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The Analysis of The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off

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When it was discovered that the AIDS/HIV virus could be transmitted through heteroSEual SE in the mid-1980s, society’s attitude towards casual SE and uninhibited behavior changed and the image of a more sensitive and virtuous youth began to feature in romantic comedies and dramas. More teen films concerning romance and love were made, most notably in the John Hughes’ cycle of films, which included Sixteen Candles (1984) and Pretty in Pink (1986). John Hughes’s work as a writer-director-producer most keenly featured this new representation of teen identity. The emphasis was not on the physical aspect of SE and its ramifications, but more on how the protagonists react emotionally. His more sensitive portrayal of adolescent torment left a permanent mark on the 1980s teen genre. In the time of AIDS, Hughes’ films featured young protagonists who did no more than just kiss and embrace.

Generational divide is another topic which surfaces again and again during the 1980s teen films about teens rebelling against adult authority. The dramatization of the generational gap in the films reflected what was happening in modern society. The concept of the traditional family in the post-war years became fragmented, and young people were more independent and less reliant on their parents with regards to decision making and emotional support. In the 1980s, teenagers were spending less time with their parents and not seeking their advice, but instead confided in their peers or siblings. Like in reality, this movies in this era portray strained relationship of adolescents with their parents and other adults.

In The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, adults were often portrayed in a negative light in both humorous and serious ways. Teachers were not portrayed as role models or educators but more as comic figures or antagonists. They were revealed to be arrogant and incompetent bullies, behaving at times in a negligent manner towards their students, all the while demanding that the teens behave in a moralistic and responsible way. Instead of setting the moral code, teachers behave just as badly as the teens. Parents are often seen to be absent and obsessed with getting rich and embracing the middleclass lifestyle of the Reagan era, most notably in the Hughes’ romantic comedies. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Parents are often unseen, distant and emotionally disconnected. Ferris plays truant from school and his goal is to avoid detection from his parents and his teacher. Part of his hero status is defined by his anti-authoritarian attitude, especially to the teacher figure, the incompetent and uncaring Mr Rooney, who is depicted as the villain, although one who is made to look a fool by Ferris.

There may be factors causing the growing divide between the teen and adult world. Children of parents who are unresponsive and detached are typically the ones involved in delinquency, early SEual activity, and drug use. This is an important aspect throughout the thesis and provide another connection between the films and their stories.

Another important adolescent aspect examined in the 1980s teen films is the depiction of stereotypes between male and female teen characters and popular roles such as jocks, popular girls, rebels, and nerds. These roles can be found throughout this genre in various forms and manifestations to mimic the presence of these typecast characters in real life and in high school. These films provided a glimpse into the stereotype driven caste system prevalent in American high schools in that era that determined the fate and popularity of the students.

In the teen genre, myths surrounding status and the teen stereotype will be explored in relation to The Breakfast Club, Revenge of the Nerds and in Pretty in Pink. In The Breakfast Club, there’s a confrontation between the white-collar jock and the blue-collar delinquent. In Pretty in Pink, the rich kid and the poor girl try to start a relationship. These films offer valuable insights in outlining a basic definition and set a foundation for the role, discuss how characters change and become more three dimensional as the story develops.

Revenge of the Nerds is an example from the genre which will actually take this teen stereotype and flesh it out into a more rounded character by the end. What the film brings into focus is the image of the teen stereotype and the contradictions that emerge from this relating to the nerd, the jock and the popular girl. By the end of the film, the nerd Lewis and the main popular girl shed their stereotypical images by forming a relationship and become more complex characters.

