THE BLOG
08/08/2007 05:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pretty in Pinko: John Hughes & the Proleteeniat Revolution

In the mid-1980s, when Reagan was busy turning up the heat on the Cold War, America was being sabotaged by a Communist infiltrator who targeted our youth with saccharine Commie propaganda aimed at leading the youth to revolution. I'm talking, of course, about John Hughes.

Hughes is one of the filmmakers responsible for introducing the idea of high school as a microcosm of society, but while most filmmakers settle for exploring the cruelties of popularity, Hughes goes for all-out revolution. The man behind such teen angst classics as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles may have seemed to be harmlessly soothing the pain of adolescence, but he was really implementing a Three Year Plan (1983-1986) whose goal was nothing short of overthrowing the capitalist system with hot teenage class warfare.

What is the theme of every John Hughes' teen movie? Our differences are meaningless. We are all alike in that we are equally oppressed by adults and the capitalist system. It is our job as teens to put aside our superficial differences and band together to fight the bourgeois parents and fascist school administrators who enslave us, who selfishly profit from the oil of our pimples and try to turn us against each other by telling us to know our place and take out the trash.

He started out subtly, writing National Lampoon's Vacation, seemingly a love-letter to the biggest monument to capitalism there is: the theme park. But what happens at the end of this bourgeois pilgrimmage? Wallyworld is closed; the Griswolds have been exiled from the capitalist utopia. But do they sulk back to the suburbs of Chicago? No, the Griswold family revolts against the establishment by breaking into the park and taking what's theirs: a respite from work that allows them to pour their hard-earned money back into the coffers of industry. It's a failed revolution, but it marks the first step in Hughes' Three Year Plan.

It's when Hughes gets a chance to direct that his true colors show Red. Sixteen Candles wants to be concerned with materials like birthday presents and purloined panties, but, like Pretty in Pink, it's all about dating outside your class. By the end of the film, the Geek snags the prom queen, and Molly Ringwald not only gets a car for her birthday -- the ultimate object of American capitalist desire -- but she wins the love of a petit bourgeoisie. Even Long Duc Dong and the girl with the neck brace get some action. I know that Aristotle's conception of comedy is supposed to end with everything in balance, but I don't think either he or Marx was talking about equal distribution of booty.

In Weird Science, sexless computer nerds (read: the working class) realize what Marx had been saying all along: the workers control the means of production and should use it to their advantage. Of course, he didn't mean cybernetically producing your own sex slave, but why get caught up in semantics? Gary and Wyatt use their superior technological skills to satisfy their desires, desires which society places outside their class. In doing so, they get the popular kids (read: the captains of industry) begging for their assistance. What they learn in the film is not that wrenching control of society from the elite is bad; rather, through power, they find self-confidence. They may not be ruling the school at the end of the film, but they are certainly no longer shackled members of the proletariat. If their revolution seems failed or incomplete, that is only because Hughes' Three Year Plan won't reach maturity until 1986.

The Breakfast Club
could be seen as Hughes' October, or at least his Reds. In this film, the message is that, after one day in detention (read: the secondary school gulag), five oppressed teens realize that they are trapped in a bogus class system. The culture of high school has brainwashed them into thinking they are separated by a rigid class structure, when, in reality, they are all members of the same class: the proleteeniat. Despite what capitalist society has been telling them, they discover that they are all "a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal." What do they do with this realization? They convene a party congress (read: getting high and dancing to "We Are Not Alone") before writing a manifesto that they hand to the principal like it was the 95 Theses. Is it an accident that the last image of the film features John Bender -- a Trotskyite if there ever was one -- raising a revolutionary fist in the air? Absolutely not. This is a message to the oppressed teens in the audience, an image that calls for permanent revolution not in the world of the film, but in the real world. What else could "Don't You Forget About Me" possibly mean?

But who will emerge from among the proleteeniat to lead them in a revolutionary uprising? Only one character in the Hughes oeuvre can shoulder such a burden: Ferris Bueller. In the last teen-angst film he directed, Hughes leaves his audience with a model leader, a Marxist Messiah. What teen in 1986 did not walk out of Ferris Bueller's Day Off thinking that Ferris Bueller was the coolest film hero of all time? Why did we think he was so cool? Because he engages in open revolt against the system. But just what exactly is Ferris taking a day off from? Ferris Bueller is taking a day off from adolescent serfdom, and he wants all of us to join him. If John Hughes is Marx, then Ferris Bueller is his Lenin, perhaps even his Mao.

Bueller is the perfect leader because he transcends the illusory teenage social classes by appealing to every social strata: "the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads -- they all adore him; they think he's a righteous dude." He works well with one-on-one encounters, but he also is capable of leading mass demonstrations. Bueller embodies the cult of personality, and his followers, assuming that their Dear Leader is threatened, mount an underground campaign to save him, thus spreading Buellerism all over Shermer, Illinois. By the end of the film, these Buelleristas are an unstoppable force, and we get the strong impression that Ed Rooney and his ilk will soon be liquidated.

But Hughes' revolution never took place, and Hughes himself all but went underground by 1991. But perhaps Hughes' revolution took place in a different, more subtle way. Due to the success of Hughes' films and other films of the time, the culture industry directed all its attention toward pleasing the proleteeniat. Therefore, rather than overthrowing the capitalist system, Hughes brought the system to its knees and forced it to address the needs of the proleteeniat. As a result, the adults placed cultural power in the hands of kids, and the culture industry has never been the same since; every piece of cultural material for mass consumption has as its target the fourteen-year-old male. Look at it one way, and it's a successful revolution, a paradigm shift; look at it another way, and the struggle became a commodity within the very system it was attempting to overthrow. Either way, the revolutionary message of the film endures, even if its real-world advances do not.