Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Don't You (Forget About School)

Having just seen The Breakfast Club again for the umpteenth time and with the fall school semester in full swing, I've been thinking a lot lately about my teen years. To borrow a line from Patty Griffin, I hated every day of high school. Really. It was just a miserable experience. I wasn't pretty, I wasn't athletic, and I wasn't rich. I didn't do drugs and I didn't get laid. I was smart, but not "nerd-smart." Add all those things together, and you get what is called the hallway ghost. I don't know if that's what "they" call someone like me, but that will be my term. I was like Ally Sheedy's character, without all the dandruff and with a slightly better wardrobe.

I was always nice to everyone in school (at least I hope I was) but I never really had many chances to be nice. It's kind of hard to be nice to people when they don't even talk to you, or ignore you when you talk to them. I didn't have many friends and wasn't involved in any activities. Thinking back, I can't really figure out if I wasn't more active because I didn't have friends or I didn't have friends because I wasn't active. I think it was probably a combination of both. Believe me, I tried on several occasions to be more outgoing and make new friends, but that generally didn't work. I was always hoping to be accepted into the "in crowd," but actually hung out with the “burnouts” in junior high because they were, I felt, the most genuine people in school. Eventually I fell out of that crowd as I got older because at that age, I wasn't up for smoking doobies and letting boys feel me up. The burnouts were the final frontier, the last group I could cling to. After them, there was nothing. I just became invisible. I basically became what is commonly known as a truant. I just thought of myself as beyond high school. I couldn’t wait to get to college. I was longing for the day when I would be recognized as an individual with a unique set of personality traits rather than someone to be filed under a simple high-school category.

We're all familiar with the different categories of high schoolers. If you were blessed enough to have been home-schooled, you've probably still seen The Breakfast Club at least once. That movie is quite possibly the best movie ever made about high school. It's not the best because of its realism. There is much about TBC that is pretty far-fetched. The reason it's so effective is because it really illustrates how ridiculous high school is. Nowhere else on earth, with the possible exception of Studio 54 in its heyday, will you find such a self-made, elitist society. All teenagers feel the intense pressure to "belong" somewhere. Anywhere. Most often it's the pressure to be popular. No one realizes until they graduate that all the time spent on building up a popular presence was completely wasted. It just doesn't carry over into the real world. And those people who do still judge people by who they were in high school are the biggest jokes around. It's actually sad to think of anyone who looks like a full-grown, mature adult on the outside, but whose head is still back in high school. As Randall “Pink” Floyd said in one of my other favorite high school movies, Dazed and Confused, "If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself." High school is not the golden era of our lives, regardless of how good it may have been for some.

The thing that I wonder about now is this - if the goal was to be popular, why didn't everyone just try to have as many friends as possible? Why not just be open to everyone? Why were we all adhering to some definition of popularity that was made up by God knows who? We could use the excuse that we were just young and foolish, but I don't buy that. And you know why? Because of The Breakfast Club, that's why.

Everyone I knew in high school loved that movie. When it came out in 1985, I was actually only in 7th grade. My life then was much better. I had more friends. I had more fun. It wasn't until 8th grade that things went downhill. To make a long story short, my best friend got mad at me for reasons still unbeknownst to me and started hanging out with a new group, became a cheerleader at one point and then slowly turned into one of the “bad girls.” Whatever. That's not really vital to what I'm talking about right now.

Even in the 7th grade, there were cliques. The junior high wasn't nearly as bad as the senior high, but it was shades of things to come. At any rate, The Breakfast Club was universally beloved. It only seemed to gain popularity as the years went on as we all had opportunities to watch it and re-watch it over and over. I can't tell you how many people listed that movie as their favorite in the yearbook. I can't tell you how many people quoted lines from it on a daily basis. It was, in the parlance of the times, totally rad. I never quite got how ironic that was until after I was out of teen prison and in college. If everyone loved that movie so much, why did they never get it?? For as many times as my fellow students saw that movie, the message never sunk in. Why, when they were all gushing about how great it was, did they never stop to say, "Hey...this movie has a point. Why are we all so mean to each other? Does this popularity contest really matter?"

