Open Thread for August 7, 2009

John Hughes (1950–2009).

Nothing else I might mention today could possibly compare to the news that yesterday, writer, director, and producer John Hughes died tragically in New York City of a heart attack suffered during his morning walk. Hughes was 59; he was in New York visiting family.

Let us now praise famous movies. The Breakfast Club. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Sixteen Candles. Uncle Buck. National Lampoon’s Vacation. Hell, even Home Alone.

In lieu of flowers, please commence overthinking of his oeuvre below.

13 Comments on “Open Thread for August 7, 2009”

  1. Saint #

    I think that Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York might be a fitting metaphor for the condition of young suburban Americans. With both parents working, a lot of these kids raised themselves, and did a pretty terrible job. When it was time for them to go off to college, they left suburbia for the big city, where they continued to act like children (despite having the credit cards, deep voices and personal freedom of adults).

    It’s a paradox of the current youth culture: children want to wear makeup and curse, but when they become adults they want to play Super Mario Bros and live off their parents.


  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Saint: Did you know the current youth culture also caused the Holocaust?

    Seriously, though: Saint, you’re an excellent commenter and loyal OTI fan, and, for that, I thank you. But your comment there is so, so very wrong, it hurts my soul. And I don’t even have a soul, so that’s difficult to achieve. To wit:

    1. I do not think it fair to look at the current youth generation through the lens of Home Alone. The Mighty Ducks, maybe. The Goonies, definitely.

    2. I do not understand why you would not want to play Mario Bros. Those are fine, fine games. Truly, is playing a video game objectively more childish than coming home from work and staring at a television or drinking yourself silly? Kids these days listening to their “radio” and watching their movies in Cinemascope…

    3. Do you have any evidence a) that most members of Generation Y or whatever we’re called “live off their parents” or b) that we “want” to live off our parents? The people I know who have moved back home have done so because of the shitty economy. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not think our generation created this shitty economy. But perhaps we all should have gone into investment banking and become real adults. Additionally, everyone I know from my parents’ generation (aka the “can do no wrong Baby Boomers”) lived at home until marriage.

    And that is the end of my comment. Now, back to overthinking popular culture.


  3. Saint #

    I love Super Mario Bros. I don’t mean to insult video game players. I don’t even have a problem with permanent adolescence. I’m saying that Kevin is an interesting character in terms of the construction of childhood as a social institution, especially in the context of kids growing up after the sexual revolution.

    Childhood, as a Western idea, came about in the Middle Ages as a result of several factors. The rise of education, the theological concept of universal moral culpability and the creation of a small middle class generated a condition of childhood, where young people were supposed to learn moral correctness and life skills in a kind of bubble, separate from the “adult” world. By the end of the 20th century, children has become less isolated from sex, danger and personal agency. With both parents working and no dogmatic church or nationalism to reign them in, the barriers to the adult world were slowly eaten away.

    At the same time, the systems that had existed previously were no longer instructing children on ideology or morality. Civic responsibility, spiritual development and the propagation of the family model were not implanted as values necessary to attaining adulthood. Just as there were fewer walls separating children from adulthood, there was less instruction for children on exactly what being an adult meant. Again, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. Hooray for the death of God and all that. Still, the values were gone and were replaced with nothing.

    I’m not saying this is a universal condition, but I think it’s a familiar one, and I think it’s Kevin’s condition. He’s precocious, but he really craves the family. Without the family, he’s confronted with his existential suburban crisis. He doesn’t need the family to provide for his safety; he can do that on his own. He’s clearly intelligent and capable. He needs the family so that he can escape the panic of a Christmas time where both Christmas and time are meaningless.

    The second movie is even more bleak. Alone in the city, he is no longer trapped in the relative safety of the home. He can have anything he imagines, except a functioning system of order. This has a particular familiarity, at least for me. I moved to New York City when I was 16 to go to undergrad. Like a lot of kids who went off to college, I spent a lot of time having fun before eventually realizing that it was up to me to create a life for myself.

    There used to be such a thing as a “coming of age” story. Some event would initiate a young person into adulthood by transforming their values or their view of the world. In stories like the ones we read in middle school, it was usually the death of some loved one that revealed the world as a place of serious consequences. By the 80s, the closest thing to a “coming of age” story in American film was the teen sex comedy, where the significant event was an awakening into the sexual discourse. In the 90s, there really wasn’t any “age” to come into. Adulthood and childhood were equally meaningless. Movies like “Slacker,” “Gummo” and “Nowhere” gave an impression of a suburbia where the best “coming of age” you could get is the revelation that there was no initiation into adulthood coming. We are all Home Alone. The home is the universe without God, the invading crooks are an awareness of existential dread, and there is no Catherine O’Hara-of-the-Soul coming to make your Christmas turkey.

    That’s what I MEANT to say. I really do love Super Mario.