The Breakfast Club was Hughes’ first examination of the teen hierarchy within the high school system. The theme of jocks and other teen stereotypes experiencing transformation is explored in the film. Teen roles and identity are closely interrogated, and adolescent troubles are highlighted the the film. The film examines the five main stereotypes of the American high school system: the jock, the nerd, the popular girl, the delinquent and the rebel. This film is an examination of social classes, basic human interaction and high school dynamics. The Breakfast Club revolves around five high school students who have to spend a Saturday in detention together in the school library: the jock: Andy (Emilio Estevez); the nerd: Brian (Anthony Michael Hall); the popular girl: Claire (Molly Ringwald); the delinquent: Bender (Judd Nelson), and the rebel: Allison (Ally Sheedy). Like in Revenge, their stereotypical image is made obvious from the beginning as the characters are portrayed by their differences in terms of social and cultural status, academic ability and domestic/family life. The rigidity and hypocritical nature of the teen stereotype and high school hierarchy is exposed at the end of the film, when unlikely romantic unions form between the opposing teens.

Similarly, in teen romances such as Pretty in Pink, couples from opposing socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds become romantically attached, despite the objecting forces around them. There’s an indication that these films send out optimistic messages that differences of this nature can be overcome, even in a culture often perceived to be defined by hierarchical status, wealth and conformity and romantic relationships can blossom despite these oppositions. There was shift in the attitude between rich and poor and crossing the gap between poor and privileged society became a reality.

This research also examines the significance of social space in relation to the teen genre. The social sites most associated with teen films genre are the shopping mall and the high school. The investigation will explore how teens as individuals and in groups react and function within these sites, and highlights teen culture and its wider implications.

During the 1970s and 80s, the shopping mall was designed to address a range of social and community problems and restore a festive, marketplace atmosphere by uniting shopping with entertainment and also boost the economy. The films depict the mall’s positive and negative functions in terms of its symbolic position within Reagan’s capitalist America, consumerism and conspicuous consumption. The analysis reveals a deeper cultural and sociopolitical understanding as the space of the mall is a conduit for representing both negative and positive issues relating to adolescence and modern consumerism. In the Valley Girl, one of the functions of the shopping mall in Valley Girl is the use of it as a narrative device to introduce the action and to introduce the characters. Here, the mall represents a space in which teens are free from the discipline and control of the family home and the high school.The girls demonstrate their love of shopping and preoccupation with their looks and status when trying on clothing items, each shot isolating different fashion accessories, labels, price tags, cash registers and their (parents’) credit cards. Young people and mall culture became synonymous with the phrase, ‘shop till you drop’, now part of the consumerist lexicon.. The mall ‘is cut off from the world at large [and] emerges in the film [Fast Times] as a kind of fantasy world for teenagers, the place where they can most fully define themselves’ (ibid.).

The American high school in the 1980s teen genre was a small-scale version of wider society in terms of groups and their different economic and cultural status. The space also acted as a conduit for expressing the themes of peer pressure within the teenage clique. It was primarily a ‘social space within which the drama of teen angst is played out, it is not academic achievement that is important, but the achievement of one’s independent identity.’ Pretty in Pink and other Hughes’ high school-set films, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, and points out the significance of space in this context: ‘Like many in the genre, these three were all set in public high schools, a perfect site for interrogating the American social ideal of a classless society’ (1990: 148). The high school hierarchy highlights the social and economic status between the characters but towards the end of the films, the conflicts between the characters is resolved within the space of the high school.

Whether these films were comedies, romances or drama, they were still united with common themes. By analyzing popular films that illustrate teen behavior and beliefs in post Reagan period, this thesis measures if such films in the 1980s were successful in establishing the foundation of teen films and how they gradually evolved into a more provocative and varied forms in later years.

Based on the films investigated in this analysis, this research paper demonstrates that teen films in the 1980s were a strong proponent for adolescents and depicted youth culture correctly in relation to the sociopolitical context of that generation. These films played an instrumental role in representing youth on screen and helped us appreciate Generation X. By gathering evidence based on review of a wide range of movies in this category, the study concludes that 1980s Hollywood teen movies are worthy of being classified as a genre of their own as they made a significant contribution to film history.        

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The Analysis Of The Breakfast Club And Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
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