Alan Ruck, Chicago, Comedy, Diversity, Dramedy, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Friendships, Interventions, Intolerance, John Hughes, Lily-White, Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Narcissism, Pitt, Teenage Angst
This week mark thirty years since the release of the Hollywood hit Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The movie is mostly known for Matthew Broderick imbuing energy into the title character, taking his best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck played him) and his girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara played her) on a joy ride through North Side Chicago while embarrassing his high school principal and avoiding his parents. Going to a Cubs game, insinuating himself into a parade, and otherwise making Chicago pretty lily-White. For most watchers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a John Hughes comedy. Period.
Not so for me. At least once I finally watched the film. Like with most movies made between ’81 and ’87, I didn’t see it when it first came out. With my high school classmates only quoting Ben Stein’s character saying “Bueller?” over and over again, or commenting on the ability of anyone to roam the streets of Chicago so easily between roughly 8 am and 6 pm in the middle of the work week, I had no interest in seeing it. I eventually caught bits and pieces of scenes from Ferris Bueller on cable, but by nearly a decade after the movie first came out, I’d seen maybe fifteen minutes of the film.
It took my eventual wife Angelia to get me to see the movie in ’96. By then, I’d seen other Matthew Broderick films, enough where I was willing to give a comedy on White teen Gen Xer angst a chance. For whatever reason, I realized for the first time Ferris Bueller really wasn’t a comedy. It had plenty of funny moments, but at best it was a dramedy. I even remember saying to Angelia after I watched it, “Are you sure this is a comedy?”
The movie’s not-so-hidden theme is friendship. In this case, how one friend in Ferris Bueller goes above and beyond as a high school senior to save his best friend from a quietly tragic future. In Cameron’s case, one in which he wouldn’t be in charge of the shape of his life. It would either be guided by his domineering father (whom we never see in the movie) or by some future domineering wife. Apparently that was the real reason behind all of Ferris Bueller’s days off from school in the final months of his senior year.
By Bueller and his girlfriend colluding to permit Cameron his first look at a naked female body and performing an intervention through the use of Cameron’s father’s precious classic car, Cameron would somehow recognize the need to break free. That Bueller also got to thumb his nose at authority and hang out with his girlfriend was a bonus, of course. Otherwise, the movie is a zany comedy about playing hooky in the streets of Chicago on the most unlikely of school days in the middle of May.
I certainly didn’t have any Ferris Buellers in my life during my Humanities years. If there were classmates like him, they didn’t shine a light on me. Sure, there was White male angst, Black male angst, teenager angst, middle class angst, and Black and White female angst at Mount Vernon High School. I would assume now that this has been true as long as the concept of teenager and comprehensive high school has existed (about eighty years in all). But to deliberately perform an intervention on behalf of a friend to save them from themselves and their upbringing? I’m sure it happened, just not with me or any of my Humanities classmates.
This realization begs a question. Would a Ferris Bueller have emerged in my life in middle school or in high school if I were from a family of means? All issues aside, the reason why Bueller and Frye were friends probably had as much to do with location as anything else. And with residential segregation also comes income segregation. Money may not have been the reason the two teenagers were friends. Yet with both families firmly in the ranks of the affluent (not one percent, but certainly in the top 10-25 percent), their friendship is more unlikely than a Cubs game and a White ethnic pride parade on the same day. The answer to my question, of course, is no. Diversity without acknowledgement or discussion — whether by race, gender, and/or class — doesn’t exist, leaving the teenage angst that was my experience unresolved until college.
As for the events in Orlando in the past week, aside from the obvious implications of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and hate/terror, there is another more subtle issue. That people who grow up with angst but minus interventions can easily become disaffected adults. Obviously most of these adults don’t become mass shooters or stalkers who kill. But it does mean that in a society geared toward narcissistic individualism and winning, there are millions out of touch with themselves and lacking empathy (forget about love) for other human beings.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a sense that we all need one friend to intervene in our lives at least one time or for one day. We need that one day, to draw perspective, or maybe even, to find out that we truly need help and healing. My Ferris Buellers didn’t intervene until college at the University of Pittsburgh. They were gay and straight, Christian and Jewish and atheist, old and young, men and women, and Black, White, Brown, and Yellow. They came into my life later than I wanted, but not too late for me.
No one needs a Ferris Bueller in their life. Ferris is a narcissistic psychopath., with absolutely no concern for anybody. Ferris displays racism when he asks the valet if he speaks English; homophobia when he addresses the camera to tell the audience that if he’s going to get caught, it won’t be by someone like the maitre d, who is effeminate. He takes over a parade, drawing attention off German culture and onto himself. Ferris couldn’t care less that Cameron has a dysfunctional relationship with his father, insisting that Cameron steal his father’s car although doing so will definitely strain their relationship further. And as for Ferris volunteering to take the heat for Cameron’s father’s destroyed car, it was a masterclass in manipulation. Ferris all but calls Cameron weak to his face. And Cameron falls for it, failing to see that Ferris is once again pulling the strings. These are just a few examples of Ferris Bueller’s aggressive psychopathy. No one needs a self-serving, manipulative, compulsive liar in their life.
You know, you are 100% correct. I think I (lightly) touch on this truth in my blog post. But this is an and-both. I focused on Cameron in my post, not because I am exactly like Cameron, but because I know what it is like to have so few choices for whom to befriend, even if it’s just for a time. I went to high school full of narcissists and sociopaths, just like you, just like the fictional Cameron, because this is America, and the US is a narcissistic nation that produces narcissists the way GM used to produce cars. But even a narcissist can end up helping someone find their way. Does that mean Cameron and Ferris should remain friends? Of course not! (He helped Cameron destroy property, used Sloane as a prop, and otherwise could be a future Mitt Romney at best, Brett Kavanaugh at worst). But one narcissistic “friend” can do a hidden deed that wakes you up to yourself, even once, even for a time, especially when we are in our formative years. Even a nemesis can occasionally be helpful. But you cannot befriend such people for more than that time. Thanks for reading. I am glad it stirred you to respond.