To What Extent Is The Film “The Breakfast Club” A Microcosm Of Society, Drawing On Feminist And Marxist Theories
To what extent is the film “The Breakfast Club” a microcosm of society, drawing on feminist and Marxist theories?Introduction John Hughes 1985 film The Breakfast Club follows five high school students in detention and the reasons behind their punishment along with the portrayal of their relationships with each other and their families. This film was written in America in the 1980s during the beginning of MTV culture and a time of presidency under Ronald Reagan (Camardella, n. d. ) the film highlights issues surrounding family, class, gender, bullying, drug abuse, child abuse, homelessness, romance, suicide and more. Before I start looking into “The Breakfast Club” I need to define a microcosm. In the oxford English dictionary it is defined as “a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger” (Simpson, 2010).
Therefore what I am trying to ask is whether the film “The Breakfast Club” represents society as a whole. The different teenage characters represent the different cliques of an American high school. Claire represents the “princess” acted by Molly Ringwald and Brian is the “Brain” acted by Antony Michael Hall. Andrew is the “jock” acted by Anthony Michael Hall, Allison is the “basket case” played by Ally Sheedy and John is the “criminal” acted by Judd Nelson. These are typical characters used in many films in which there is an American high school and these are often used in “chick flicks”, films that are based towards girls. The Breakfast Club is a comedy-drama and so is almost mocking these generalisations and stereotypes used in many Hollywood films of the time. The only other characters are the two adult characters, the principal Richard Vernon played by Paul Gleason and the janitor and father of brain, Carl played by John Kapelos. (Anon. , 2018)The themes of the film included the idea of teenage angst and a difficulty in finding who you are and being understood by adults and peers. It reflects the pressures put on teenagers to follow the norms and values of high school, fitting in with their peers whilst being under scrutiny from parents and the issues surrounding family dysfunctionality. Stereotyping is another common theme, the idea that young people are labelled in the education system by their peers, their teachers, their parents and then by themselves leading to the self-fulfilling prophecy that they will become what they are stereotyped, this is encompassed in the final letter given to Vernon where the students say “you see us as you want to see us in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions”. John Hughes the director was an American film maker, most famous for his coming of age comedies in which he mixed music with the concepts of teenage hood. The breakfast club was his second one of these and most of his films were centred on the actress Molly Ringwald because he took great interest in her. At first the film investors were unsure about Hughes directing because of his lack of experience in film making however when he suggested it would be filmed in one location they agreed to it because less could go wrong.
The actors rehearsed for three weeks and then shot in sequence. (Clark, 2017)The Breakfast Club is a drama film with elements of humour and premiered in 1985. In 1985 a lot was going on in American politics. The country was under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Raegan wanted to turn back communism and irradiate it from America through tax cuts, increased defence spending, deregulation and other neo-liberal economics. (Camardella, n. d. )Before analysing the film I must think about the different microcosms of society that are represented. Marxism is one of the main theories that I can see may have a part to play in the film. Marx said that we live in a capitalist society in which there are the ruling class which own the businesses and the working class who work for them. He said that the working class are oppressed and that they are brainwashed to carry on working for them through the super structure in which different institutions within society are used as ideological state apparatus to keep them subdued and so that they will believe in the meritocratic ideology that if you work hard you will gain what you need in life.
When in reality the class system is unequal and leaves people with unequal opportunities meaning that they are not on an even playing field with the higher class. Marx said the idea of meritocracy is unfair, some people are just born unlucky and will not be able to achieve the same as others and Karl Marx said we should live by the idea of “each according to his ability, each according to his needs”. Marx believed that there must be a bloody revolution in which the proletariat realise their exploitation and overthrow the bourgeoisie, creating a communist society in replacement of the capitalist one. (Marx, 1895)Feminism on the other hand holds a range of different views however all feminists have one goal which is too achieve the equality of the sexes. Feminists believe that inequality between men and women is universal and that gender norms are socially constructed and can be changed. They believe we live in a patriarchal society in which women are subordinate because men have more power. Feminism is a political movement but the views vary, I will only be looking at radical feminism. Radical feminists see society much like Marxists however they see men as the ruling class and women as the subject class. They think that women are oppressed socially and economically through things like rape, violence against women, objectification and that these things help men keep being in control. They see separatism, campaigns and political lesbianism as the answer to these problems. (Crow, 2000)The film reflects some of these theories through the cinematography, for example the angles, lighting, and camera levels.
