During the 1980s, the prevalent generation was known as ‘baby busters’ because the term Generation X had not been coined at the time. Just like in the present, the movie industry of the 1980s paid much attention to teen culture. According to demographic experts, half of the world’s population is made up of people who are under twenty-five years of age. Therefore, the youth demographic presents film makers with a sizable market for their wares.
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Nevertheless, some of these films that are meant for the youth end up influencing an entire generation. In the history of cinema, there have been several movies that have played a definitive role in the youth cultures of the time (Hanson 58). In the 1980s, the leading personality in the teen-themed movie industry was John Hughes. Hughes’ movies were top in the list of most influential youth films. Two of Hughes’ movies stand out in terms of their influence on youth culture; “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.
These two movies have had a significant influence especially on the 1980’s youth also known as Generation X. “The Breakfast Club” was released in 1985 while “Bueller’s Day Off” was in released in 1986 and both movies defined high school for the generation of the day.
The two films depicted several aspects of a teenager’s life such as teen angst, relationships between teens and parents/teachers, and teen communities. This paper explores the movies “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Out” as the blueprints of the youth culture of Generation X.
“The Breakfast Club” is written and directed by John Hughes. The film was released in 1985 and obtained both critical and box office success. The film is about five high school students who find themselves in a similar predicament of having to serve detention in a Saturday morning (The Breakfast Club). Even though the students have previously been acquainted, they all belong to different student cliques of Shermer High School.
The students who are serving detention at the school library include Andrew Clark- a jock, John Bender- a delinquent, Allison- a confused girl, Brian- a smart student, and Claire- a spoilt princess. The school’s assistant principal, Richard Vernon was the one who had sentenced each of the five students to eight hours of detention. Moreover, the students are instructed to write a 1000 word essay on their personalities as part of their punishment.
John is initially the troublemaker of the group and starts to disregard Vernon’s rules from the onset of their detention. Furthermore, John is irksome towards the quiet Claire Standish and he continues to ridicule Andrew and Brian. As time progresses, the students become more open towards each other and even share a marijuana cigarette.
When the students open up about their personal secrets, it is revealed that “Allison is a liar, Andrew has a strained relationship with his father, Brian is suicidal, Claire is a virgin and John comes from an abusive family” (Shary 77). Instead of writing individual essays on their personalities, the group gives Brian the task of witting a rebellious letter to the assistant principal. At the bottom of the letter, the students sign their name as “The Breakfast Club” (The Breakfast Club).
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has a similar theme but it is a comedy. The film was also written, directed, and produced by John Hughes. The film was successful during its release and it has managed to remain popular over the decades. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a movie about a teenager who decides to skip school for a day and go on a joyride around Chicago (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Mathew Broderick played the role of Ferris Bueller the delinquent teenager.
Ferris manages to skip school by faking an illness and convincing his friend Cameron Frye to join him on his escapades. Initially, Frye is hesitant but he ends up joining Ferris on his exploits. Ferris’ girlfriend joins them and the trio decides to take a Ferrari that belongs to Cameron’s father during their day off. Their day off includes a drive through Chicago’s downtown, a football game, a visit to Sears Tower, a trip to the Museum, and a participation in the Von Stueben Day annual parade (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
Everyone is convinced that Ferris is sick except his sister and the school’s Dean of Students. Ferris’ sister and the Dean work hard to expose him but they are not successful. At the end of the day the joy riders crash the Ferrari and Ferris is almost caught by his parents on his way back from the joyride.
“The Breakfast Club” has often been praised as the ‘best teen-movie of all time’ (Hanson 17). Various movie makers have tried to imitate the style and themes in “The Breakfast Club”. In the 1980s and 1990s there were various teen movies that were produced with the aim of mimicking the success of Hughes’ movie. The movie is credited with the introduction of the ‘Brat Pack’ and the moody teenage lead actors to the cinemas. In the library, a group of seemingly different teenagers gather to highlight the aspects of the life of a 1980s teenager.
Through this group, the movie highlights the popular stereotypes of the time and then proceeds to destroy them. The stereotypes that are highlighted in “The Breakfast Club” are quite similar to the ones in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. In “The Breakfast Club”, the stereotypical jock, pretty girl, rebel, and nerd are all given a fair representation.
Ferris Bueller represents at least two of these stereotypes while his partners in crime represent the rest. Authority figures are given a fair representation in both films although their point of view is largely disregarded. Both movies are concerned with representing the point of the view of the teenagers. In addition, the films explore a teenage utopia where teenagers are in control of their lives and choices. The possibility of finding the solution to the problems of the youth is another fantasy that is explored by Hughes.
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The clash between the teenagers’ school of thought and the authoritarians’ school of thought is more developed in “The Breakfast Club” than in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. When Hughes died in 2009, many hailed him as a genius who was able to translate the pain of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s to all his audiences irrespective of their ages or origins (Tulgan 43).
