Curmudgeon’s disclaimer: I swear I understand the difference between a movie and a documentary. I also don’t like to make a habit of crushing young people’s dreams. But if only because the Brat Pack movies remain some of the most important cultural documents on the subjects of social life in high school and college, I think we should take a moment to assess their…baseline reality. What was John Hughes really trying to tell us, with fairy tale narratives like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink? Because these movies were definitely fairy tales, though we were brought up treating them like realistic interpretations of our own lives. What I want to know now is: how damaging is some of this mythology, at the end of the day? Learn from my experience, post-grads of the world. Here are certain – ahem – lies that the Brat Pack told me.
Lie No. 1: If you’re really cool, the time space continuum will bend to your will.
Ferris Bueller told us: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you can miss it.” In order to prove this point, he then proceeded to EFFECTIVELY STOP TIME with his famous “day off” agenda, going to a museum, a baseball game, the movies, a fancy lunch and a parade all between the hours of 7am and 6pm – according to some very generous math. If you consider commute time and all the set up Ferris must have done putting a Rube Goldberg-style parent trap in his bedroom, there’s just no way a human could pack all these events into eleven hours.
Applied to our lives: even when you do get the chance to “stop and look around once in a while,” a day is governed by the sun – if not your parents coming home from work. It’s a bummer fact of adulthood: none of us have magical powers. Vacations end, and often long before we’re ready to bid them goodbye.
Lie No. 2: As soon as he sees you in this cool new dress, he’ll fall in love.
Exhibit A: Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. In one of the hammier love stories in teen movie history, Emilio Estevez (The Jock!) falls flat for Ally Sheedy (The Basket Case!) mere moments after Molly Ringwald (The Princess!) gives our girl a little eye shadow and asks her to take off the dumpy sweater. I’ve had enough misadventures in fashion on the first day of school to say now with conviction: new clothes and makeovers will never secure the unabashed attention of the whole tenth grade. No one cares about your new haircut in high school – because they’re far too busy caring about their own new haircut.
And if you were already rocking a hot bod below the “dumpy sweater,” everyone probably knew this already! People don’t just notice you one day and realize they’ve overlooked a diamond in the rough – that is, unless you’ve had a freakish summer growth spurt. In high school, you’re jammed up against these people for eight hours a day, nine months out of the year. YOU CAN’T SURPRISE ANYONE.
Lie No. 3: About a year after you graduate college, you’ll be a full-fledged adult.
…with an apartment, and a job in a Senator’s office, and an interior decorator. You’ll be well on your way towards a capital-c Career, and you’re probably engaged if you aren’t already married. The addictions of your youth, you’ll have put to bed with grace. And everyone will be friends, and skip off into the sunset, and the old bar you used to go to looks now like a place where “kids” hang out, even though these “kids” are 365 days your junior.
I’ve got particular beef with St. Elmo’s Fire because three years after my own commencement, I’m still toasting friends who manage to get any kind of work even remotely in their field. A stand-up comic put this well the other night (at an OPEN MIC I attended in DEEP BROOKLYN, which should tell you a lot already): “in your twenties, ladies judge men by the amount of roommates they have and how recently they’ve held a job.” Suffice it to say, St. Elmo’s would look a lot more realistic to me if everyone in that movie were actually thirty. The struggle is real.
Lie No. 4: The nerds will never inherit the earth.
…but they did! You know what Anthony Michael Hall’s dweeby coteries from Sixteen Handles and Weird Science are doing right now? RUNNING SILICON VALLEY. Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink is probably in ten ironic indie bands, enchanting all the hipster girls with his record collection.
I was always surprised by the poor treatment of the “alternative kids” in Brat Pack movies – there remains something schmo-y about Andrew McCarthy’s ardent-but-misguided Alex (St. Elmo’s) or the starry-eyed ‘Rat’ from Fast Times. Both Jake Ryan (Sixteen Candles) and Blane McDonnagh (Pretty in Pink) were dull as bricks, but Molly Ringwald fell for both those goofs as opposed to the characters with personality. Lloyd Dobler was the only slightly weird and nerdy guy to get the girl, and even then it was sort of because he STALKED HER into submission. Whadup with that?!
In real life, we learn that great hair only goes so far. The world will reward people who have more to offer than great taste in blazers and Ray Bans. And in a relationship, you eventually want to spend time with the people who make you laugh and think and dance – as opposed to the ones who are afraid to introduce you to their parents. Your high school labels will not follow you everywhere! Thank heavens.
Lie No. 5: You’ll all be friends forever.
This was John Hughes’ saddest fiction: most of his movies hinge on this sense of escalated drama and dire stakes. When Andie’s making her prom dress in Pretty in Pink, she’s not just making her prom dress – she’s making a statement about her social class, her childhood without a mother, her Self. When Ferris Bueller says he’s going to marry Sloane, he means it. Everything everyone does carries a heft disproportionate to the circumstance.
But we in the audience all know that after high school, even the greatest couples tend to break up, and people tend to move out of suburban Chicago. It’s lovely when relationships continue after graduation, but it’s remarkably rare. And as important as it is to claim your personhood as a young person, Andie’s probably going to look back on these prom photos someday and laugh to herself: what was I thinking when I picked that dress?!
So it all comes down to perspective. Just remember: these years can (did) feel both magical and interminable, but know that they end either way. And once they do, you might be sad, but you’ll be wiser. And you’ll grow up strong.