I think it’s fair to say that most people have a few defining moments in their lives, where something changes irrevocably in an instant. One such moment — when my adolescent psychology professor wheeled a VCR into our classroom and told us we were going to learn about the archetypes of American teenagers — came to mind today.
He turned the tape on, and I knew with absolute certainty that I would be quitting graduate school.
The movie was The Breakfast Club.
It was 1994, I was 22 years old, and I knew that any professor who had so badly missed the message in The Breakfast Club about the pitfalls of stereotyping didn’t really have anything to teach me about teenagers.
Now, I have never regretted dropping out of grad school — a career as a high-school teacher could not possibly have been more wrong for me — but the fact that a movie put me over the edge seems so… arrogant. So impossibly 22.
As it most certainly was, but it’s also a testament to the impact of John Hughes’ movies on the lives of those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s — an influence that has a chicken-and-egg circularity that’s hard to figure out: Were we the kinds of teens we were because of the characters in his movies? Or were his characters the kinds of teens they were because they were us?
Either way, the movies John Hughes made perfectly captured white, straight, suburban teen life in the 1980s, from the dopey way we dressed, to the New Wave music that was way cooler than we were, to the angst caused by hormones, social standing, and parental expectations. They weren’t perfect films, and certainly not high art, but they were so earnest and emotionally honest that they still hold up.
And so, thinking of a few favorite lines from his movies, I say farewell and thank you to John Hughes.
“You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… and an athlete… and a basket case… and a princess… and a criminal… Does that answer your question?” — The Breakfast Club
“That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call them something else.” — Sixteen Candles
“Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Updated to add: This is the best article ever about a John Hughes movie. I read it years ago and just googled around until I found it. (Three cheers for journalists with blogs!) If you loved Sixteen Candles, it’s a must-read.