Now we have a new set of problems because that same struggle for popularity exists, but kids seem to be so much nastier now and they want to grow up too fast. Now the movies that depict high school life are about kids lashing out with violence, as in the Columbine-inspired Elephant, or spiraling out of control, like Thirteen. If The Breakfast Club were filmed today, Bender would probably attack Claire, Alison would jump off the roof out of despair and the kid who had his buns taped together by Andrew would come back and shoot everyone. This might not be the case if all those Brat Pack fans really took the message of their favorite movie to heart. Does it really take having a gun put to their heads for kids to figure out that high school shouldn't have a caste system?


The Everglades said...

Fantastic. TBC is one of two movies I rely on to bring me out of the dumps when things are blue. The other is The Goonies. I think it is because both movies remind me of a simpler time--when, as you mentioned, kids weren't taking guns to school, committing suicide and lashing out in fits of meth abuse.

I was four in 1985, but I still got my hands on both of those movies and still watch them regularly. In fact, me and my brother will probably watch TBC tonight, because I'm a sucker for nostalgia.

You nailed it. You totally nailed it.


PS I was a floater in HS because I could never figure myself out, but I managed to take the tenets found in TBC to heart. I didn't want to be any particular character from TBC; rather, I wanted to have bits of each in my persona.

teletart said...

As adults, I'm not sure we get very far away from high school. Sure, as individuals we change, and the social cliques get more fluid, and we're (hopefully) more tolerant - but we still arrange our world much like we did in the cafeteria. We just hide our insecurities better. Though if we're lucky, some of us actually get laid now. ;-)

Doggie Extraordinaire's Mom said...

Working in the same town in which I attended high school oh so long ago, I've run into many of my former classmates. I, too, was relatively invisible, with only a small handful of friends who I never really felt all that close to. Or so I thought. What boggles my mind is that the "popular" kids grew up to be adults who remember me and are actually pleased to see me again. One even asked me out! (Now that's vindication!) If only we went to high school as adults, we'd enjoy it more, probably learn twice as much, and actually benefit from the experience. What to do with the teen years then? All teens should be forced to take care of the elderly for 8 years. (And that's a growing experience, not a punishment!)

I loved TBC, then and now.

BadGod said...

I hated when my parents or teachers would say "you'll miss high school". I can honestly say they were the worst years of my life. I hated every stinking second of it.

I was not popular, but I didn't want to be. I had no good friends in school. A few people I would hang oout with but not friends.

I did get to play with some boobies, though. That rocked.

I graduated in '94. So I was in school for the "grunge thing". That was neat. Flannels and long hair.

Blake was Four in '85.....I feel so old.

Is it me or did girls not look like they do now. I mean if a girl wore what these girls wear today, she would be a skank. Then. I am confused.

Brooks said...

The best piece of advice I got in high school was from my economics teacher, of all people, who told us one day in class, "Don't be fooled. This isn't the best time of your life. It isn't even close."

I didn't have a terrible high school experience because there were enough of us art/band freaks to really make a serious dent into the cheerleader, beauty queen, jock population. however, it was nothing I look back on like the glory days simply because of that 'kill or be killed' mentality that always made me feel uncomfortable combined with the small town gossiping mothers committee -- hated them.

Excellent points about TBC -- one of my favorite movies. I think in 2005. Brian would be making meth with the chemistry set his dad gave him for Christmas, Bender would be selling it and skimming off the top, Claire would have an eating disorder and would have gotten her choice of plastic surgeries for her sweet 16. Andrew would be shooting up steriods in the boy's locker room and Allison, being her pre-trench coat mafia self, would figure out a way to launch anonymous terrorist threats on the school via the internet and get away with it.

just a theory. excellent post beckeye

Masha said...