The generation that Hughes is referring to in these two movies is famously known as Generation X and it covers the demographic of those people who were born after the Second World War. Demographers usually refer to the people who were born from the beginning of 1960s to the beginning of the 1980s as the true members of Generation X.
One of the most common features in a movie is the choice of costumes. The costumes used in a movie aid in representing the characters’ sense of fashion and consequently pass a certain message to the audience. The choice of fashion and hairstyles used in the two movies represents what the youth of the 1980s preferred. Given that the characters in “The Breakfast Club” represent various factions of the 1980s youth, what these characters are wearing represents how society viewed their respective stereotypes.
For instance, Bender dresses in a manner that suits his stereotype as a ‘criminal’. Bender sports messy hair with a shirt and jeans. In addition, Bender wears weight-lifting gloves. The messy hair represents his ‘do not care’ attitude while the weight-lifting gloves are most likely meant to reinforce his ‘tough guy’ image. Every generation has its idea of how a tough guy should look like. For Generation X, the emphasis was on a carefree look especially with the hair.
Consequently, a person’s inability to care was celebrated by this generation. Brian represented the stereotype of ‘the brain’ or the portion of the youth who cared at the time. Brian’s wears an ironed pair of pants and a sweater. His ensemble represents the portion of Generation X that valued formality and planning. Brian is constantly taunted by John because of his caring attitude. The other characters’ mode of dressing represents the stereotypes of the athlete, the basket-case, and the princess.
The different costumes used in the movie are not only for the characters’ benefit but also for the audience’s benefit. The film maker always accords characters costumes that the target audience can relate to and recognize. The target audience of this movie was the 1980s teenagers. Therefore, it is expected that the high school going generation owned the sense of fashion that is depicted in the movie.
In “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” the choice of costume hints at Generation X’s quest for freedom. Ferris’ choice of attire includes an interesting addition in the form of a military beret. The beret could be signifying a number of things including Ferris being on a mission to seek for freedom. Ferris tries to accomplish this mission by skipping school and roaming the downtown streets of Chicago. The beret could also be signifying that Ferris is under a disciplinarian authority.
The rest of Ferris’ attire signifies affluence, something that was painfully sought after by the youth of 1980s. Consumerism is synonymous with the youth of various generations and Generation X is not an exemption. Ferris’ sense of fashion represents a strong sense of affluence and consumerism. For instance, Ferris’ jacket and shoes are quite expensive. The expensive look is completed by the expensive car being driven by the trio.
Ferris’ partner in crime Cameron Frye is most notable for his sports shirt. Sports culture is an important part of any youthful generation. In any youth culture, there are popular and unpopular sports. The popularity of any sport changes depending on the area and generation that is under scrutiny.
According to Frye’s choice of outfit, baseball was the most common sport with the youth of the time. This assumption is cemented by the fact that the trio go to watch a baseball game in the course of their day off. Two of the main characters in the movie wear sunglasses probably to hide their identities from the public. This fashion choice alludes to the identity crisis that is synonymous with teenagers.
Although the universal theme of these two movies might be mistaken for rebellion, friendship is the more dominant theme. In “The Breakfast Club”, friendships are formed and romances built in spite of the fact that the characters’ have different worldviews. This trait has been identified as a major component of Generation X. As the film suggests, Generation X is more oblivious of personality differences among other fundamental differences.
Aspects of Generation X’s ability to form friendships are mostly highlighted in “The Breakfast Club”. When the five friends enter the detention hall their fundamental differences are obvious. However, after a little over eight hours the five friends are able to fully overcome their differences. The ability to make meaningful friendships among Generation X can be attributed to the fact that the generation came of age after the momentum of Civil Rights Movements had died down.
In the 1980s, the American society had integrated all races and women were no longer a repressed gender (Oblinger 40). This explains why the issues of racism and gender inequality do not bother the group serving detention at the library. The spirit of equality is echoed by everyone who belongs to Generation X.
The generation’s friendship dynamics are also explored through Ferris and Frye’s friendship. While Ferris is unconventional and finds it easy not to play by the rules, Frye is a regular guy who is not comfortable with rebellion and is afraid of his father. Nevertheless, the friendship between Frye and Ferris is strong enough to withstand several tests including the crashing of the Ferrari.
Family issues and how they relate to the generation depicted in Hughes’ films can also be deduced through an analysis of these movies. In the 1980s families were being raised by the generation known as baby boomers (Oblinger 45). The 1980s were also a period of hard economic times.