Also through the characters, their positions in society portrayed through costume choice, the way they act and their relationships with each other. These theories are also reflected through the dialogue and overall script. Research reviewWhat is the plot of the film “The Breakfast Club”? This film follows a day in detention for five high school students from different backgrounds. It all takes place in one day on the grounds of the high school. The teenagers are Brian, Claire, John, Allison and Andrew and they fit the stereotypes of the “brain”, “princess”, “Rebel”, “outcast” and “jock”. The film begins when they all arrive at the school for the detention being dropped off by their parents, except bender who walks. This introduces them as characters and gives you an insight into their backgrounds and their relationship with their parents. The principle, Vernon arrives into the classroom in which they will spend their detention. He comes across strict and uncaring as he explains the rules and tells them that their task for their punishment is to write an essay entitled “who you think you are” and explain why they are in detention.
The teacher leaves and the characters begin to converse, Bender taking a more hostile approach and harassing the other characters. He also jams the door so that Vernon cannot look in while they are in detention. The janitor then enters the room and talks about how he is “The eyes and ears of this institution”. He then goes onto sexually assault and harass Claire and bully’s Brian at lunch about his home life. This leads him to talk about his own troubling relationship with his father and suggests that he physically and verbally abuses him. He then sits alone when realising he has told the group too much. Next the teenagers sneak out to go to Bender’s locker where they collect his marijuana, meanwhile Vernon is getting a coffee and they try to escape from him running through the halls of the school. Bender distracts Vernon to save the other children and gets himself into more trouble. Vernon puts him in the closet. However Bender escapes through the heat duct back to the other children. He hides under the table where he gets a chance to sexually assault Clare. They all get high together and Andrew ends up dancing around. Eventually Alison opens up about her parents and how they ignore her and Andrew empathises and Clare and Bender discuss their differing views on romance. Meanwhile Carl the janitor and Vernon are in the basement where they have an argument. Vernon is blaming the kids and Carl is blaming Vernon for the behaviour in the school. In the library the children are opening up. Clare admits she is a virgin, Alison admits she is a compulsive liar, Andrew admits that he is in detention because he is a bully and finally Brian opens up about his suicide attempt. Eventually they address the elephant in the room, which is their statuses at the High School, which leads to the others ganging up against Clare.
However, once reconciled there is a dance sequence and Bender goes back to the closet. Brian decides to write one essay on behalf of all the children whilst Alison gets a make over by Clare. Andrew and Brian are both attracted to her new appearance. In the closet Clare and Bender kiss as do Andrew and Alison as they are leaving the detention. They all exchange gifts as memories of each other and get back in their cars. Bender walks across the football field whilst a voice over of Brian’s essay is audio played. Finally Bender raises a fist to the sky and the film ends. (The Breakfast Club, 1985)Outline the basic principles of Marxist thought. Marx was opposed to the Capitalist economic system, which he thought was based on inequality and the alienation and exploitation of the proletariat who were the working class. He said that because this system meant that the business owners wanted to make a profit they had to oppress the poor. He saw institutions such as education, family, religion, the media and others as all part of the superstructure which uses these ideological state apparatus to brain wash the proletariat and keep them under a false class consciousness in which they follow the meritocratic ideas of the bourgeoisie to keep them working hard.
In order to solve this Marx saw Communism as an alternative in which a revolution would take place. The proletariat would rise up and society would live communally without private ownership and with an equal division of labour. (Fischer, 1970) Althusser explored Marxist views on education further. He said that education performs two functions. One is to reproduce class inequality by transmitting it from generation to generation. The other is to legitimate class inequality through ideology, which disguises its true cause. (Sarup, 2012) The American Marxists Bowls and Gintis developed these ideas further in 1976. Their study of New York high school students concluded that schools reward the traits of a submissive worker. They thought that there were many parallels between school and the work place. They called this the correspondence principle, which operates through the hidden curriculum. They also highlighted the flaws in a meritocratic system calling this the myth of meritocracy.
