Tuesday night, I went with my best friend to see a screening of The Breakfast Club for its 30th anniversary. She reminded me that I’d introduced her to the movie back in our movie-watching and slurpee-drinking days, which I’d forgotten, but wasn’t surprised about. I love The Breakfast Club. I loved it as a teen when I was introduced to it (by my older brother, I suspect), and I love it still. More than any other of those John Hughes movies that every 80s kid remembers, The Breakfast Club captures the absurdity, honesty, and pain of being a teenager.
The scene that sums it up so perfectly for me occurs between Andrew and Allison after she’s dumped her purse out on the couch and then runs off.
You have problems…
Oh, I have problems?
You do everything everybody ever tells you to do, that is a problem!
Okay, fine…but I didn’t dump my purse out on the couch and invite people into my problems…Did I? So what’s wrong? What is it? Is is bad? Real bad? Parents?
Allison is silently crying.
What do they do to you?
They ignore me…
That “Yeah…” That simple, “Yeah…” captures in one word the concentrated angst of adolescence. It’s so simple, so pure, and yet so blisteringly honest.
In the interviews with the actors shown before the movie, someone says that The Breakfast Club was the first movie to really take teenagers and their problems seriously, and that’s why teenagers 30 years later can still watch it and relate to it. Sure, the music/dance montage is ridiculous, as are some of the insults (Eat. My. Shorts.), but at its core, it’s still a movie that tells teens that their problems are real, that they’re not alone. That the popular kid, the jock, the geek, the freak, and the outcast all have something in common.
Over and over, the biggest criticism I hear about young adult literature is how melodramatic and over the top it is. How the characters’ problems are so silly, yet are treated like they’re the end of the world. But that criticism isn’t merely a criticism of young adult literature, it’s an indictment of young adults. It tells young adults that their problems are unimportant, that they’re unimportant. I’m 36. I don’t have to worry about being grounded, losing a relationship isn’t the worst thing that could happen to me, I know who I am and who I want to be, I am in control of my own life. But I wasn’t always.
That’s what we (adults…) forget. Being a teenager is the most ridiculous fucking time of a person’s life. You’re expected to work like an adult, to make adult decisions, but you’re not actually an adult. You’re expected to find and declare your place in the world when you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it. You’re expected to be in control of your own life…except when your parents or teachers or some other adults decide you’re not. You’re experiencing first love and first heartbreak and you’re challenging the ideas that have formed the bedrock of your personal belief system for most of your life. You’re being forced to make decisions that your parents think are “for the best” when you don’t even know what “the best” is yet.
As adults, as people who are decades past being teenagers, we know that who you’re friends with and what you wear and what kind of music you listen to or car you drive don’t mean shit. But we didn’t always know that—and some adults never figure it out. We treat teenagers like their problems aren’t real because they’re not our problems, while ignoring that they were our problems at one point, and that we worried about losing our virginity and getting boners in class and whether we were wearing cool enough sneakers or listening to the right bands.
But, as The Breakfast Club reminded me, the lives of teenagers are real. Their problems are real and valid and painful. And the literature that represents that time in their life deserves to be written honestly and treated respectfully. To do otherwise not only disrespects today’s teenagers and tomorrow’s teenagers, it disrespects our own teenage years. It disrespects what we went through to become who we are today.
Anyway, if you get a chance to watch The Breakfast Club on the big screen, do it. And don’t forget to take your kids.