PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

"No Dad, What About You?!": The John Hughes Generation Conflict

John Hughes and Matthew Broderick on the set of Ferris Bueller's Day Off

John Hughes went to bat for us teenagers against the evil Baby Boomer adults and the damage their material expectations inflicted on the classic American nuclear family.

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They're quite aware of what they're going through

-- 'Changes', David Bowie

When the above words introduced thousands of moviegoers to The Breakfast Club in 1985, few would have predicted the impact that this film, and the ouevre of its filmmaker, John Hughes, would have on an entire generation. Hughes' films, through constant showings on television, became cultural touchstones for Generations Xers and Yers like myself. We could not help but measure our own adolescences with those portrayed by Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, and Eric Stoltz.

Hughes' teenagers did not exist in the real world, to be sure, yet their romantic hopes spoke straight to our hearts. What teenager hasn't pined for their school's respective Jake Ryan or Amanda Jones? What teenager hasn't wanted to play hooky and have the best time of their lives? And what teenager hasn't wished that their own messy and complicated feelings could be related to their peers in such an embraceable fashion?

The lasting popularity of Hughes' films stem not only from adolescent romantic yearnings. A consistent theme with Hughes from his first screenplay on is the material expectations of Baby Boomers and the damage it inflicted on the classic American nuclear family.

In the '80s, the Baby Boomers dried out, suited up, and bought into the Reagan Revolution full tilt. They discovered that, to paraphrase Sally Fields, they 'really, really liked' themselves. They invested the same cache in brands like Mercedes Benz, Gucci, and Cuisinart as they had Levi's, Volkswagen, and thrift stores in their youth. Neil Young supported Ronald Reagan. Tom Wolfe, the Boomer Fitzgerald, wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities. Their 'revolution' rolled like a washing machine in its grave.

Hughes' first screenplays display his preoccupation with the plight of Baby Boomer offspring. In Mr. Mom, Alex and Kenny Butler must show their out-of-touch father Jack how to manage the most simple domestic duties. In National Lampoon's Vacation, Hughes created his Inspector Closseau, the perpetually ineffectual Clark Griswold. Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold was the kind of idiot with which most of us could identify. Clark's chronic overcompensation, attempting to replicate the perfect suburban existence for his rotating pair of children, always ended up in disaster and public humiliation.

When Hughes received the opportunity to direct his scripts, he turned his attention directly to the '80s American teen. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful would all contain at least one Boomer-broken kid. Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles. Steff in Pretty In Pink. Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's. Amanda Jones in Some Kind of Wonderful. These teens had the world by the throat, but inside they were just hollow hangers for designer labels.

The Breakfast Club is undoubtedly Hughes' Citizen Kane. The conceit behind the film is fantastic. Nothing drove me more nuts as a teen than obligations, being forced to do something I didn't want to do by adults. The five teens in The Breakfast Club spend a cathartic Saturday detention together, sharing scars earned from their parents and sticking it to the Boomer Man, Dick Vernon.

Hughes' condemnation shows up in the very first shots of the film, as the parents drop off their wards. The camera sneers at the hood ornament of the faceless Mercedes which drops off Claire. A just as faceless Cadillac Seville drops off Allison.

The blue collar Boomer parents get an even more brutal treatment by Hughes. Bender walks to detention, his father invisible. Brian's mother and Andrew's father come off as scary stage moms for overachieving nerds and jocks, respectively.

The film's heavy is the Principal, Richard 'Dick' Vernon. Vernon carries his no-nonsense attitude as casually as he wears his Saturday detention suit. He is the type of authority figure everyone finds easy to despise, practically begging for respect instead of earning it. Before he opens his mouth, we know this guy's an immense tool.

The other adult in the building this morning is the janitor, Carl. Not only is Carl an alumnus of Shermer High, but Hughes shows us that he was once voted its “Man of the Year”. Carl is the only worthwhile adult in the whole film. His scenes with Vernon highlight the inanity of Vernon's world view. When Vernon shares with Carl that the thought of these kids taking care of him someday keeps him up at night, Carl levels with him. “I wouldn't count on it.”

The film's plot builds to a slow reveal of the reasons why each teen is there. Behind every one of their dumb mistakes lie their nightmare Boomer parents.

Andrew, the star wrestler, sits in detention because of a prank gone terribly awry. He taped another student's 'buns' together. Wow. I don't know how it pops into your head to do something so incredibly cruel to another human, but Hughes and Emilio Estevez make us feel sympathy for Andrew. Andrew's father can't stop pushing him to be the best. Andrew no longer enjoys wrestling, and hopes he'll suffer an injury.

Claire, the 'poor little rich girl', sits in detention because she ditched class to go to the mall. Claire's divorced parents spoil her rotten in a contest to win her love. Everything about Claire screams child of privilege, from the diamond earrings to the sushi to her eventual attraction to Bender.

Judd Nelson as John Bender in The Breakfast Club

John Bender, the delinquent, sits in detention because he pulled a fire alarm. Pulling a fire alarm is exactly the kind of last-ditch, attention-grabbing stunt a Bender would do in real life. I would know. I shared an awful lot of time with my high school's Benders in detention. Bender's father abuses him physically and emotionally. The surprise is that this abuse may be the least shocking.

Allison, the flake, sits in detention because she has nothing better to do. Or so she says. We don't know if anything she says is the truth, because her character is a serial liar. Allison claims to suffer from neglect at home. She keeps her bag in permanent readiness in case she needs to run away.

Brian, the nerd, sits in detention because he brought a flare gun to school in order to kill himself. This led to one of the more lively film debates of the last couple decades- whether you could actually kill yourself with a flare gun while in school. Wouldn't you be better off going off to the woods and doing it? Brian's parents can't deal with the F he received in shop class and the effect it will have on his future.

Hughes' films made documentary sense to me as a child. Out of the 27 teens I graduated grammar school with, at least eight were or would be products of divorced parents. Many others did not have what Clark Griswold would consider ideal family situations. Hughes' films tapped into those experiences. I felt his teens' pains, because I saw the same thing in the fractured lives of many of my peers.

The Boomers have dominated pop culture from birth. Throughout the '80s, I expected nothing less than Boomer self-love everywhere. The Big Chill and Dirty Dancing in film. Thirtysomething and L.A. Law on television. Classic rock on every other station on the dial. It taxed the patience of any young pop consumer.

Hughes' films were a blast of fresh air. Finally, a Boomer who could relate to us! Sure, some of his films feel a little dated now, but there is no denying that he had a remarkable ear and feel for teens. His last name became a brand for us, a seal of approval which certified the sincerity of the film.

Hughes' death last week took all of us by surprise. I hadn't grasped how much I missed his films until I heard of his death. Looking at his resume on IMDB the day of this death, I saw he hadn't worked on a quality product in 15 years or so. What a shame.

I hope John died content. I hope he died knowing that many of us took much comfort in the care he gave us in his films. And I hope knew that many of us took his lessons to heart.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.