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Salon discussion on John Hughes (18 August 2009)

A country of human self-doubt birthing a nation of superhuman hubris -- it’s not the paradox it seems. After all, the popaular culture sustaining this oxymoronic reality revolves around exalting the impossibly gifted virtuoso, the against-all-odds champion, the Mount Rushmore-size megastar -- in short, the larger-than-life individuals from Michael Jordan to Lance Armstrong to Ronald Reagan whom we know we cannot be.

While such deification drums up national pride, it also evokes the ugly feelings associated with personal insecurity, which is why I think so many mourned last week’s passing of John Hughes. The 1980s filmmaker was one of the only contemporary artists who found success providing an uplifting antidote to those darker emotions -- an antidote that is more relevant today than ever. (David Sirota, “Champion of mere mortals,” Salon, 15 August 2009)

Sirota: flawed you are, but no mere, alas.

No, not true. What made him exceptional is that he understood what real greatness is. In "Breakfast Club" he had a group of teenagers you believed could, at the end, brave standing up for one another, standing up to peer and parent. If that had been the norm, Gen Xers would be asking for way more than what compromised Obama offers; if that had been the norm, the future is set in a way better way than people now fear. If it continued to be the norm, people wouldn't be making use of his demise to further marginalize/isolate/disparage him, which is what we've been seeing, not from you, but even here at non-dour Salon. He championed those who could see lies for lies; who could recover, even under huge psychological duress; who had it in them to fight for life as self-discovery, not as some variant of the fitting-in--even if this meant be ignored, shunned, misunderstood, attacked. He focused on special people who could mount the climb to the extra-ordinary--a space neglected by those who don't like what shine reveals about themselves.

You're more alone than you think, David. Brace yourself.

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As a fairly regular Salon reader, I would like to comment that the letters section makes me ashamed to be a progressive: we all come across so bitter, petulant and humorless. For godsakes, even a tribute to a dead director brings out the a-hole in most of you. People, not everything has to be serious and political. Do we all have to watch nothing but documentaries about the horrors of the world, or boring films directed by George Clooney, to be relevant?

John Hughes made good movies that rose above most teen comedies. He was a master of that very rare talent so lacking in modern life: plucking the heartstrings. No, he is not a Scorcese or Woody Allen or Jane Campion: he was perfectly suited to his limitations. His movies fill a role: teenage drama done right. I guess it is the Gen X'er in me, but of all the very fine films I've seen, few touch me like "Pretty in Pink"; it has a sweet ambience to it, an attention to detail, and perfect characterizations that are indelible. Has there ever been a better WASP'y high school creep then James Spader's? A sweeter, funnier high school weirdo than Duckie?

Sometimes it is not about being the most critically acclaimed artist; it is about capturing something in a way no one else can. Not to mention how well he fused great pop music with the right scene. Perhaps many of you have no use for your inner teenager anymore, but I still love mine, and John Highes helped me define him. (frannynzooey, response to post, David Sirota, “Champion of mere mortals”)

He plucked heartstrings?

RE: "He was a master of that very rare talent so lacking in modern life: plucking the heartstrings. No, he is not a Scorcese or Woody Allen or Jane Campion: he was perfectly suited to his limitations."

You see this as tribute, do you? It would seem the worst of slurs . . .

- - - -

Re: You see this as tribute, do you? It would seem the worst of slurs . . .

Nah. I just see it as a pathetic attempt to drum up some traffic for my lame blog - linked to at my sig every time I make an asshole post.

But that's just me. (K. Trout, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

@k trout

Pointing out that identifying Hughes as a heartstring-plucker is not the best of ways to redeem/defend him, is hardly an asshole post, k trout. Sounds to me about the worst of diminishments, actually.

- - - -

So To some of you, I show I have no love inside by declaring: I never, ever thought John Hughes was speaking for me or anyone I knew, and at the time I resented, as I recall, what I'd call now the ubiquity of Hughes and Spielberg and their influence. (for the record, I didn't care for Michael Jackson either--more a Prince guy) And so did many of my friends. HEATHERS was more our speed and closer to the mark, but wasn't around till we graduated.

I don't get sentimental about his movies. I think they're smug, patronizing, and false, pure marketing profiting well from a post-boomer awareness of how every generation wants to feel like someone is its voice. That's leaving aside things like how every girl I knew, whether they liked his films or not, hated Molly Ringwald, or Ringworm as she was usually called. You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard the following sentences from these women: "Do you know that spoiled little b@#$ch made Hughes rewrite PRETTY IN PINK to make her not go with Ducky? And that he DID it! OOH I hate her!" They also had no idea why she'd want Jake in 16Can, who left his drunk girlfriend(Kate Vernon, I think, who also did another memorable drunk recently on some little sci-fi show...) to whatever fate with Anthony Michael-Hall, whose character spells drunken date-rape "This...is gonna be good." (dust1969, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

@dust1969

I wonder if your girl friends at the time were approached by (the equivalent of a) Jake, if they'd have dropped their duckies for the buck, in an instant. Duckie only shows self-respect at the very end--a bit when he dresses so towardly, magnificently, for the prom, but mostly when he encourages Andie to go for Blane. This--what?--grace?, true goodwill?, makes it seem appropriate and even believable that some lovely (other) self-possessed Pinkie suddenly appears to take special note of him. Even with more of that from him, I still say Andie and Blane work best. Ringwald was right to push.