Therefore, most families had to contend with lower incomes. In addition, most families had two working parents and the children who were born at this period learnt to be self sufficient. Generation X has therefore been associated with individualistic tendencies. Furthermore, divorce rates in America were on the rise when Generation X was coming of age. All these factors contributed to the development of an independent, self-sufficient, resourceful, and individualistic generation.
These traits can be found in most of Hughes’ characters. In “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” the main protagonist in the film is Ferris’ sister-Jeanie. Jeanie exhibits strong signs of sibling rivalry towards his brother. She also exhibits individualistic tendencies that are corrected in the end. The generation before X was constituted of closely-knit but large families. Instances of sibling rivalry among the Baby Boomer generation were not as common as they were with Generation X.
The family dynamics where one family member acted as the betrayer of other members started with Generation X and continued with the consequent generations. This dynamic is mostly practical for families with few children, a trend that started in the 1960s. Jeanie is jealous of her brother’s outgoing nature and the fact that he can outsmart almost everyone. However, Jeanie’s jealousy is overcome by her sisterly love when she helps Ferris to deceive his parents in the end.
One of the most common fears among the youths is the possibility of being alienated. Adolescents are constantly faced by the threat of alienation and they go to great lengths to ensure that this does not happen. Consequently, the need to belong is a priority for youths of any generation (Shary 9). In a bid to deal with this problem, youths and adolescents alike are always on the lookout for any associations that reinforce their sense of belonging.
A sense of belonging can be achieved through sharing common slang, similar fashion, or even belonging to a certain clique. In “The Breakfast Club” each of the five characters belongs to a different clique either by identification or by choice. While some characters are comfortable and proud of their cliques, others work hard to gain acceptance into other cliques. For example, John believes he has a superior sense of belonging and he attacks all other characters for not belonging to his clique.
On the other hand, Brian belongs to an unpopular clique and he feels trapped. This feeling pushes him to have suicidal thoughts. Allison or the ‘Basket Case’, fails to belong to any particular group and this prompts her to be on a crisis. Nevertheless, by the end of their detention the five characters have learnt that no group is superior to the other. In addition, the group realizes they are very similar even though they belong to different groups.
Generation X had a very strong sense of self awareness among the youth something that the youth of most other generations lacked. This self-awareness is a central theme in “The Breakfast Club” and also in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. The detention kids become aware of their similar predicaments while Frye realizes that it is time for him to deal with his father.
The self awareness of Generation X is unique because even though the characters realize that they are similar they still retain their individual qualities. Hughes seemed to reiterate the ‘we are more alike than different’ element of Generation X.
Several aspects of the youthful generation depicted in these films have been carried forward to the generation’s adulthood. The generation that is depicted in these films includes people who are in their 30s and 40s at the moment. Some aspects of this generation’s youth philosophies are visible in their current lives. For instance, just like the kids in detention, this generation is not comfortable with authority and formality.
The generation’s hunger for independence and disdain for authoritarianism are some of the factors that have contributed to the current workplace revolution that is synonymous with companies like Google (O’Bannon 100). Employers are willing to change the workplace routines in order to accommodate the generation that skipped school to go and explore towns. One of the most known facts about generation X is its tech-savvy nature.
Hughes’ movies do not highlight the aspects of this generational trait. However, the scene where Ferris and Frye are trying to reverse the speedometer of Mr. Frye’s car depicts the curiosity that enabled this generation to become tech-savvy. Compared to other generations, Generation X values the need for a healthy work/life balance. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” seems to be the beginning of the philosophy of ‘work hard-play hard’.
This philosophy was brought to life by Ferris and it was carried on from the 1970s all the way to the present. This philosophy was most likely nurtured by life experiences of Generation X. Members of this generation witnessed their parents working hard only to lose their jobs during the American downsizing trend of the 1970s and 1980s.
Both “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” were successful movies in terms of their ratings and financial performance. Some critics have also hailed “The Breakfast Club” as the most significant teen movie ever made mostly due to the impact the movie had on the generation of the day. These two movies act as a culture bookmark for Generation X. The movies have gained prominence with Generation X’s audience as well as with audiences from other generations who find Hughes’ accurate portrayal of teenage life enchanting.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, and Alan Ruck. Paramount Studios, 1986. Film.
Hanson, Peter. The Cinema of Generation X: a Critical Study of Films and Directors, California, CA: McFarland, 2008. Print.
Oblinger, Diana. “Boomers Gen-xers Millennials.” Educause Review 500.4 (2003): 37-47. Print.
O’Bannon, Gary. “Managing our Future: The Generation X factor.” Public Personnel Management 30.1 (2011): 95-110. Print.
Shary, Timothy. Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema, Houston, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002. Print.
The Breakfast Club. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, John Kapelos, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. A&M Channel Productions, 1985. Film.
Tulgan, Bruce. Managing Generation X: How to Bring out the Best in Young Talent, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2009. Print.