What has become of high school stereotypes? Revisiting The Breakfast Club

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Director: John Hughes
Screenplay: John Hughes
Cinematography: Thomas Del Ruth
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez

What hasn’t been said about The Breakfast Club? It is the quintessential high school film that effectively translated the inner turmoil of a high school teen into a glorious 97-minute story that everyone can understand and relate to. It is the precursor of teen movies, taking its root in the successful formula: that is to deconstruct the archetypal roles seen in high school. More recent teen movies, such as Pitch Perfect and Easy A, pay homage to this movie, and who can blame them? The glory of the high school movie genre began with The Breakfast Club.

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The premise is simple: five high school students went to school on a Saturday to serve detention, namely Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), the Brain; Andy Clark (Emilio Estevez), the Athlete; Bender (Judd Nelson), the Criminal; Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy), the Basket Case; and Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), the Princess. They are all kept in a room, and considering their different backgrounds (in high school, it was more like a caste system), they didn’t get along with each other so well. The audience is given a glimpse into each one’s quirks, most of which were compatible with their own social labels – nothing surprising there. The dandruff scene is comedy gold. But what made the movie an essential high school movie is how it played with the stereotypes, not just with deconstruction, but also with how one stereotype interacted with another. Locked in one room from 7 AM to 4 PM, will they all come out alive? The alternative of their pulling a Battle Royale might be epic, too, now that I think about it, but what happened in that room, and how they changed each other is more significant.

At first, the differences between the characters spawned heated exchanges. But as they had little else to do in that room, soon, they talked about the lives of each one. Surprisingly, they came to a point where, although each one seems a stranger to the rest, they had little worry about what the others might think and just became comfortable with the motley crew for company. They told their own stories, and the audience learns that they’re not what the rest of the school thinks they are, due to the restrictive labels assigned to them by high school social hierarchy. And in that same day, they learn more about each other, and more about their own selves.

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The Breakfast Club showed us what we were all familiar with – this place called high school kept forcing its students to fit into molds specifically designed for them, compatible with some of their characteristics. It is that time of our lives where defining yourself and showing that to the rest of the world are crucial, yet ironically it is the most restrictive venue for such freedom and growth. There is an existing status quo that cannot be toppled; some are oppressed, others reign, with popularity and physical attractiveness as social currency. But not all people are the same, not all of them are defined by their stereotypes. The ending of The Breakfast Club – that glorious ending wherein Bender, wearing Claire’s diamond earring, raises his fist to the sky, with Simple Minds belting out their only hit, “Don’t You Forget About Me” – reinforces the aforementioned idea, and clearly depicts the fact they have triumphed over the definition society gave them; that these high school stereotypes are mere notions, and never the whole truth. These can never justify what each one goes through. And this insight affirms an age-old truth, that if we take the time to get to know other people rather than pass on automatic judgment, we might not only learn who they are, but we change as well in the process. You are ultimately defined by who you are and how you see yourself, and not how others want you to be.

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At this point, it is imperative to note that in more recent films and TV series, it seems that the high school status quo is being reversed. While the nerds, geeks, and dorks do not necessarily dominate the others, it is not as hard for them to speak up, and be heard. Having some stuff between your ears actually is more important than being attractive and popular. Channing Tatum’s character in 21 Jump Street affirmed this observation by exclaiming, “F– you, Glee!” But The Breakfast Club steered us in the right direction, and it’s a long process, but I will wait for the day when high school stereotypes no longer matter as they did, as they still sometimes do now.

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 -J

P.S. –Don’t forget to listen to this, and don’t hesitate to raise your fist in the air whenever appropriate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdqoNKCCt7A

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