Do we still want to be Molly Ringwald?
A recent retrospective of the late John Hughes’ eighties work by New York Times writer A.O. Scott made me start thinking that the answer might be, um, maybe. Were those coming-of-age stories etched in our psyches when many of us were, well, coming of age (okay, I was long past it, but the characters still resonated)? Do we still carry that vision of ourselves as the romantic misfit?
And does that impact the choices we make — or how satisfied we are with them once we’ve made them? If we still yearn to be the misunderstood outsider who, in the long run, comes out on top — does that make it tougher to be satisfied with real life?
According to Scott, Ringwald was “for Mr. Hughes what James Stewart had been for Frank Capra at the end of the Great Depression, and what Anna Karina had been for Jean-Luc Godard in the mid-’60s: an emblem, a muse, a poster child and an alter ego.”
Especially in “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty in Pink” (directed by Howard Deutch from Mr. Hughes’s script), she represented his romantic ideal of the artist as misfit, sensitive and misunderstood, aspiring to wider acceptance but reluctant to compromise too much.
In “Sixteen Candles” she’s Sam, the neglected younger sister and social oddball; in “Pretty in Pink” she is Andie, a poor girl in a sea of affluence….
Be honest: didn’t you identify with that “reluctant to compromise too much? And could that discomfort with compromise, the reluctance to relinquish the outsider status linger today?
Further on, Scott writes:
It is true that while his heroes, most notably Breakfast Club, are in conflict with authority, they are also stubborn in their individualism and often unapologetically materialistic. Which is part of what makes them authentic, and authentically confused. The unspecified North Shore Chicago suburb where most of these stories take place is, at first glance and in its own mind, a paradise of uniformity and privilege. And this setting, rather than being the facile hell imagined in movies like “American Beauty,” is shown as a genuine expression of the American utopian ideal, a pastoral city on a hill where everyone is comfortable and everyone’s the same.and the members of the
The paradox is that most people feel, and want to be, different. Not to smash the system or flee its clutches, but rather to find a place within it where they can be themselves, even if they like strange music, come from a poorer family or favor eccentric styles of dress. That desire is what motivates Sam, the birthday girl in “Sixteen Candles,” and it also drives both the cocky Ferris Bueller and his nervous buddy Cameron. The great, paradoxical insight of “” is that alienation is the norm, that nerds, jocks, stoners, popular girls and weirdos are all, in their own ways, outsiders.
Still the norm? If so, you have to wonder: Why do we hang on to that vision of ourselves? And if we do, does it hold us back?