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Comparative Analysis Of The Breakfast Club And Mean Girls

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When I first read what this assignment entails I became very excited because I knew I would get the chance to talk about great films from different decades that really showcase the “flavor” of their time. These movies that I am choosing to write about are some of my all time favorites and I think others would also agree.

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The first decade I am choosing is the 1980’s with a film called The Breakfast Club and the second decade I chose is the 2000’s with a film called Mean Girls. When I think of pivotal teen films both of these immediately come to mind. They are considered to be “classics” and cleverly convey what it means to be growing up and discovering one’s self in that particular period. First is The Breakfast Club. This film is about 5 students from different backgrounds all meeting for detention on a Saturday morning. Over the course of movie, they found out that they have a lot more in common than they initially realized. The 5 are all from different cliques or social groups in their school. They include John Bender “The Criminal”, Claire Standish “The Princess”, Brian Johnson “The Brain”, Andy Clark “The Athlete”, and Allison Reynolds “The Basket Case”. The school’s disciplinary principal, Mr. Vernon, gives them all an assignment for the day. They must write an essay about “who you think you are” and reflect on the violations they committed to end up in Saturday detention. As the teens spend time together there is a clear delinquent of the group, Bender. He acts out several times exclaiming he’ll urinate on the floor, suggests that he and Andrew shut the library door and have forced intercourse with Claire, questions Andrew’s athletic abilities, and overall acts very hostile to his classmates. During lunch, he offers everyone a glimpse into his home life and relationship with his own father whom abuses him both verbally and physically. After sharing this extremely personal information Bender runs off and sits alone, clearly hurt by what he has revealed to the group.

When reflecting on this, it made me think of the chapter 2 lecture and Sandtrock text where things like nature and nature were discussed as well as different parenting styles and parent-child relationships. Our environment influences us and can make a huge impact in the long run on who you become to be. It’s important to take an epigenetic view, which is a nature/nurture interaction that has awareness of the continuous bidirectional interaction between ones heredity and ones environment. Nature can create a particular type of nurture and vise versa. For example, an adolescent who is by nature athletic or bold may find a niche in sports and other psychical activities. In Bender’s case, by nature, he tends to be problematic. Which in turn, creates situations he may find himself in that would get him into trouble with students, teachers, and other authority figures. This particular explanation goes hand in hand with the social cognitive theory. Albert Bandura who believed in reciprocal determinism developed this theory. Reciprocal determinism is the idea in which that the environment influences us and we influence the environment (two-way street). Bandura also stresses the importance of observational learning or modeling, which means we do what we see. Bender may see deviant/abusive behavior from the people he’s around, so in turn, he does the same. To him and his age group, this is the “norm”. We also learned that a parent has a direct effect on a child’s behavior and overall personality. Part of how we behave and our emotions come from the temperament of our parents. Someone like Bender who has an abusive relationship with his father is more likely to act out and find a way to take out that built up anger from home, on other people. Later in the movie, we find out that most of the teens have a strained relationship with their parents as well.

In order to pass time, the teens seem to do everything but complete the assignment at hand. They dance, harass each other, tell stories, fight, smoke marijuana, and talk about a variety of different subjects. Gradually they all begin to open up and share personal stories about each other. Allison is a compulsive liar, Brian and Claire are very ashamed of their virginity, and Andy got in trouble because of his overbearing father. They eventually discover that they all have strained relationships with their parents and are afraid of making the same mistakes as the adults around them. They also talk about what they did to in order to receive detention. Claire had skipped class in order to go out with friends. She worries about whether or not her parents will ground her and tells her peers that they have a strained marriage where they use her to get back at each other. Brian tells everyone that he’d felt suicidal after failing a project in one of his classes. He had actually brought a flare gun to school to possibly kill himself. He was caught because the gun had gone off in his locker, which started a fire. Andrew had attacked another student in the locker room after gym class, beating on him while his friends cheered him on and covered the boy’s bottom in duct tape, causing him minor but humiliating injuries. Andrew says he did it because his father is an overbearing tyrant who can’t stand his kids being seen as losers and that they must win at all costs. We also learn that Mr. Vernon actually has a few ah-ha moments himself. When he’s down in the basement looking through the personal files of his teachers, he’s caught by the school’s janitor, who essentially blackmails him about Vernon’s snooping through private information about his staff. The two end up spending the rest of the day talking. They also delve into some deep topics. Vernon admits he’s frightened of the future. He shares his opinion that the very students he has in detention will one day be running the country. He also claims that since he’s been in education several years, the students haven’t changed, they’re still defiant, arrogant and disrespectful of authority. The janitor tells Vernon he couldn’t be farther from the truth. Vernon is the one whose attitude has soured his perspective of the teens. He is now stuck in a job he doesn’t like so much anymore and bases his opinion on the kids from how he feels about his job. In one part of the movie Vernon actually locks Bender in the closet for catching him playing basketball. Vernon challenges him, offering him one defenseless punch. Bender is too scared to take the bait and Vernon reminds him that people won’t take the word of a delinquent student over that of the principal. Overall he is not portrayed in a positive light. He constantly talked down to the students and flaunted his authority several times throughout the duration of the film.

