Molly Ringwald's brilliant essay about John Hughes is a superb exploration of what it means to love "problematic" art


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/07/the-worlds-an-imperfect-place.html


#2

It’s one of the reasons I’ve often posited, to the consternation of some fans and the delight of others, that Duckie is gay, though there’s nothing to indicate that in the script.

It wasn’t apparent at first, but when I got older it became clear that Duckie wasn’t in romantic love with Andie but secretly wanted to be Andie in all her fabulousness: worship of a different sort.

What’s more, as I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film. When he’s not sexualizing her, he takes out his rage on her with vicious contempt, calling her “pathetic,” mocking her as “Queenie.”

Today, after going through a PUA phase in the '90s and a 4-year marriage, Mr. Bender is a prominent MRA who feels that forgotten Americans like himself finally have a champion in the White House.

Still, I was taken aback by the scope of the ugliness.

I remember reading some of Hughes’s stories in National Lampoon a few years after I watched the movies and I was also surprised by how nasty they were (knowing the magazine I shouldn’t have been, but it was jarring coming from the writer and director of the somewhat gentler movies).

These kids were also “finding themselves and being ‘other’ in a very traditional, white, heteronormative environment.”

This is the saving grace of those movies, despite the racism and the of-the-time slurs. Hughes gave Gen X teenagers the gift of pervasive mainstream media portrayals of outsiders that made them not just despised mutants to be gawked or laughed at or celebrity exceptions to the norm but rather as people who were as deserving of enjoying life as were those who followed the more conformist and conservative path prescribed during the Reagan administration.


#3

But you have to understand Bender wasn’t presented in the film as a good or normal person. He was a bully who had an abusive father. Maybe he continued to be a horrible person, but I think the movie suggests that his assholeness derived from the fact that nobody (including his family) thought he was worth anything, and that the events of The Breakfast Club allowed him to understand and empathize with other people for perhaps the first time in his life.


#4

I just think Bender was a man always ahead of his time in capturing the American zeitgeist. He was wearing flannel and ripped jeans long before Grunge was a thing.

I don’t know if he came away with much understanding and empathy or a desire to change. He did clearly enjoy the power of leading the others to self-discovery of what they would consider their darker sides, and I suspect the freeze-frame of the end was him making a gesture of triumph more than anything else.


#5

So, basically him being a dick to her was just a means of him improving himself? I mean, that’s kind part of the point she’s trying to make here, that her character’s harassment was okay, in part because it was about his growth.

And of course, there is the bullshit of making the real weirdo in the group acceptable to the jock by “fixing” her style. Ugh. Worst part of the movie, I think.

Because he was working class. He wasn’t trying to be cool, he was a working class kid, so that’s what he wore.


#6

I don’t think it was ever meant to be “okay”. The point was that broken people are generally broken for a reason, and that such people need to be socialized, not that brokenness is okay. I agree that Ally Sheedy’s character being “fixed” was worse, though, because she wasn’t broken to start with.


#7

Must confess I didn’t get this vibe from Duckie. I got it from James (I’m obviously in my mid-20s) Spader, although I can’t clearly recall why. Wasn’t he obsessed by one of the male character’s behavior?

Disclaimer: Didn’t see PiP until I was well past the demographic, so I didn’t relate to it very well, and may have missed things that might have otherwise been obvious.


#8

His character was more obsessed that he couldn’t possess someone who was attracted to his class-appropriate friend Blaine (you might be thinking of this Andrew McCarthy character). He was portrayed as a foppish and catty proto-metrosexual, so that may have contributed to the vibe you got.

Duckie being gay wasn’t obvious at first to me as a teenager and probably wasn’t the intention of anyone creating the character, but years later it clicked as an explanation for his behaviour that truly made sense. I like to think that grownup Duckie has a red wig and a replica of the famous pink dress that he wears for special occasions.


#9

Right? She’s suddenly “beautiful” and an acceptable target for boylust when she gets dolled up like just another suburban beauty queen. I thought her character was so much more intriguing before that “transformation.”

I actually just read Ringwald’s essay this morning (having followed a link in the Guardian piece about her essay), and I too recommend it. Ringwald sounds like a nice person and a great mom. Her essay does peter out for me at the end, though. The good points she raises against the misogyny and racism of Hughes and his work sort of fade away by the end.


#10

I think I have to disagree, because at the end of the day, his treatment gets him the girl. Sure, they’re all broken people in some sense (except Ally Sheedy), but it’s more about him being a real misogynistic creep and being rewarded at the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like this movie, but we can’t ignore this aspect of it, either.


#11

Well, in the language of the time, he was preppy.


#12

breakfastclubcry


#13

I really don’t think it “got him the girl”. I think come Monday, all the characters will want to have nothing to do with each other, just as they were before. She gave him her earring not as “we are a couple now”, but just because she knew that it might help his self worth if somebody made a nice gesture towards him.


#14


#15

He went way beyond your average preppy. He was certainly more fashion-forward than any of the other preppies at his school. A lot more witty and snarky, too, even if he was a complete arsehole.

I’m guessing he pawned it and laughed about it the next week when his friends asked him where he got the money to buy all that weed.


#16

Where do you get that, though? The whole ending was meant to show that things have changed for the characters and that they will indeed carry those changes into their lives.

Either way you interpret the ending, she and her interactions with Bender is still nothing more than character development for Bender, much as “fixing” Ally Sheedy isn’t about her, it’s about the jock.

Honestly, my favorite and least problematic of the Hughes films was probably Some Kind of Wonderful, where the popular girl stands on her own 2 feet, and the outsiders end up together without having to change who they are, but of course, it’s still an exercise in heteronormative romance to some extent, but I think it becomes less about asking weirdos to conform and more about allowing them to be themselves.


#17

Yes, but (as a historian) I don’t think it’s useful to project into the future. At the time, he would have read to the audience as the ultimate preppy. People who went to schools with extremes of wealth and poverty (which wasn’t my experience in a small town in rural GA) would have recognized that character rather well [ETA] and been able to fully identify with it. I know this to be the case, as people who lived closer to Atlanta in the 80s have said as much, with regards to the character.


#18

It’s high school. People have reputations to uphold. You are a bit younger than me, but as somebody who was in high school when the film came out, it would be absolutely implausible that Bender and Claire could date. She would lose all her friends, and Bender would be considered a sell-out by whatever friends he had.


#19

That’s the point is that they rise above this HS BS.

And do you really think HS changed that much from the mid-to-late 80s and the early 90s? We had the same BS categories as existed in the 80s, with only some of the categories changing.


#20

I was a teenager at the time and can understand why someone a bit older could have gotten a gay vibe from the character back then. Gay men had that reputation in the 80s, too, it just hadn’t hardened into the stereotype that’s prevalent today.

As for the fashion, here’s the “official” preppy looks at the time:

And here’s Steff, more Armani Boomer Yuppie than timeless J Crew preppy: