The Times They Aren’t a Changing, Ft. The Breakfast Club

We often believe that there is seismic generational gap between every generation. Those in the 1950s believed the 60s generation, with their swing music, were destroying the fabric of society. The counterculture which existed in the 1970s was treated imputatively by the generations before. So can you imagine what previous generations think about millennials? You don’t have to really wonder. Technological advances have been embraced by every generation, and you can see their vitriol in public forums like Twitter or Facebook. However are we really that different? Have our underlying societal dilemmas changed dramatically? This article will explore these differences, or lack of, through the cinematic masterpiece known as The Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club tells the story of 5 high school students from distinctive sectors of the American-teenage-social-sphere. They all have been apprehended for bad behaviour, and must attend detention on a Saturday. The film also tells the story of a disillusioned high school teacher and a wise custodian. The film was released in 1985, and there are fundamental elements propagated which still have relevancy today. Although my experience of high school is extremely different (every social group pretty much got on and socialised together), I am aware that my year group was an extremely special one. However the traditional high school dynamics and tropes are habitual and systematic within both American and British society. So let’s examine the characters from The Breakfast Club and their specific personality traits and life problems.

Firstly we begin with the demonstratively delinquent outcast John Bender. John presents himself as a teenager who is out to cause anarchy and chaos without a moment’s notice. He is confident, linguistically sophisticated and antagonistic. But behind this rebellious masquerade lies a child who is scared and broken in many of ways. He is abused at home, both emotionally and physically, by his parents. His father in practical provides him with constant cruelty to the point that we understand how this young man became so obnoxious. But is John Bender a character displaced because of time? The latest Child Maltreatment Report, conducted by the American Children’s Bureau, states that child abuse cases had risen from 6.6 million to 7.2 million in 2017.  We have seen a huge increase in high school mass shooting, with the reasons for the shootings being related to bad home environments. John is the archetypical representation of the modern ‘angry-teenager’; however the notion that this a modern creation is farcical.

Now we move on to Claire Standish, played by Molly Ringwald, the popular prom-queen with hidden depths. Claire is a young woman who is more than her beauty or popularity, however that social burden has diminished those qualities. Her beauty defines her and any deviation away from that stereotype will hinder her socially. For example when Bender is tearing up literature in the library, she corrects his mispronunciation of Moliere. Claire is an example of how the obsession with outer beauty dominates any sense of personality for young women. Has much changed since then? The biggest role model for women, in modern western society, is Instagram models like Kim Kardashian and her family. Claire would be the role model for how vanity needs to be diminished in favour of inner beauty, if The Breakfast Club came out in 2018.

Next up is Andy Clark, the young jock with an unreasonable amount of pressure applied to him by his father and coaches. Andy comes across as caring and protective of Claire as well as Allison and to a lesser extent Brian. However his character explores the stress that is put under young men who may have the ability for a certain sport, but not the mentality needed to succeed. Wrestling is an isolation sport, where dedication doesn’t mean just training. Cutting weight, for example, is a huge aspect of the sport and that relies on mental toughness and perseverance, rather than skill. Andy doesn’t have that isolationist mentality, because he is a caring individual. However he epitomises the sporting culture in America, where safety and healthy are disregarded for the sack of achievement and greatness.

Brian Johnson is another example of how the generational gap is smaller than expected. Brian is a hardworking student, labelled as the geek, who in pursuit of maintaining a perfect grade average messes up and contemplates suicide. This thought process comes from internal pressures exerted unto him, but also the external pressure from his parents which is the nucleus of the problems. His parents apply huge amount of pressure, similar to Andy’s father and coaches, for him to achieve academic success. This pressure is something that is fairly common throughout modern society as stress levels during exam periods have correlated with a rise in suicide rates. Brian would face the same stress in today’s society but within a more competitive environment.

Lastly we examine the ‘nutcase’ known as Allison Reynolds. Allison is a compulsive liar, but extremely artistic and misunderstood. She comes across as crazy, however it is a defence mechanism designed to protect her from rejection. Allison is ignored by her parents, which is one of the cruellest forms of parenting. Some parents teach as they were taught, with their fist and criticism. However to be completely ignored and to be valued as worthless is maliciously heartless, and can have huge physiological implications. I feel like I can relate to her situation, and many of TWCT’s readers may also be able to empathise too.

We can see through these 5 characters how problems that young people faced in the 1980s are not dissimilar to the problems that millennials face today. There should be more empathy in our society, however with the profound use of social media we have stagnated in this department. This article is not original in scope, and the conclusion will not produce any new sociological theories. However I just watched this film for the first time in 5 years, and I realised how important it could be for the current generation and past generations. I mean haven’t fictional characters like Harry Potter, Batman and Luke Skywalker influenced our lives just as much as ‘real’ people? So why can’t the characters of The Breakfast Club have a positive impact on our lives?

Good night and good luck.

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