John Hughes: It’s complicated

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From the daring antics of Ferris Bueller, to the heartfelt confessions of The Breakfast Club, to the crazy escapades of Kevin McCallister; I was brought up on the films of John Hughes. Like many from the middle class southern suburbs, I had my cinematographic coming of age through the works of Mr Hughes and the on screen performances of Molly Ringwald, Matthew Broderick, and the rest of the Brat Pack.

I’ve often wondered why these films held such appeal for me, and those from a similar background. I think it lies in my ability to see myself in the characters in these films. Who hasn’t watched the icon scene in The Breakfast Club where five kids from completely different backgrounds pour their hearts out to each other and felt some kind of connection to what was happening on screen? The key to these film lies in the fact that the characters are simultaneously like us, but also provide us an insight into how our lives could be better. They give us dreams, but dreams that seem like they could one day be achieved by us.

I reckon this is why for a long time these films have been my happy place, hence how I found myself a few weeks ago on a grey Sunday afternoon curled up under a blanket watching Sixteen Candles. Things started off as expected, the joyous Molly Ringwald and wonderfully quirky Anthony Michael Hall lit up my screen and chased away the February doom and gloom.

About half an hour into the film, however, we hit our first problem. The incredibly racist portrayal of a Chinese foreign exchange student called Long Duk Dong. Long was clearly meant to be a joke, and the punch line was his ethnicity. As I sat watching I tried to convince myself that 1984 was a different time, this sort of thing was more acceptable then and I shouldn’t let it tarnish my viewing experience. I was somewhat uncomfortable and disappointed however I carried on watching, allowing myself to get back into the film.

And then it got worse.

About 20 minutes later there was a scene when two male characters take a girl who is passed out drunk and allow her to believe that she had had sex with a guy that wasn’t her boyfriend. Yes, you heard me correctly. There’s a date rape scene in Sixteen Candles, the lovely, quirky, John Hughes coming of age film. I was devastated, a director responsible for some of my most beloved films had made a movie that contained a date rape scene.

Suddenly my relationship with John Hughes changed, I began questioning if it was okay for me to love and watch his films anymore. Obviously this is the clearest example of problematic behaviour is these films but then I thought back to Ferris Bueller’s destruction of a very expensive car that wasn’t his, and the makeover scene in The Breakfast Club in which ‘the freak’ allows herself to conform to be viewed as more attractive. None of these things are things which which should be held up as examples of positive behaviour. Especially in coming of age films, designed to market those in their formative teenage years.

These things don’t take away from how much these films mean to me, but it has forced me to question problematic actions that are normalised in these films. I still love John Hughes and his films, but that love is now a little more problematic and a little harder to justify. But then again, what love, particularly the love of TV and film, isn’t?

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