How Do You Define Yourself? – Reflecting On The Lesson I Took Away From The Breakfast Club

Most of us who identify ourselves as a geek or nerd have probably felt like we didn’t quite fit in at school. Many of us weren’t considered the popular kid and many of us may have gotten picked on at some point in our lives because we weren’t cool enough, pretty enough, or we were just the misunderstood oddball in general. Anyone who’s considered different from the norm immediately gets classified as the outcast.

Growing up, I certainly wasn’t the popular kid or the pretty one. I got picked on during my grade school days because I was the chubby kid. It wasn’t until the later part of junior high did I finally shed the weight and some kids started looking at me differently. I can’t say if it was because I was considered pretty by some of my peers, or at least, not ugly, but those same mean kids who picked on me when I was chubby still picked on me because I wasn’t tall, blonde, or blessed with a big chest. A lot of the kids from my junior high class were just jerks overall.

High school came around, and while I wasn’t the super popular kid in my class, I was left alone. I had my own group of friends who I hung out with, and I generally got along with everyone. I guess you can say my friends and I were the in-betweens, not the popular kids but not total outcasts either.

What my grade school days and high school days seem to have in common was the group of friends I had who made those awkward and confusing times in my life manageable. When you have a solid foundation in your life and are surrounded by good people, you’ll come out of those growing pains with a good head on your shoulders when you reach your adult years.

John Hughes with the cast of The Breakfast Club
John Hughes with the cast of The Breakfast Club

I discovered a ton of John Hughes’ films at a pretty young age. Whatever my older sister happened to watch, I ended up watching it with her. This discovery has led me to look back on a lot of his high school films with great fondness. John Hughes’ teen films are, in my opinion, high caliber films which you just don’t see a lot of these days. He might as well have invented the teen film genre. What a lot of his films had was heart and an ability to relate quite easily to the young characters. Plenty have said what makes John Hughes’ catalog of work relevant to a modern audience today, despite a lot of them being made in the ’80s, is his ability to portray the usual concerns of a teenager: growing up, first loves, not fitting in, etc.

Among my favorite films of his are The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. All these films featured characters you liked and can relate to in some way. What a lot of these films had in common was a general mixing of the popular kids with the so-called outcasts.

The Breakfast Club presented a premise where five kids, two of them who are the typical popular kids you would see at school, aptly named “the Jock” and “the Princess,” spend a Saturday afternoon in detention. What makes this film a highly popular and a well-known film from the ’80s is watching something you don’t normally see––a group of very different individuals who wouldn’t normally socialize with each other on a regular school day are stuck in a room together. Not only do they have to serve their time at detention, they’re forced to tolerate each other for a whole afternoon.

From left to right: Judd Nelson as Bender, Ally Sheedy as Allison, Emilio Estevez as Andrew, Molly Ringwald as Claire, Anthony Michael Hall as Brian
From left to right: Judd Nelson as Bender, Ally Sheedy as Allison, Emilio Estevez as Andrew, Molly Ringwald as Claire, Anthony Michael Hall as Brian

What makes this film particularly riveting to watch is how these group of kids slowly break down the superficial labels thrust upon them at school and even at home. As each teen talks to each other, they find out how the other half lives. Bender comes from a crappy home life and his only way to cope with it is to act out in school and become the person everyone expects him to be––a no good troublemaker who won’t get anywhere in life. Andrew is the opposite of Bender. He has a seemingly great life as a well-liked, popular guy who is a top athlete at his school. However, Andrew doesn’t always think his life is so charmed. He faces pressure at home to succeed by his father, to be a winner. Andrew is constantly pushed to be the best at everything he does and if he somehow fails, his father will see him as a disgrace. The constant idea of being perfect weighs heavily on his mind when he really doesn’t want any of it.

By knowing what these characters go through and how they think of themselves and how people perceive them, John Hughes does something that shows up in a lot of his films, he humanizes everyone. No one is perfect and no one’s life is better or worse than the other. This is why a lot of his films still get discovered and enjoyed by a newer generation of kids who weren’t even born when these films were released.

Bullying back then is not the same as it is now. When you were picked on at school, you’re able to go home at the end of the day and leave all of that behind. With the invention of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, the bullying ends up following you home. If someone spreads a nasty rumor about you and posts it on the internet, it’s there forever. It spreads like a virus until it’s hard to control and maintain. Kids have it much harder these days and I’m glad I’m over that time in my life now. Bullying in the digital age is vicious and merciless. I do worry about the kids coming into this world who will have to deal with that on top of trying to discover who they are and getting good grades at the same time. Technology does have its dark sides.

breakfast_club2The lesson I took from watching a film like The Breakfast Club is we’re all humans who have feelings and emotions. Growing up and going to school with people who aren’t so kind and understanding is a rough road to be on until you reach adulthood. A world like the one John Hughes presents in The Breakfast Club, where kids who are classified as belonging to a certain group for most of their high school lives and defying what those labels really mean to them and how it relates to others, would be a nice one to have if everyone took the time to understand and really get to know each other. When you strip yourselves of those superficial labels, all you’re left with is yourself and your experiences that aren’t all that different from what the popular kid may be going through.

Labels are exactly what they are––they’re just labels. They don’t define the person and they don’t make the person either. Labels not only hurt, but they place a restriction on the person from becoming who they can potentially be. It may be one person’s view of who you are, but it isn’t the entire picture. People will always label others in a certain way because it’s just how the world works, but if we make sure not to get caught up in labels, you may find you aren’t as different from the quiet, bookish nerd or the beautiful Prom Queen as you originally thought.

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2 thoughts on “How Do You Define Yourself? – Reflecting On The Lesson I Took Away From The Breakfast Club”

  1. Ahhh, I love this movie too. I agree that it has a great lesson, which is as relevant when you’re an adult as when you’re a kid or teenager! Adults may not have to deal with “labels” as much as teens, but it’s funny how cliques and the difficulty of sharing yourself with others can linger on into adulthood! But underneath, we have a lot of similarities…

    Anyway, I’m glad you mentioned Pretty in Pink too! That’s my favorite John Hughes movie and just one of my all-time favorites. =)

    1. That’s true. Sometimes high school cliques has turned into dealing with office politics when you become an adult and start working for a living. It becomes especially hard to open up to some people because they’re either not being so nice to you or you feel your hobbies won’t be shared or understood by others.

      I can just about remember every detail of Pretty in Pink along with The Breakfast Club because I’ve watched those films way too many times than I can count. Even if it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, I can almost quote lines from the films! 😀

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