Being born in the mid-80s, I have mainly experienced 80s pop culture secondhand, either stuff that my parents enjoyed (Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, pre-crazy Tom Cruise, Duran Duran) or stuff I have discovered on my own (The Terminator, Brazil). Many of my peers have regarded me as overly taken with the decade, but for better or worse, the 80’s are my roots (pun not intended, I swear).
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off definitely falls in the latter category (it was released four months after my birth, which may explain why my parents didn’t see it). By the time I got to college I had seen the better part of John Hughes’ oeuvre, but Ferris Bueller hadn’t hit high enough on my radar. Or I didn’t know anyone with the DVD. When I finally did see it in my junior year (2007 or 8), I enjoyed enough to remember watching it the first time at my friend Bill’s house, but not so much where it changed my worldview.
Many people have been influenced by the film, and it obviously enjoys a revered status in our culture even today. However, Alan Siegel, writing in The Atlantic, thinks people simply need to ‘get over’ Ferris:
This is the myth of Ferris Bueller. It’s portrayed as a universal story, when it’s really not.
Hughes’s other movies may not channel Dickens, but they’re at least populated with teenagers who’ve had it rougher than Ferris. In Weird Science, Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are bullied dorks who are clueless about women. In Pretty in Pink, Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is too poor to afford a nice prom dress. In The Breakfast Club, John Bender (Judd Nelson) is the rebellious product of a broken home. Ferris Bueller, on the other hand, dates Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), the hottest girl in school, and says stuff like, “-ism’s, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.” The line might resonate more if the movie weren’t dripping with classism. Ferris is wealthy, white, and still smarting from his recent birthday, when the doting parents he repeatedly and proudly deceives buy him a computer instead of a car. (“What kind of movie hero consciously presents himself as infantile and duplicitous?” Paris Review writer Caleb Crain asks in his recent essay “Totaling the Ferrari: Ferris Bueller Revisited.”) Meddling Dean Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) spends the entire movie trying to bust Ferris, but never succeeds. Not that you expect him to. Nothing challenges Ferris. Unlike most teens, his life is free of adversity.
Now, while I am not the biggest fan of the film, I recognize a straw man argument when I see one. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may not confront the social trials and tribulations felt by average American teenagers, but it didn’t set out to. Ferris is the ultimate fantasy. The trickster spirit landing firmly in 1986 Chicago. He incites nonviolent rebellion, pushes against authority, and wants everyone to have a great time.
The value of Ferris Bueller is obviously not in his realism, it’s in his escapism. It’s a great movie to life you up when you’re down. How can you not love life after watching Ferris Bueller? He is the ultimate American, enjoying the life, liberty, and happiness that his forefathers fought to protect.
God bless you, Ferris Bueller (and John Hughes).
Man, I really need to get that DVD.