I could not write a column on coming of age in film if I did not make reference to The Breakfast Club, the famous 1985 John Hughes comedy-drama. That would be harder than criticizing Donald Trump and not mentioning his terrible hairdo. Such an omission would ignore the fact that this film has resonated with many young adults and has become a symbol of what it means to grow up in a society that stereotypes and categorizes.
Last quarter, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Psychology 1 with over 500 other undergraduates. I loved the class because it helped me judge people in ways I never thought possible. I love judging people. I also found myself with a masterful, new, more whole and more insightful view of the way people work.
Now, upon reading that last sentence, I’m willing to bet my two cents that you categorized me as one of those pretentious assholes who thinks they know everything about the world after one psych class. We make assumptions like these because they fit nicely into our concepts of other people. I may be an asshole, but not because I have an inflated opinion of my psychological knowledge.
The Breakfast Club attempts to dispel the power of stereotypes by giving each main character a shade of gray. The “criminal” John Bender lives in an abusive household, “athlete” Andrew Clark is pushed too hard by his father, “brain” Brian Johnson has attempted suicide upon receiving a bad grade, “basket case” Allison Reynolds is a compulsive liar and “princess” Claire Standish is a virgin.
The first time I saw this movie, I saw what the director wanted me to see — namely, the fact that beyond the way we’re socially perceived, we all have certain growing pains that have the power to bond us.
The second time around, I was less impressed. It struck me that the individual struggles of each character were archetypical to who they were perceived to be. If Claire was one of the most popular girls in school, with a flair for fashion, her virginity may not come as much as a surprise as it is portrayed in the movie. This double standard can help us define our individuality, and how that individuality can change as we age. Whew, this is a doozy.
It goes without saying that a large part of who we are is a byproduct of who we want to be. But we cannot ignore that others have an influence on us as well. If we are not able to resolve our identities in the earlier stages of life, it is likelier that a person may experience crisis later in life.
I fear that people may adhere to their stereotypes as a way of resolving identity issues with ease. Does The Breakfast Club have anything to say about this? Well, it just so happens that it does. In the final essay Brian turns into the strict Mr. Vernon; he points out that despite how he views each member of this “club,” they all have some of the aforementioned qualities.
I’m not sure I’d like that. I like things cohesive. Simple. I’m afraid to wear clothing with words on it because it disrupts the continuity of a plain shirt. So that’s why it’s hard for me to swallow that we can be such a mix of so many traits.
But if I don’t like a blend of identities, and I don’t like a single stereotypical identity, how do I proceed? The Breakfast Club leaves us here. For me, identity has been picking and choosing what I like from my culture and my life. It’s an ongoing process in which sharp turns are poor turns. Age helps us reflect on these changes.
In eighth grade, I had god-awful hair that went down to my shoulders because I wanted to look like the rocking and rolling John Lennon. So I left that fragment of my identity behind. Didn’t dig it anymore. That’s okay.
There are more serious examples. Some people think that radically changing their identity for college is good. It isn’t. Ninety-nine percent of the time, your identity doesn’t need a change like Donald Trump doesn’t need any more hair gel. Let it be. Let your coming-of-age dictate how you choose to shape your identity, and be cognizant of how the groups you may be a part of play into the equation.
Okay, I’m done preaching. Watch the movie. Join me next week. I’m off to bring pretension elsewhere.
If you want to tell ELI FLESCH that making fun of Donald Trump is out of line, you can reach him at email@example.com.