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How “The Breakfast Club” Toppled the Teenage Archetype

The 80s is celebrated as a golden age for classic young adult movies, with director John Hughes widely known as the man behind the movement. Prior to Hughes’s appearance on the movie scene, adolescents were portrayed as crude stereotypes, with boys being painted as perverts, and girls being the subjects of sexual desire (a perfect example would be that Phoebe Cates scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.). In the 1970s and early 80s, teenagers were glorified as cocky, shameless beings who partied hard and lived their lives fueled by a seemingly endless source of adrenaline; however, this could not have been further from the truth. Thankfully, the rather outdated young-adult genre would undergo dramatic change after the release of Hughes’s sophomore film. By utilizing a cast cleverly based on highschool stereotypes, “The Breakfast Club” toppled the teenage archetype, and projects a powerful message that continues to resonate with the youth of today.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the film, allow me to introduce the story and its setting, both of which appear simplistic on the surface: On a Saturday morning, five students arrive at the fictional Shermer High School, each representing different high school tropes. Claire is the popular girl, Brian is the brain (I see what you did there, Hughes), Andrew is the jock, John is the rebel, and Allison is the basket-case. They are herded into the school library, where they will endure all-day detention. This is where almost the entirety of the film occurs, but so much is accomplished in this small space that the viewer forgets to feel claustrophobic.

The five students share virtually nothing in common, so obviously chaos ensues (John, clad in a leather jacket and jeans, insults everyone in the room within the first ten minutes.). Let me just say — the script, as well as the talented cast, does an excellent job of realistically portraying the relationship dynamics between the five of them. Claire and Andrew, despite not being close, sit together because they recognize that they both belong to the popular group, and Brian and Allison, who can be classified as “geeks,” are ignored by Claire, Andrew, and John altogether. The representation of wide encompassing social circles in the film remains relevant to viewers today, as nearly every school system inevitably develops a social ladder. Big fish acknowledge big fish the same way that like attracts like. The role of social circles is also visible in teen movies made before “The Breakfast Club,” usually through the absence of “unremarkable” characters altogether. To the directors, it wouldn’t have made sense for a popular blonde to have had a shy musician as a best friend, and besides, who would want to watch a movie about two girls breaking the status quo anyway? Yup, better stick the popular blonde into a party scene with others of her kind. For the content, you know?

“The Breakfast Club” completely deviates from the norm, which is what makes it so special. While still capturing the spirit of youth, the film crafts a meaningful narrative that challenges the high school hierarchy and portrays the emotional depth of teenagers. It';s marijuana that encourages the group to open up to one another — John, after Brian pulls out his bag of cannabis from his underwear (watch the movie to find out how that happened), walks to the back of the library and is soon joined by the other students. After a bit of bickering and hysterical laughter, the five take turns opening up about themselves and confess to their own separate struggles. Despite their outward differences, they find that they all face similar problems. This group of kids, this group of kids that barely tolerated each other mere hours ago, establish an unlikely solidarity as their marijuana-induced testimonies lead them to engage in sobering conversation. Now, what I especially appreciate about this film is that it doesn’t end in sunshine and rainbows (Spoiler: They don’t start a club called “The Breakfast Club” after becoming best friends.). When the question of whether they will keep in touch is asked, the group acknowledges that the social circles they belong to make this impossible. And yet, by the end of their eight hour detention, it is clear that they have all been affected by their time in the library.

The release of “The Breakfast Club” obliterated multiple misconceptions about teenagers. It proved to the movie industry that a teen movie could take place in a school and still provide all the action of a party; it had a unique cast; it addressed issues previously cut out of the teenage narrative, such as mental health and abuse, thus showing that teenagers worry about more than just boobs and boys. All of this culminated in one message, one fearless proclamation: “Hey, I’m a teenager. I’m not a kid; I’m not a movie star. Not some flickering flame of youth, but not a stereotype either. You don’t get to decide who I am.”

As a final tribute to their experience — one last toast before saying goodbye — Brian writes the (previously assigned) detention essay on behalf of all five of them: “You see us as you want to see us... in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… and an athlete… and a basket case… and a princess… and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

“Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

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