  4. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Saint – I like where you’re coming from! There’s something very old-fashioned and Frank Capra about Home Alone: all the kid wants in the end is to get his family back. But maybe there’s also something post-modern and subversive about it: the idea that absolute freedom is actually pretty terrible, and it’s better to be a child than an adult.

    On another note, I was sort of surprised to read what Hughes has been up to for the past 15 years. He basically retired in his mid-40’s and took up farming. Yes: he was a farmer. It’s like on some level, he knew he was going to die young, so he had better retire early. But I wonder what Hughes could have done had he wanted to keep working. Judd Apatow is a huge fan – maybe they could have collaborated.


  5. Milton #

    @Saint and @mlawski – Hasn’t Generation Y become synonymous with Peter Pan Syndrome. Not just in the classic male definition but now includes the women of their twenties. Daddy doesn’t seem to mind giving the credit card to their little girls. But in this new economic situation the generosity of these parents might be coming to and abrupt end. The result might not be the weaning of generation Y but the availability of instant gratification might soon be diminished.


  6. Matthew Wrather #

    What with the getting up before dawn and the back-breaking manual labor in the hot sun, farming sounds like a terrible retirement. But John Hughes may have had more reasons to leave the movie business:

    He was terrified of the impact it was having on his sons; he was scared it was going to cause them to lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant. And he told me a sad story about how, a big reason behind his decision to give it all up was that “they” (Hollywood) had “killed” his friend, John Candy, by greedily working him too hard.

    The rest is at:


  7. dock #

    Its a strange time, culturally speaking. Kids want to be adults (as they always have) but now adults, in their pathetic attempt to recapture their youth, try to live through their kids.

    I live in an interesting town that combines low income with incredibly high income homes depending on which part of the small town you go to. I can tell you right now, the trashiest people are the wealthy young parents.

    Why? Because their exclusive interest as it relates to their children is their social life. “My child has to be cool. Like I was (and still can be, if my kid is).” It may sound ridiculous, but I can guaruntee its true.

    Parents that encourage their teenage kids to have sex. They host underage drinking parties and drink with the kids. They HAVE SEX with their kids friends.

    But, hey, they are “cougars” or “pimps” right? So they are cool. And thats all that matters in life. According to the current under 40 generation (Gen Y as you have been calling it).

    I may sound like an old curmdgeon, but I think MTV has done more damage to the social structure in America than drugs ever could.

    I remember hearing a quote from a news story on MSN or some such channel not too long ago: when questioned why she would join a pregnancy pact, a 14 year old missouri girl responded “I dont want to be old and nasty when my kids grow up, I want to be a MILF.” Sounds like a great reason to bring a child into the world.

    Their parents? Fully supportive. Sounds like they got their priorities in order.

    I am a pretty liberal guy when it comes to personal freedoms, personal choice, drugs and even crime. However, a line must be drawn somewhere. All this “everythings okay” cultural relativist bullcrap that is being pushed today…its just sickening. And I personally think it started with those goddamn hippies.


  8. dock #

    And while Super Mario is good, The Legend of Zelds is the best. ;)


  9. Trevor #

    John Hughes was huge when I was growing up in the Eighties, then he went away just as I was getting to high school and seemingly realizing how “fake” his movies were when it came to high school hierarchy (re: no matter how much I aspired to be Judd Nelson in TBC, I’d always be Anthony Michael Hall from that same film in my peer’s eyes). Going back now and watching his films (and excusing the excesses in fashion or sentiment that were a staple of Eighties filmmaking), I can appreciate with a new perspective how right he was, and how his characters weren’t cut from the same cloth as other Eighties teen-flick demigods. Sure, his style became so distinctive it can seem stuck in the Eighties in some ways, but John Hughes did something that very few filmmakers could achieve: he made his teen characters real, not little adults nor spoiled brats but something inbetween, with all the confusion and angst that age entails. In order to be so dominant that other directors are compared unfavorably to you, you have to be possessed with your own unique voice in the first place, and Hughes definitely had that.


  10. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Wrather – Wait, John Hughes blames Hollywood for John Candy’s death? Because they gave him too many job offers? Okay, I hate to disagree with the recently dead, and I guess Hughes knows more about Candy than I do. But couldn’t Candy have taken a vacation? I don’t see anything sinister about offering Candy lots of work.

    @Dock – “Parents that encourage their teenage kids to have sex. They host underage drinking parties and drink with the kids. They HAVE SEX with their kids friends.” For serious? That’s all sorts of crazy.


  11. dock #

    @Belinkie- unfortunatly I’m completely serious and have been witness to each example multiple times (I use the word witness loosely, however. For example: I have never personally watched the third take place, but have seen the reprocussions of it, as well as spoke to the particpants openly about it).


  12. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Dock – And where do you live again? You can be approximate – I’m just curious.


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