I think Mr. Vernon was a symbolic representation of society as a whole. As humans, sometimes we pass judgments about people before even meeting them and taking the time to talk about what they may have gone through. I think there is a stigma when it comes to young people sometimes. We are called disrespectful, lazy, arrogant, moody, promiscuous, etc. A lot of these things can be true, however sometimes I feel as though teens are stereotyped based on predetermined expectations that older people may have. Judging, labeling, or putting people “in a box” makes us feel more comfortable because we like to know who we think others are. Its scary to us as a society to be unsure about different groups of people, so it feels better if we stamp them with what we think they are or who we think they should be. I don’t think Vernon was just speaking for himself in this movie. A lot of people probably felt that way about teens at the time. Even now I believe it still continues. This reminds me of the TED Talk we watched about the adolescent brain and the reputation young teens have. Sarah Blakemore does a really good job of explaining some of the growing pains of adolescents and why they do what they do. She goes into detail of the maturing brain, its parts, what they do, and how it affects our decisions. I found the video to be very informative and interesting. Overall, I think it’s important to recognize the hardships of younger generations in maturing years and try our best to not stigmatize or judge. In the end Brian agrees to write the assigned essay. The letter challenges Mr. Vernon’s perceived judgments about the students. There are actually 2 different versions of the letter that are showed in the movie. One is read at the beginning and the other is at the end. The letter demonstrates the changes the students undergo during the course of the day and their attitudes towards each other. It is a main focal point of the movie. The one at the end reads as follows: “Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us. . . In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain. . . and an athlete. . . and a basket case. . . a princess. . . and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”

I thought that this film was a good one to write about because the main theme is the constant struggle of the American teenager to be understood, by adults and by themselves. It explores the pressure put on teenagers to fit into their own norms and high school social constructs, as well as the expectations of their parents, teachers, other authority figures, and society in general. Stereotyping is another big theme. Once the obvious stereotypes are broken down, the characters empathize with each other’s struggles, change their opinions of their first impressions, and discover that they are much more similar than different. I think that it accurately portrayed teen life during that time. I have watched this movie with my parents before and they said that life was like that. It was mentioned that there is a more overall relaxed feeling during this generation. For example when they smoke marijuana at school or when Andrew bullied another student. A lot of those things would not be tolerated in this day and age, so I think their portrayal during the 80’s was pretty spot on!

The second movie I will be discussing is Mean Girls. There are both similarities and differences when comparing it to The Breakfast Club. We first meet Cady. She is 16 years old and home-schooled. Her parents are zoologists who have returned to the United States after living in Africa for 12 years. Cady now must go to public high school for the first time and is extremely unprepared and frankly clueless about what she is getting into. At school, she meets Janis and Damien who help her learn about the various cliques she is bound to encounter. She is warned to avoid the school’s most exclusive and nasty clique, “the Plastics”. The trio of girls led by the “queen bee” Regina George. The Plastics eventually take an interest in Cady, inviting her to sit with them at lunch, go shopping with them after school, and hang out on most days. Upon realizing that Cady has been accepted into the Plastics and feeling like the perfect time for some revenge, Janis comes up with a plan using Cady to infiltrate the Plastics.

Agreeing to the plan, Cady pretends to be the plastic’s friends and spend a lot of time together. She learns about a “Burn Book. ” This notebook is Regina’s top secret creation filled with rumors, secrets, and gossip about all the other girls, boys, and teachers at their school. Cady ends up liking Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels. Regina catches on and successfully steals him back from Cady in a fit of rage and jealousy. Being hurt and frustrated, Cady continues with Janis’ plan, which involves cutting off Regina’s “resources, ” separating her from Aaron, destroying her beauty, and turning Regina’s fellow Plastic friends against her. The plan goes well at first and all of the things Cady, Janis, and Damien want to happen, happen. Regina and the plastics begin to fall apart. In the midst of the scheme, Cady gradually loses her individual personality and remakes herself in the image of Regina. She soon becomes as spiteful as Regina and eventually abandons Janis and Damien to focus more on her image.

