Some of my most pleasant memories of being a teen in the '80s came from some of the better teen movies which flourished at that time. Foremost among the creators of this genre of moviemaking was the great John Hughes whose work during the '80s was known for treating the minds and feelings of teenagers, and the situations that teens found themselves in, with seriousness and respect.
An account of several teens from very different cliques bonding with one another during their stay in detention, The Breakfast Club served for many of us as a protest against the walls that separated us from our fellow teens. It also had an unusual depth for a teen flick, allowing its characters to express the complexity which lay behind the facades of various teen stereotypes. Kids who were as different as a nerd, a stoner, an arty outsider, a jock and a preppie suddenly seemed more than just one dimensional. I remember getting great pleasure out of the way this movie made you think, as you chewed on the dialogue going on between the characters on the screen.
But the thing that made The Breakfast Club, and all of Hughe's movies, so wonderful for a teen loner like me, is that Hughes had a particular soft spot for the outsiders, the individualists, and the misfits, and he had a great way of exposing their dilemma through his movies, and ultimately empowering them in the process.
For example, there is this scene in the Breakfast Club, where the jock character, played by Emilio Estevez, tells about an awful thing, a pitiless prank that he played on this nerdy kid. He had done it to impress his fellow jock friends, but in the movie, he was expressing how bad he felt over his part in such a cruel prank, and how awful he must have made that hapless boy feel. At the conclusion of the jock's account, the nerd character, played by Anthony Michael Hall, quietly mentions that the boy who was the target of the prank was one of his friends. The scene is powerful, and there is this painful awareness as the nerd and the jock realize how close this awful prank struck each of them.
Thank you, John Hughes, for moments like that, which exposed the pain of being an outsider, and brought home just how much we had in common as teens from different backgrounds.
John Wilden Hughes (1950-2009)
A Follow Up To The Above:
I've been enjoying reading a book called Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the films of John Hughes. Its a collection of essays where different writers describe the effect that John Hughes movies have had on them as teens. Very often this effect is quite strong, and ground-breaking, causing an effect on the consciousness of those observers.
I, too, have found the teen films of the '80s to have had a significant and important effect on society, much more so than would be acknowledged by those who would casually dismiss them. One such essay described an experience the writer had which shows this effect. In the essay "A Slut or a Prude: The Breakfast Club as Feminist Primer," writer Juliana Baggott wrote about the following incident which happened after watching that seminal Hughes movie.
A few days after I saw the movie, I was in the cafeteria with my people- a group of field hockey girls, a few with eating disorders. Some idiotic football players were spitting spitballs at some band geeks. But they weren't just football players and band geeks, not after The Breakfast Club. We were all trapped in the same ugly, dying organism: high school.I walked over to the football players and said,”C'mon, knock it off.”One said,”Knock what off.”“The spitballs. Just grow up a little.”“Don't I look grown up to you, little girl.” He had me by a hundred pounds and more than a half foot in height.“Listen, asshole, just stop it with the spitballs.”“Oh, she's angry now.” He put his arm around me, rubbed my back. “Isn't she cute when she's angry?”“Cute” was my trigger word- often true for short people. “Don't call me cute again.”“What's wrong cutie. You're so cute!”“I mean it. Call me cutie again and I swear it won't be pretty. . . ”He paused and looked at me deeply in the eyes. “You're so cute.”I slapped him. He had a big head and a thick rubbery cheek. He was fair, and the skin went red fast. Friends told me later that my small handprint was on his cheek for the rest of the day.The long term result was astonishing. All of the boys at that table seemed to fall in love with me and treated me with enormous respect. They addressed me politely in the halls. I'd feel someone watching me, and when I turned around, it would be one of them- all agaze.It made no sense. It only encouraged me. To what? Refuse to accept a definition – a prude, a slut, a . I knew that definitions wouldn't work for me, that I was volatile, unwieldy, and that was the only way I'd survive.
This wonderful movie by John Hughes caused a typical American teenager to feel closer to the other teens in her school, to literally stand up for other teens who were different than herself, to confront a blustering bully, and to see her own self in a different light. Thank you, John Hughes, or your remarkable work.