OH MY GOD! That was EXACTLY me in high school. Just add to that a bitter kid walking around, pissed off that teachers treated her like a 5 year old. I finally just gave up and didn't come to Day Care (aka high school) any more than 3 times a week, and graduated with a 3.7 and now going to a top 20 college, proving that high school was the biggest waste of time. I remember thinking how pathetic cliques were and the little bubbles that everybody had created for themselves. If one of the 'in' crowd kids walked over to the opposite street that the high school was on, nobody would know OR care that they were popular.
I LOVED this post.

Sangroncito said...

"Hallway ghost". That's a perfect. A great line.

High school can be hell. Mine wasn't only because I was involved in the drama department and was hanging out with like-minded friends. Junior high was a lonely hell, though. I really think adults, teachers, etc. should be much more proactive in helping kids get through those hellish years. And you are so right...the popular kids in H.S. invest so much time and energy into their popularity and then they often become nothings afterwards. It's the "hallway ghosts" who have the real soul and depth, I think.

Lee Ann said...

I loved that movie. I was a big fan of all those "brat pack" movies. I think they were easy to relate to. As far as high school, I have absolutely no desire to revisit those days, and could care less about reunions. Glad that time of my life is over. Didn't seem bad at the time, but now that I look back, it is all much more clear now.

Anonymous said...

TBC is one of my favorite movies.
I graduated in '85.
But I wonder one thing...

Why do we hang on to so much stuff for soooo long after high school?
I just had my 20th class reunion and some of the people didn't show up because they said too many people were nasty to them blah blah.

Why do we get so hung up on that?

AWG said...

It's amazing the impact the Breakfast Club has had on our generation. It's funny because I doubt there's a week that goes by that something connected to that movie doesn't flit through my brain. I love that final scene with John Bender (Judd Nelson) walking across the football field. Classic!

snavylyn said...

High school was a myriad of experiences for all of us. There were good times and bad times.
I think back now and say I would have done this different or I would have never done that. But, I cannot change the past - none of us can. We just take hold of what we have learned and we go on. We look back - we all do. Our struggles shaped us and helped us become who we are today.
Fiction or non-nonfiction - high school is where we all grew up.

JC said...

I guess high school must have been the same everywhere. I too loved this movie, and lots of others that came out about the same time. My kids had sort of a favorite movie that they all watched over and over too. It was mall rats. I guess I need to actually watch it at some point. I usually left the area as mom hanging out too much is just not cool.

Lavinia said...

What an amazing post about an amazing film. I saw TBC in 1997 on TV, when I was about 13. I have never forgotten that movie and how it changed the way I saw people and myself in highschool.

That is still a quality teen movie unlike the American Pies similar films we get now. What happened to those touching-but-not-Hallmarky rite of passage movies? We need those back.

pia said...

Junior High was the worst for me.

I was out of high school--okay for a while when John Hughes began making movies--loved them.

But my goddaughter saw 13 when she was and became determined not to go down those paths--she could have

Think sometimes movies are needed to not just reflect a time but to help people make serious choices

Bonanza Jellybean said...

I loved tha movie too.

Sometimes I think it's all part of it- to learn to take it so you can be a tougher adult, but sometimes, I wonder why in thehell people have to do this to each other.

Class reunions are good evidence we haven't changed all that much- everyone was back in the same groups after the first 30 minutes.

Ugh- I did OK popularity-wise in HS, but I sure wouldn't want to go back.

afp763389 said...

... :)

Kate said...

In high school lots of my friends were the pot-smokers cause they weren't all that judgmental.

TBC is one of the best movies ever! I think if I hd to put myself in a box I'd be 3/4 Ally Sheedy's characer and 1/4 Anthony Michael Hall's character.

T.L. Barker said...

More and more these days I think it's nota popularity contest but one to see who could be nastier.


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