Education gives children the false idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and if you work hard you will be rewarded however studies show that academic achievement is not the main factor in determining high income. Willis, another Marxist studied the “lad-counter culture”. He found that some children can Outline the basic principles of Radical Feminism. Main bodyThe Breakfast club was released in the 1985. Therefore in order to understand the concepts in the film I need to look at the 1980s and what was going on at the time. Ronald Raegan became the US president in 1981 and served until 1989. He had a conservative outlook on how he wanted America to be run in terms of economics and political views. He saw communism as a negative force that needed to be stopped and this was reflected in his foreign policy. Raegan supplied the arms and had the money to tackle communism. Raegan wanted to introduce an economic plan that would reward the richest people. Critics say that he took from the poor just to give to the rich and created great economic divisions between the rich and the poor. He also ignored the disadvantaged or disabled and his society did not cater to these needs at all. He came up with the idea of a “trickle down” society in which wealth would eventually reach the poorest people from incentives from the elite. He made major tax cuts however this did not work because the economy did not grow fast enough to pay for this, this caused a huge deficit. In 1983 Raegan introduced a federal holiday to honour Martin Luther King. In the 1980s the films of spike lee and books of Toni Morrison celebrate the culture and way of life of Black people and in 1984 Jesse Jackson stands election to become president of America.
However of course there was still prejudice and although the civil rights movement had been accomplished racial tension was still very much present within American society at this time. Technology was also rapidly improving in the 1980s and the CD and the CD player were being invented. In 1981 MTV culture emerged in which music and television fused. This created music videos something which in “The Breakfast Club” has. The scene in which the students smoke marijuana was actually used as the music video for the one hit wonder which was created specifically for the film, the song by simple minds “don’t you (forget about me)”. Family in the 1980s was still mainly dominated by nuclear families however divorce rates were increasing and two parent households were in decline. Only 61% of children lived in a two parent house hold where this was their first marriage. Attitudes towards women and gender roles were improving in the 80s in America with more women in jobs alongside men, however women had to help men find their place in society now that jobs were becoming dominated by women as well. Ronald Reagan was very open about his view on abortion and reproduction rights. He was very anti these and sparked an anti-abortion movement across America whereby Christian fundamentalists were fighting against liberal views like these and the rise of civil religion in this sense was emerging. The teenagers represent the different cliques of a stereotypical American high school with Brian being the “brain”. He is very dedicated to school, getting high grades in everything and has a lot of pressure from home about achieving highly. He is quite quiet and “nerdy”, finding it hard to socialise and acting awkwardly around the other characters.
However you can see that he is sensitive and complex deep down when we see what he admits later in the movie and by the letter he writes at the end of the film. The “princess”, Claire is the popular girl at the school, she is from a far more affluent family and so has a snobby side to her. She is very girly and acts prim and proper. She is constantly preening herself, putting on makeup and doing her hair. She is also portrayed as being quite ditsy as well as judgmental. Overall she is not shed in a very good light throughout the film and is described as “a prude” at one point by the other characters, an old fashioned term for being shocked by matters of a sexual nature and would now be described as being “frigid”. Andrew is the state champion wrestler and takes the role of “the jock”. He is very sporty and is heavily relied upon by the school to be representative, his coach and father put a lot of pressure on him to succeed. He is popular like Claire and so they “hang out” in similar groups, both understanding the pressures of being “popular”. He takes a leadership approach and likes to follow the rules however does let loose in scenes like the one in which they smoke cannabis. Andrew finds it hard to think for himself and is easily influenced by authority figures. Alison is known as the “basket case” and is a compulsive liar. She is an outcast who has very few friends and the friends she has are not part of any groups, she is a strange character who doesn’t fit into the stereotypes.
