels you in with the hypnotic rise and fall of his lazily stretched vowel sounds. He can be just as spellbinding off screen, spinning yarns and spouting koans that can seem enlightened and effortlessly profound, even when they’re just curlicues of Southern-fried nonsense. There is simply a seductive self-assurance to the way McConaughey speaks, much as there is to the way he appears to live his life. And lately it has led him into a second act as a sort of stoner guru to our state, beginning when he was first crowned the Minister of Culture at the University at Texas and started to take the more nebulously spiritual implications of his title seriously.

More broadly—and improbably—McConaughey has become something like the keeper of Texas’s conscience, even-keeled and ever optimistic. In 2020, while the state, like the rest of America, contended with the confusion and lockdowns of COVID-19, McConaughey recorded a series of PSAs that offered a decidedly Lone Star spin on the old maxim of keeping calm and carrying on. His live-streamed “We’re Texas” telethon arguably did more to help victims of the 2021 winter storms than anything our elected leaders did. After a school shooting devastated his hometown of Uvalde in 2022, McConaughey threw himself wholly into statesman mode, raising funds, penning op-eds, and giving passionate speeches behind the White House podium about the need for change.
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Is it any wonder that he’s toyed with the idea of someday being governor himself—or that some polls show him actually giving Greg Abbott a run for his money? Obviously there is some comfort in the fantasy that, in our next existential crisis, Matthew McConaughey would be the one to talk us through it—to insist, with all his nonchalant, Matthew McConaughey cocksureness, that there are still good times ahead, so let’s just keep going.

That said, I doubt that most Texans really want Matthew McConaughey running our state, any more than he really wants to trade his life of beachfronts and red carpets for the grind of infrastructure bills and soul-crushing border visits. Nevertheless, the fact that a foray into politics no longer seems totally laughable speaks to just how far McConaughey has come as a leader—as someone who embodies all our Texas ideals of living authentically, openly, and optimistically. There are many times, especially when sitting in gridlocked Austin traffic, when I myself try to channel my inner McConaughey, allowing cars to merge with a laconic lift of my fingers from the steering wheel, and forcing myself to meditate on finding some joy in the journey. Whenever I meet new people, sometimes I imagine how Matthew McConaughey might greet them, and I strive to imitate his laidback poise and warm affability (while stopping just short of doing the voice).

It doesn’t often work. I don’t know that I will ever feel as free as Matthew McConaughey did that night I watched him sauntering down Sixth Street. But it’s something to aspire to, anyway—a bliss you can’t help but follow.



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