March 2, 2007
The Breakfast Club and the Stereotypes of the Teen Comedy Genre
It would seem most people are a victim of a crime, known as stereotyping--but do they perpetuate those stereotypes? The Breakfast Club (1985) is a unique film, in the sense of the teen comedies, because it focuses on the stereotype and probes deeper into the issue of, "why are they like this?" As Judith Andre, in the MC Reader, shows, it is okay to portray the truth, if the entire truth is shown (Andre, 64). This is contradictive to the teen comedy genre, because most of such movies will defend stereotypes of many forms, including sexuality and race. Such can be seen in Not Another Teen Movie (2001), which spoofs the entire genre. Sexuality is a strong focus of the film, as many of the main characters are interested in the practice of sex; for example, the group of freshmen who make a pact to "get laid." Also, a main character, named Malik, is explicitly referred to as the "token black guy." Not Another Teen Movie was effective in battling such stereotypes by reinforcing them. However, The Breakfast Club battled contemporary stereotypes differently.
Taking a serious look at the issues of teenagers, the whole truth (as Andre suggested being a way of battling stereotypes) can be considered as given in The Breakfast Club. As compared to its brethren in the genre of teen comedy, this film took a more serious look at hardships of high school and home life. Each character has a personal problem that, seemingly, led to the way they act in public. Bender, being a rebel, retells how he is abused by his father. Such abuse can create a level of apathy about life, but Clark (a victim of a different kind of abuse) goes on to assume it is all "for show," and expresses such a concern. One can quickly see that the film not only addresses stereotypes, but it is done by showing that each student has an assumption about the other. By the end, everyone acknowledges that their colleagues are deeper than they thought, but agree that they are different. Johnson writes to the principal that they learned they all contained some form of each stereotype. "But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal" (The Breakfast Club, 1985).
It is clear that each student changed that day; that they learned to look passed the clique. Though, in a way, their stereotypes were confirmed. Johnson was expected to write the assigned paper for everyone, Standish had financial resources to give away jewelry, and gave Reynolds a makeover, who expressed an initial distaste for the new look, Bender who received the jewel and will inevitably return to detention (as the principal gave him detention for the year), and so on. What is different in the end is that each character learned to appreciate each other's unique abilities. Perhaps, because each character was given an opportunity to recount their home life and clear bonds were made, it is no longer pejorative to view each character by their original stereotype. Andre suggests that it is fine to expect something from someone, based on their general stereotype, if it is not recognized as their defining feature (64).
The Breakfast Club made a strong progression from a tense environment, in which Vernon scolded the characters for being in detention, and Bender sparked various conflicts, to the characters working as a team to outwit Vernon, and the hint of relationships between Bender and Standish, and Clark and Reynolds. One tagline of the film, "Five strangers with nothing in common, except each other," is indicative of this progression. Throughout the film, each character realized they share a lot with each other. They danced, smoked marijuana, and talked about home lives, in which they all had conflicts with their parents. Contemporary music was a strong key in this film. In the scene where they all danced, they all danced in their own way, and sometimes together. This scene was a powerful one, because it proves as the catalyst for the evolution of the plot. However, music was not always used, in the scene where all the characters were talking about their personal lives, there was no music. According to the Wikipedia article on the film, a few of the scenes were adlibbed to lighten the mood Such was a good move on John Hughes' part, the film did waver on the edge of dry sometimes.
One can notice with the teen comedy genre, many of the films reinforce general stereotypes about teenagers, while many battle such stereotypes. However, a flaw of the genre is the expression of teenagers as lewd. In a way, such films create stereotypes of teenagers for older generations. A focus the American Pie series (1999-2006), which is recognized as one of the most prominent series in today's teen comedies, is the venture of sex. In the first American Pie (1999), the main characters make a pact to help each other "get laid" by their prom (as spoofed in Not Another Teen Movie). Then the film follows their antics in attempting to fulfill the conditions of their pact, one character spreads lies to increase their reputation, another tries to have sex with his girlfriend. According to the Wikipedia article on "teen film," other focuses of the genre are substance use (Dude, Where's My Car?, 2000), being "clueless" (Clueless, 1995), and sneaky belligerence (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986). With these and other stereotypes, it is hard to see people in anything other than such a one-dimension manner.
However, such movies in the genre as Revenge of the Nerds (1984), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), The Hot Chick (2002), and, of course, The Breakfast Club work to turn such views around. The Hot Chick is somewhat similar to the latter, because at some point in the movie, the main characters seek the help of those they would normally avoid. Revenge of the Nerds is a strong example, because the nerds accomplish in establishing a fraternity in lieu of the favoritism toward the football team (which is apparent in any university).
Stereotypes, in general, are seen as pejorative (Andre, 63), but they cannot be all bad, if one is willing to look passed the stereotype at appropriate times. As inspiring as the plot behind The Breakfast Club is, one cannot expect the characters to walk away completely absolved of their cliques. However, The Breakfast Club is a powerful attempt to show us that we must look at an individual much deeper, because there is more to the nerd, the jock, the princess, the rebel, and the basket case than being those adjectives. Some ask, is it okay to portray stereotypes if you express individuality? Andre suggested it was fine in his article, and in retrospect, there should be no reason why not. However, sometimes, in a fictional sense, it is fine to have "stock characters" in your plot, as long as your main characters are real. It is silly to be afraid to not have a black individual in your story--political correctness is not always correct. The war against stereotypes is a necessary to a problem that could have been avoided, in the first place. If we take the moment to look passed labels and cliques a person is associated with, then we may find that we are surprised to see that person is unique--not just who they portray themselves as.
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