Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes

I didn't really know who he was when I was a kid (I wasn't hip to much back in Midlothian, Texas), but I sure knew his movies. Aside from inflicting Home Alone upon us, John Hughes wrote and-or directed some of the most important and memorable movies of my childhood and even much of my teenage-hood--even if I didn't see a lot of them until years after they came out.

In so many ways, John Hughes was the '80s, and I'll admit that I've been a tad nostalgic for the '80s lately. Maybe it was going to Kansas City, seeing the Royals live and getting my photo taken next to George Brett's statue, or maybe it was just escapism from a lousy economy and a mostly dreary summer (although today was gorgeous here in Greater Boston), but the '80s had been on my mind even before I read about Hughes's death. Now, I'm in full nostalgia mode.

The funny thing is that some of Hughes's movies--for me, anyway--haven't really stood the test of time. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which I watched again not long ago, just isn't that funny through adult eyes. In fact, it's pretty lame. The Breakfast Club does remain utterly re-watchable, though, and it probably always will. The same goes for classics like National Lampoon's Vacation...and, if I'm honest, I even liked Uncle Buck. Kind of a lot.

Still, more than their quality, it's the impact of the movies Hughes was involved with that really impresses me. In an era when cable TV was well on its way to expanding our entertainment options beyond three networks plus PBS (but before the Internet became a widespread consumer reality), Hughes had the rapt attention of kids, teens, and probably even twenty-somethings as few other writers or directors did. His movies fed us the lines that we would repeat for years--and still do (Bueller...). He could pull off the guy movie and the chick flick with equal flair. More than that, though, Hughes's movies defined my generation--literally told us who we were, what we thought and where we were (or weren't) going. If you weren't there, I can't explain it. But if you were, you might just be nodding your head right now.

I don't know whether anybody is doing that for the current generation of texting, Tweeting teens. I don't know whether or not it was a positive thing that John Hughes had so much influence over my generation. But I do know that, after Michael Jackson, another icon of my youth--or, more accurately, the writer of the script of my youth--has died. I'm starting to feel that mortality thing creeping in now, and I don't like it. I think I'll cheer myself up by watching Mr. Mom. Or maybe I'll just move on and do my best to live in 2009. Yes, that's probably a better idea. But if I see Weird Science on HBO anytime soon, I'm still going to watch it...


  1. Check this out. It's an interesting take on Hughes's movies:

  2. Interesting post and interesting comments following it. It's a bit of a stretch, though, and seems to be based on a false premise.

    I didn't think that The Nerd actually had sex with Caroline. Would he have not been totally sure the next day that he had lost his virginity to the prom queen the night before? (He wasn't that drunk, if he was really drunk at all.) Of course he would have been sure, and that's the strongest implication that they didn't do it, despite what she says.

    He was more about bragging than about doing; he was essentially a sweet guy who was shy and terrified of girls and who wouldn't have known what to do with one had he had the opportunity, legitimate or otherwise. I knew a lot of kids like that when I was growing up--I was like that myself, except for the lying and bragging part. (In other words, I was shy and terrified of girls.)

    So, I seriously doubt that there was a date-rape scene in Sixteen Candles, although I take the blogger's point about the quirky character having to hook up with the conventionally hot character in order to be validated. That was a weakness of Hughes's movies. But, then, I never contended that he made great movies, only that he had an uncanny ability to (I hate this phase, but it seems appropriate) capture teens' imagination and relate to them. Has anybody else done that as well as Hughes did?

    As for Long Duk Dong, that was obviously a horrible stereotype, but my guess is that Hughes used it to make fun of white suburbia more than to make fun of Asians. I grew up in a small town, granted, but I don't think my experience was radically different from those of suburban kids in the '80s in that I knew very few Asians growing up--and the ones I did know were mostly kids who had been adopted by white families. Sadly, my impression of Asians (or Orientals, or simply "Chinese," as we would have called them) as a kid was not unlike the character Long Duk Dong played. Fortunately, I've gained enough wisdom and had enough life experience to jettison those terrible old stereotypes. But, back then, I didn't know any better--and neither did most of white suburbia. I think attitudes have changed considerably in white suburbia in the last 25 years--although probably not enough.

    John Hughes was not a great director. He might not have even been a particularly good one. But of the movies of our childhood, probably half the films that kids frequently quoted, referred to or otherwise talked about were Hughes films (setting aside, perhaps, the Steven Spielberg epics of the decade--but they didn't really capture the teen ethos). Sure, Top Gun, Fast Times and Dirty Dancing (ugh) were huge (along with a few others), but think of the other movies that everybody loved and loved to refer to: Ferris Bueller, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and especially The Breakfast Club were all massive pop-culture milestones, and they were all John Hughes movies. When I think of the '80s, I think of them and of him. The quality of his work is questionable; the impact isn't--for good or bad, I don't know.

    Has any other director had that kind of impact since then? Judd Apatow? Maybe. But in an entertainment-saturated society, it's unlikely that we'll have another director with the universal impact on a particular generation of a John Hughes. That much, you have to say for the guy.