Friday, August 7, 2009

The Breakfast Club vs. The Graduate

It's the steel cage death match between two of the more well-known coming-of-age movies. In one corner, we have the late John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, and in the other, we have the 1960s movie The Graduate. Most judges would award the decision to The Graduate, but I'll take a dissenting view.

I've commented a number of times on my dim view of the 1960s. The Baby Boomers grew up rebelling against the system, fighting what they thought were very important fights in the form of the civil rights struggle, and against the war in Vietnam. The thing is, however, they still seem to want to fight the same [expletive deleted] fights. Look at all the comparisons between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the one in Vietnam, or the people who want to compare President Obama to John Kennedy. (The obsession with Michelle Obama's fashions certainly seems to be a parallel to the young and glamorous Jackie Kennedy. Am I the one person who doesn't give a patootie whether Mrs. Obama is wearing a dress that bares her arms?) Worse, the 1960s generation still has enormous influence within American culture. The people who were around for the student revolutions of 1968 haven't reached retirement age yet, and indeed are at the stage where they're the ones at the top of everything. They think they're anti-Establishment, but they're the new Establishment.

The Graduate certainly fits in those times. But a lot of what must have been shocking at the time seems to pack a lot less punch today. Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock not knowing what he wants to do with his life? Well, we have an entire generation of that with Generation X. The sexual mores have loosened more than enough that May/December relations aren't shocking anymore. (I suppose if they had really wanted to shock audiences, they would have had Mr. Robinson try to seduce young Benjamin.) This isn't to say The Graduate is a bad movie. It holds up about as well as the best screwball comedies of the 1930s which, while also a product of their time, are still quite funny today.

Fast forward to the 1980s. We had gone through Watergate, the last of the seminal events for the 1968 crowd (look at how the -gate suffix is still used at the end of every political scandal, and even non-political scandals). This caused the Republicans to lose control of the White House but, with Jimmy Carter being such an abysmal failure, the Republicans, in the form of Ronald Reagan, won the Presidency again in 1980. (I'm entirely convinced that a lot of the criticism of Reagan's acting has to do with his politics, and have discussed this before.) The 1980s were the polar opposite of the late 1960s, and that's something that must drive those rebellious 1960s folks up a wall. Where the hippies advocated peace, for example, Reagan had the unmitigated gall to stand up to the Soviets, and even call them the Evil Empire. People in hte 1980s seemed much more concerned with their pocketbooks than the 1960s folks, who insist they were thinking about great social issues. And on it goes, leading the 60s folks to denigrate everything that came out of the 80s. And since the 60s folk and their younger fellow-travelers have made it to the top of a lot of institutions, there's a lot of revisionist force pushing against the 1980s.

All of this does a huge disservice to a movie like The Breakfast Club. It, like The Graduate, is a product of its time. But, also like The Graduate, it can stand up well against a lot of the older movies. Adolescents have always been rebellious, and tried to assert their on independence; even in the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies, such as Girl Crazy, you can see them questioning authority. As such, The Breakfast Club is simply following a long line of movies about adolescence, and doing it quite well in an updated 80s form.

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