John Hughes has died. The 59 year-old writer/director who introduced my life to classics like Weird Science, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, died of a heart attack while taking a morning walk in NYC. When I first heard the news I didn't know what to feel. Or should I say, admit what I was feeling. Hughes’ films were a big part of my life. Yes, he put a microscope to middle class white suburbia and the lonely teens it creates, but the film had impact. Hughes films took American teenage insubordination to a new level: the struggle for personal identity in a class-conscious America. In fact, Hughes made the wealthy look like arrogant, drunk, immoral idiots. [Except in Ferris Bueller where the rich teen was also the teen anarchist.] But one of the pure pleasures of a Hughes film was his soundtracks. He infused those babies with unforgettable Imports like "Don't You Ever Forget About Me" by Simple Minds and Yello's "Oh Yeah". In my humble and teenaged opinion, no one advocated for teenagers like director John Hughes.
My mother, well, she didn't share my devotion. She didn't like the idea of me spending so much time invested in stories that excluded characters that looked like her son. She didn't like the idea that Molly Ringwald was my object of desire. Or that Matthew Broderick and Judd Nelson were young men who I thought embodied all that a man needed—wit, edge, adventure and disobedience. Oh, and then there was Long Duk Dong, the Asian exchange student in Sixteen Candles, whom my mother thought was an abomination. I certainly tried to defend Hughes. But my mother's gift for keen social observation and a disinterest in what she called "silliness" trumped my defense. So I waited until she left the house in order to enjoy the frequent Saturday marathons of Weird Science and Pretty in Pink.
It wasn't until Cosby darling, Lisa Bonet, reported that a meeting she had with John Hughes went sour that I had concerns. Allegedly Hughes told Bonet he couldn't find a place for her in his films. In a nutshell, Hughes was not in the habit of telling stories that didn't reflect his upbringing or environment. Understandable, I thought. Besides, inclusiveness was not a popular 80s word. Okay, okay. It was a word in my household, just not in Hollywood.
If you're anything like me, I spent a good chunk of the 80s anticipating the next Hughes film. Afterall, I was suburban, angst, a teen, and not so interested in dissecting the racial inconsistencies of teen films. I was under the illusion that teenhood was universal and saw no color, for the most part. Okay, I’m lying. I did a lot of “ignoring” while watching films in the 80s. My point is: like most American teens, I absorbed plenty of John Hughes and his cinematic impact rests interestingly in my subconscious.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.