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Friday, August 27, 2021

August 27, 2021: American Teens: John Hughes Films

[With pre-season sports practices beginning this week, I’ve officially got two sons in high school (!!!!). So this week I’ll AmericanStudy pop culture representations of American teens—share the teen texts & contexts that stand out to you in comments, fellow kids!]

On AmericanStudies takeaways from three of the legendary director’s many teen hits (all three released within less than two years!).

1)      The Breakfast Club (1985): It’s hard to find too much that’s new to say about perhaps the single most iconic teen movie in American pop culture history. For a long time, I’ve found the concluding makeover scene so off-putting, so seemingly out of character of the movie’s whole emphasis on embracing our identities/selves, that it honestly turned me off to the whole film. I’m still not a fan, but in thinking about it more for this post, I’d say that the duality—and really the dichotomy—between that film-long message of self-acceptance and that cringetastic makeover moment says an awful lot about the challenges for all teens of navigating their societies and communities, from the smallest (like a potential significant other) to the most overarching (like how society views us).

2)      Weird Science (1985): I said much of what I’d want to say about this lesser-known (and really lesser overall) Hughes film in that Stranger Things-related post. But it’s important to add that the emphasis on teen boy horniness and on their scientific creation as quite literally an object of their attraction (if one who has a mind and will of her own to be sure) is not unrelated to the Breakfast Club makeover scene and its frustrating emphasis on physical attractiveness. Given the female protagonists of two other iconic Hughes teen films from this era, Sixteen Candles (1984) and Pretty in Pink (1986) [both played by Molly Ringwald, who has had interesting things to say about Hughes and gender in recent years], I’m not suggesting that Hughes was only able to envision teenage identity through the eyes of stereotypically horny young men. But, well, that seems to have occupied a central place in his vision!

3)      Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986): Ferris (Matthew Broderick) is not unrelated to those other Hughes teen male characters, not least because his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) seems largely defined by her physical beauty and desirability (and her final line in the film, one that expresses a quite stereotypical marriage-centered goal). But in at least one way Ferris is quite different from those other characters, and really all of the teen characters in these ‘80s Hughes films: he overtly criticizes and in many ways rejects the expectations of his communities and society, and urges all his youthful viewers (in those consistent 4th-wall breaking moments) to do the same. It’s interesting that Ferris was Hughes’ last teen-focused film (as director and as writer) before he began to move onto more adult main characters and stories, reflecting perhaps his own recognition that his teen emphases were limited or at least had run their course.

August Recap this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Other teen texts & contexts you’d share?

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