The Cross Cultural Appeal of Teen Movies

At the Atlantic, Alan Siegel argues that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off isn’t such a great film as many believe and predictably is accused of lacking a sense of humour by the Ferrisphiles in the comments.

I largely agree with Siegel, because while I love the films of John Hughes like anyone who was a teenager during the 1980s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is probably the least interesting of his classic teen films (I never much cared for Home Alone and the other children’s films he made during the 1990s). The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink were and continue to be so wonderful, because they managed to transcend cultural boundaries and address the universal core of teen experience. I could identify with the characters, even if I never had a prom or detention or a sweet sixteen party or any other of those nigh mythical markers of US teen experience.

From my German POV, I was actually stunned to discover that there really were such things as proms and cheerleaders and homecoming queens and teenagers riding around in cars all night in the US, because I had assumed that all of those things had been made up by Hollywood to sell teen movies. When I spent a summer visiting relatives in Kentucky, I wrote back breathless letters to my friends at home declaring that “the stuff in the movies was actually true”.

But in spite of all cultural differences, the teenagers in The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink had actual problems I could relate to such as being reduced to stereotypes or ignored by their family. Ferris Bueller, however, Ferris Bueller was just a smartass – way to reminiscent of the boys in my school that I hated – skipping school and stealing cars with his funny-named friends*. There is nothing universal about the fantasy of skipping school and stealing a Ferrari, when you come from a culture where you don’t even learn to drive until your final year of school.

*That’s another issue I have with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. None of the characters have even remotely normal names. Cameron was not a common name in the 1980s, though it later gained popularity, and Ferris or Sloane have never been common names at all.

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2 Responses to The Cross Cultural Appeal of Teen Movies

  1. Estara says:

    These 80s films actually completely passed me by. I remember going in to watch Xanadu, though. Gene Kelly!! Musical!!

    • Cora says:

      I was exactly the right age for those films, when they came out in the mid 1980s. You’re a few years older than me, if I’m not mistaken, and those few years may well have made all the difference.

      Xanadu came out a bit too early for me and so I didn’t see it until years later on TV. I still love the title song, though.

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