Therefore she finds it hard to socialise and makes up for this by lying to make her seem more interesting. She claims that she is homeless and has filled her bag with many random objects. Finally John or as he is better known “Bender” is a delinquent or criminal. He completely ignores the rules from his principle Vernon and is extremely badly behaved during the detention, he tries to get the other students involved with his reckless behaviour and bullies Brian and harasses Claire. He is abused at home and at school by Vernon and has very few friends, facing judgement by the other characters about his unruly behaviour. He later shows a sensitive side when he engages in a romantic relationship with Claire. Eventually they all come to the realisation that they have one thing in common, they all have bad relationships with their parents. Brian’s parents constantly put pressure on his academia, Claire’s parents who are going through a divorce use her to get back at each other in arguments, Andrews father is highly critical of his work in wrestling, Alison’s parents ignore her because of their own problems and Bender’s father verbally and physically abuses him. Marx said that education and the family were both ISAs, both of these are in the film and are common problems of the students. All of them feel as though their parents don’t support them or have some family issues. Marx would say that this is because when a husband comes home from work where he is being oppressed he feels angry about this feeling of not getting anywhere and takes it out on the child. For example in the scene with the depiction of Benders father being abusive and punching him, Marx would say this is because of his work environment.
The film opens with a title card against a black screen with a quote from David Bowie which has some link to Marxist theory which is that the working class are aware of their oppression where it says “they are quite aware of what they are going through”. The screen the shatters perhaps representing how the film will break down this opinion. It then pans to a shot of Claire and her father in an expensive looking car, dialogue is exchanged between her and her father in which she acts spoilt and snobby and her father talks about shopping. This is supposed to represent how she is of a higher class than the other children. She talks about the detention as if she should be able to get out of it, perhaps because of her class privilege she feels as though she will be able to get around the system. Brian’s car is then shown and he is represented as a nerd with most of the conversation being about studies and pressure to study which his richer friends may not have to worry about as much because there is no urgent need to get a job, he must rely on his academics. Andrews’s father then gives him a telling off and advice about getting his football scholarship and he is obviously a jock. His father uses the sentence “guys screw around, there’s nothing wrong with that”, perhaps he is implying here that boys are expected to misbehave and it’s okay for them to do so but perhaps not their female counterparts. Bender and Alison are then the last to be introduced perhaps to show the class hierarchy with the higher classes being introduced first and then going down the line. Bender walks across the parking lot and does not stop when Alison’s car drives up and her father has to slam on the breaks. This shows his reckless behaviour which is said in Marxist theory to be a side effect of being lower class and feelings of anger at oppression and rebellion against the capitalist society. Bender does not have parents to drop him off representing the working class family as being uninterested in education.
This links to the theory of there being a stigma around academic education within the working class because they believe there is no point aspiring to anything more than a manual labour job. Alison steps out of the car dressed in black, this colour may represent feelings of depression at the mundane life of a working class person living in a capitalist society. Her father does not respond to benders reckless behaviour perhaps because he is used to it unlike a middle class person. The filming is then taken to the library where there are rows of tables and these represent the hierarchy. Andrew and Claire sit together at the front, remaining with “their type of people” and placing themselves at the front because of their class power. The rest of the children sit alone on separate seats at the back. This represents the division of the working and ruling class from each other and how society divides the working class and not the ruling class from one another, this could be to prevent an uprising and to stop empowerment through numbers by making the working class divided. Andrew and Claire look and snicker at the working class children. They have been taught to be judgmental towards them and keep them distant to continue their oppression. Next Richard Vernon enters, he is the head teacher at the school and will be supervising the detention. He addresses the group with a lot of disrespect and this shows how the education system in a capitalist society is corrupt.
The teacher sets an essay for the children to write and bender immediately asks if it a test perhaps because he is so used to being tested in the education system. Vernon does not address Claire or bender when they ask questions representing that they are discriminated against because of their gender and class. However when it comes to Brian he addresses him. The description of Vernon is that he is suspicious when bender wants to ask a question, he does not feel suspicious with the other children but because of his lower class and his sometimes more disruptive behaviour he has a negative perception of him. They all try to get comfortable, fidgeting in their seats and bender and Brian take off their jackets off at the same time. They stop and feel awkward because they cannot be connected in any way, this goes on with the idea of the segregation of the classes. Bender then goes on to throw a piece of paper at Claire, this maybe because she is a girl and he wants to exercise his masculinity on her who he thinks is weaker than himself.
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