This particular topic reminded me of the chapter 4 lecture where we learned about self-image and self esteem. The “self” is the main focus of personality and it integrates all aspects of who we are. Self-understanding in teen years tends to be more differentiated, fluctuating, and sometimes even contradictory. Self-esteem also tends to be lower in females, who may be more influenced by unrealistic social ideas and expectations. We see this with Cady. She begins to lose herself in the materialistic ways of the Plastics and untimely becomes a completely different person compared to who she was. She enjoyed the attention and the way it made her feel about herself. Portraying an image of yourself based on what others may like or expect of you can be detrimental to your mental health and the way you view yourself in the long run. I can relate to this as well. When I was younger I used to care way too much about what others thought of me and the way I was viewed through their eyes. Every day for school I would put on a “mask” and hide behind clothes, makeup, and frankly a very shallow attitude. This went on until I got to high school and made friends who made me feel like I didn’t have to change myself to be loved. I am thankful I learned this lesson early on and no longer chose to hide myself in order to feel like I belong. Psychologist Erik Erikson saw identity vs. identity confusion as a central issue in adolescence. He believed that they are allowed a psychosocial moratorium, meaning a “time out” to discover yourself. The concept of identity includes several separate subtopics such as vocational, sexual, ethnic, achievement, etc. Psychologist James Marcia also touches on identity being related to crisis and commitment. Humans cycle through the stages of this, which include identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement. A strong identity forms the basis for both platonic and romantic/intimate relationships and is extremely important when trying to make connections with others.

Being frustrated with her friends, Regina spreads the entire contents of her Burn Book around the school, starting a riot. To avoid suspicion, Regina also inserts a fake page of herself in the book in order to focus blame on her friends. Teachers now have to step in, many of which were mentioned in the burn book. Cady even slandered her math teacher by saying she sold drugs. The girls realize that they are guilty of being nasty and hurting the feelings of others. Feeling slighted by Cady, Janis reveals the plan they had for the Plastics to the whole school. Now without any friends and not being trusted by anyone, Cady decides to make amends by taking full blame for the Burn Book even though Regina wrote virtually all of it. Eventually, Cady returns to her old self and things calm down. At the spring dance, Cady is elected Queen. In her acceptance speech, she declares her win is completely meaningless. She says, “they are all wonderful in their own way and thus the victory belongs to everyone. ” As a symbolic gesture, she breaks her tiara and gives the pieces to her classmates. This was one of the most powerful moments of the film. In the end, Cady makes up with Janis and Damien and reaches a truce with the Plastics.

This movie took the country by storm. I remember when it came out everyone was watching it. It gave us a glimpse into some of the struggles of being a teenager. Serious topics like survival, individuality, popularity, sexuality, maturity, and fitting in were all touched on, while still being extremely funny and wildly entertaining. I related to the film in several ways being a teenager when it came out. I think that it accurately portrayed adolescent life at that time. Of course, everything is more exaggerated in the movies and some things are done for shock value, but I think it did a really great job of capturing some of those issues. I know I have experienced some of the things in the movie in some shape or form. Even now, as a young adult, I can still relate to it. I consider it to be a classic and a movie that was really pivotal for my generation.

When comparing the two films, there are many similarities and differences. As I had mentioned earlier, I felt as though The Breakfast Club had more of a relaxed feel. Certain things in the 80’s were tolerated much more than if they were done now. The Breakfast Club was more about internal teen issues and the struggles as society sees them. It dug deep into some of the teen’s home lives and brought some of those family relationship issues to light. All of them felt misunderstood in some way and I feel as though many young people share those challenges. It wasn’t just about others understanding them, it was also about them being able to understand and accept themselves. I noticed that even though the teens felt as though they were being judged, they didn’t seem to let it get to them. They cared less about what others thought and found comfort in knowing they are not alone. Even someone who you think you’d never have anything in common with might surprise you. Mean Girls had more external struggles. The teens were more concerned about others opinions of them and how to change themselves in order to “fit the mold. ” This movie was overall much more shallow compared The Breakfast Club. It touched on things like sex, dating, cliques, peer pressure, partying, school, body image, fitting in, etc. I feel as though these are more current issues that a lot of teens are often exposed to and really struggle with. It was a wider plot, with more going on and a completely different timeline. It was more about finding yourself, and not changing who you are to fit in or get attention. I also noticed how teachers in this movie were portrayed differently than The Breakfast Club. In Mean Girls, they were viewed as mature peacemakers, who are forgiving and understanding of young people. This is quite a contrast from Mr. Vernon!

Both movies had really great take home messages for teens and even adults. I think any age can relate to these issues. In reality, we just all want to feel loved and like we belong. Learning how to be comfortable with and accepting of ourselves is not an easy task. I know some adults who have still not been able to master it. Even though these movies take place in different decades and have completely different plots/focus points, the struggles are ultimately the same and will continue to be for generations to come. Growing up in your teen years is not easy by any means (and never will be), but knowing you are not alone does make a difference. And these films surely made a difference for me!

15 July 2020

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