The sneering, the leveling, succeed in "Heathers." The world is so full of shit, so truly indecent, it makes looking to the nature of your own behavior seem a bit optional. You "see," and that kinda makes you way beyond good enough. Hughes--perhaps most evidently with/through Duckie, but also with Bender and others--saw this means, a strategy, to keep yourself from taking risks and growing, and asked for more out of people than just that.

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re: As an aside

John Hughes has been portrayed as a champion of the down-trodden but in most of his teen flicks the dorks, dweebs and losers get to do nothing but gaze fondly upon their betters, hoping for the odd pat on the head or an indulgent glance. Whilst everyone else is hooking up (and moving up a notch or two in social standing) the loser is either portrayed as a date rapist or a door mat. Check the end of "The Breakfast Club". The geeky guy not only gets the opportunity to write the essay, he is comforted by the fact that he is the only one that will be furiously maturbating tonight while the rest of the clubbers carry on with their selfish little liasons. I always hoped that he'd bring a real gun to school next time... (sawmonkey, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

sawmonkey

The geek in Breakfast Club writes the essay, but what he manages there is a one-on-one fuck-you to the principal, something he wouldn't have dared do before the BC experience. Since it is what he wrote and his voice which "plays" as we see the various pairings go their way, there is a sense he stands a bit above and beyond at the end. He is removed; but more self-determined (more broadly-aware?), more author than geek. And he gets more than an indulgent glance at the end from Bender, who for the most part had previously just managed him about. When the conversation turned to trigonometry, the geek's knowledge base/abilities is made to seem somewhat akin in "potency" to Claire's social status and the jock's athleticism, and crowds out (the formidable, savy) Bender some. More than some.

About Sixteen Candles--it doesn't finish with the geek more enabling himself amongst his dweeb friends: it ends with him having a fairly mature conversation with the girl/woman he (very likely) slept with. Again and again through the film, the geek puts himself in potentially dangerous situations, and is shown with capacity for empathy and (even) bearing (his encounter with Samantha in the shop car is not played as a joke [on him], but with respect [for both of them]). Arguably, what develops with him seems more open that what lands with Samantha. Who knows where he'll be the following year? Not so much the geek, the film suggests.

Ferris Bueller: You're absolutely right.

- - - -

re: Patrick

I stand by my prior assertation. JH was all about the elite. Striving, laughing at and ultimately becoming part and parcel of the same. Maybe he had the finest joke in the end, after all, he who laughs last, laughs best. Did you go to one of those hilarious "state" schools or does your sense of humour only include the jokes of the Ivy variety... (sawmonkey, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

sawmonkey

For me what stands out is his recognition of and tribute to, people with personality, with some considerable capacity for self-realization and the give-and-take. Blane/Jake see something in Samatha/Andie, and, in my judgment, it is to their considerable credit that they do. The pairing of Samantha and Blane works at the end because they've both got class--real class, of a type not exclusive to any one particular social class. The WASP/Ivy-Leagues, for me, amount in his films to the "catcher in the rye": "it" cushions people from the potentially crushing vissitudes of life--it's a giant pillow for those not entirely sure where they'll be sleeping the night after next. But there is no real action, no true life, to be found there--it's perimeter, not ground; weekend escape, not day-to-day dalliance, fight, and play.

@Patrick

Fair enough. You got yer druthers and I have mine. Cheers to you, Sir! (sawmonkey, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

Ps.

Ferris really needed a beating! That is all... (sawmonkey, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

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re: Also

I can't believe that everyone has forgotten the real message in BREAKFAST CLUB. As long as you conform you're OK.

What. you say? Well, I give you the Ally Sheedy psycho-girl character. Who later would have been a Goth. Once she gets a Molly makeover, all is fine, right?

Tell me you didn't find that disgusting. I liked her better than all the rest and in fact I liked her better before the makeover.

Life goes by pretty fast, If you're not an overprivileged white kid from the North Shore who wears the right clothes, you might miss it! (dust1969, response to post, “Champion of mere mortals”)

@1969

Ally Sheedy's character is testing, knowing, but hidden and inaccessible/unknowable (full of lies). For her, the change in dress is about moving out of comfort zones, allowing herself to be vulnerable, to show/reveal herself as undeniably interested in others' assessment of her. Claire does the same, and pairs up with the "stoner" Bender--note: without him donning a suit. The movement may be more about reciprocity, finding a middle ground, than it is about a move to normal. No?

Link: “Champion of mere mortals” (Salon)

AP photo (from Salon.com)

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