s a bona fide member of Generation X, I carry around with me a dark secret, one I keep from all my friends for fear of abject condemnation and scorn I never liked John Hughes.
Aside from Vacation, I consider most of his work to be overly simplistic dreck caked in a patina of ‘80s “edge”. He used a cartoon version of the American High School experience as fodder for his fables and attempted to pass it off as cinema verité. I never bought into it. Alright, I admit that along with every other human being who grew up in the Reagan Era, I am able to recite The Breakfast Club line for line, but by the same token, I also know all the words to ‘Every Rose Has its Thorn’ — this doesn’t make either of these “works of art” profound or insightful. They’re just absurdly ham fisted examinations of the human condition.
The characters of John Hughes were a mishmash of geeks, jocks, prom queens, “outsiders” and predictably clueless adults. In his world, these disparate stereotypes always managed to interact in some non-insignificant way and through a bit of tame conflict eventually learned from each other’s individual life experience culminating in harmonious resolution. This crappy – and completely delusional – treacle was sold to us as a reality I never saw reflected in my childhood experience…like at all! Technically I suppose I was the “Geek”, but what I encountered was actual hardcore trauma, made to endure the cruellest of abuses, both mental and physical, by a seemingly endless string of sociopathic, sadistic bullies.
My reality was Columbine not Shermer.
Compounding all of this was the advent of neo-conservatism, the rise of the evangelicals and the slavish servitude to the almighty dollar which ultimately spawned this nightmarish economic and culturally bereft landscape in which we all currently find ourselves drowning in.
Now, you tell me whose reality was more real?
Don’t get me wrong, if one were to view the works of John Hughes as modern day fairy tale ruminations, then I would classify his ‘80s-era efforts as competent. However, for too many years now he’s been heralded as having had some astoundingly unique insight into the psyche of the average teen and this is what I can’t abide. John Hughes had no more insight into the American teenager than the guy who wrote Beach Blanket Bingo. Moreover, I believe a lot of what can be taken away from his stuff is outright erroneous. There’s an overarching and omnipresent misogyny that permeates his work that is in point of fact far more akin to those ‘60s era teen flicks like Where the Boys Are and the aforementioned Bingo.
Three of his movies immediately spring to mind as prime examples of what I’m talking about: Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and Sixteen Candles.
First let’s look at the lessons we derive from Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful.
These two movies are basically carbon copies of each other with the gender roles reversed. However, the stark difference in their endings are quite telling. In Pretty in Pink, the Molly Ringwald character eschews the true love offered to her from Ducky in lieu of her infatuation with a self-centered rich prick named Blaine. In Some Kind of Wonderful, Eric Stoltz ultimately realizes that Watts (the female Ducky) loves him for who he really is and in turn dumps Amanda Jones (the female Blaine). What can we take away from this? That women are more shallow than men – a totally lame reiteration of the early ‘60s teen flick mentality.
Next up, Sixteen Candles a much beloved movie, cherished in particular for Molly Ringwald and her plucky performance as the girl whose incessant moony-eyed pining for the school’s hottest douchebag (Jake Ryan) was finally rewarded with a tenderly shared birthday cake at the close of the film – with perhaps a bit of juicy ‘69’ action to follow.
All anyone remembers about this film are the “hilarious” portrayals of the geek squad (led by Anthony Michael Hall as “King of the dipshits”) and Gedde Watanabe’s “side splitting” performance as Long Duk Dong. In actuality, both these roles are horribly offensive and a true betrayal to the audience it was written for. So many questions jump out about Hughes’ motivation and intent as a writer. Why did Anthony Michael Hall’s character (Farmer Ted) consider himself and his friends to be dipshits? What made them so? These societal lines which for years Hughes has gotten credit for breaking apart and examining, were time and time again reinforced in his films…and what does ‘Farmer Ted’ mean, anyway? Don’t get me started on Long Duk Dong, Hughes might as well have had him in pigtails spitting in the laundry. It’s probably amongst the most racist depictions of Asians in cinematic history.
To me though, the whole crux of the film speaks to Hughes’ obvious misogynistic tendencies. Molly Ringwald is obsessed with Jake Ryan for what reason? Well he’s rich and good looking, and once again, the shallow Molly Ringwald character rebuffs the advances of a less attractive character. Farmer Ted is funny, intelligent, open and honest and she calls him “a total fag”. Apparently anyone who doesn’t fit into the strictest parameters of societal convention should be made to feel “less than” or outright humiliated.
Still, I feel the strangest part of the movie for me is at the end, when all around great guy Jake Ryan hands over his “selfish and out of control” girlfriend over to the Anthony Michael Hall character basically encouraging him to rape her – “She’s totally wasted…have fun”. This is the great guy Molly Ringwald’s been whining about for two hours? This total scumbag who puts the life of his girlfriend in the hands of a kid with no license and raging hormones? This is profound insight into the psyche of the American teenager?
More like the pimply, feverish fantasies of a wormy little creep.
John Hughes will forever be revered by my generation as somebody who authentically captured what it was like to grow up in the ‘80s, however I’ll never buy into his myth. I know that to some, my criticism may seem overly harsh, even arbitrary, but I do believe that his work did in fact feed into the wave of abject conservative non-intellectualism that held our country hostage for so many years, a wave I might add, in which we all have yet to truly escape. Not a surprise as Hughes himself was a Conservative.
All this being said, his death came too soon. He was a young man with many a story still left in him I’m sure. Who knows, maybe with his passing we’ve now been deprived of a Curly Sue 2: Curlier than Ever, or perhaps a Beethoven 25. Oh the humanity.
Life is truly nasty, brutish and short.