Late Monday I stumbled upon the jock, geek, criminal and the rest of the gang arriving at school for detention. There’s no law that you have to watch The Breakfast Club when it pops up on cable TV — it’s not Shawshank Redemption or anything — but it’s hard to look away, at least until the gang starts smoking pot and we’re exposed to Emilio Estevez, who had apparently been secretly injected with cocaine before filming.
The movie came out eight years before I graduated but it’s still obviously a classic for people in my generation, though my sister’s Class of ’87 probably loved it even more. Everyone could identify with the characters, right? Whether you were a star athlete or the prom queen or an outcast, there was something for everyone. And I suppose that’s true.
But like so many other classic movie and TV moments involving high schools there was an aspect of The Breakfast Club that had no connection to our reality in the burgs of Janesville, Waldorf and Pemberton. Namely: A Saturday, nine-hour detention?
Nine hours. On a Saturday. That’s how long Vernon has the crew at his mercy. He’s there every Saturday for nine hours, in addition to his normal weekly schedule? Are there really school administrators who have that type of schedule, which also requires a portion of the janitorial staff to be on call as well, since there can’t be a detention without the eyes and ears of an institution on-hand. Maybe that’s life in the big city or the big suburbs. This made no sense to me growing up.
Our detention was after school and was for a half hour or an hour. I never had it so I can’t personally testify to what took place, but I’m sure the delinquents simply worked on their homework or stared out a window and spent precious little time composing essays about who they were as people. More than a decade ago I applied for a newspaper job and one of the requirements was a personal essay about who I was. I told a friend I had at the paper that I couldn’t take something like that seriously, not in a post-Breakfast Club world. I never wrote the essay and stopped the application process halfway through. Not one of my wiser career moves but blame John Hughes.
Teen movies thrived in the 1980s but like the nine-hour detention, many parts of them remained otherworldly to kids who grew up in a small town and attended a small school. Or maybe we just had an odd school.
Massive proms next to the ocean
One of the final scenes in Just One of the Guys takes place at the big school prom, which is apparently held on the ocean with music provided by a group of dudes in their ’40s. Ours took place in the gym, with the theme song — Faithfully by Journey — playing over and over again on the loudspeaker until all the couples had been introduced. There was an after-prom party in the little gym — that’s actually the official name of it back then, not just a descriptor — and real parties elsewhere and then people went to Perkins or Embers or other places that served 5 dollar breakfasts.
An Inwood friend who graduated from a Jersey school described her prom one time and mentioned that everyone drove down to the Shore after it was done and stayed for a week.
“You guys didn’t do something like that?” she asked.
School elections that matter
No Reese Witherspoon candidates in our school. I know who our class president was because I have access to my senior year yearbook but I don’t remember any type of vote on the matter. Our student council held meetings but had no real power and no controversies ever erupted. No rigged votes, no one pounding their shoe on a table demanding more access to chocolate milk. But class offices did look good on college applications.
It’s impossible, but try to forget for a moment the lunacy of the baseball team wandering around during school hours decked out in their full uniform at the end of Can’t Buy Me Love (did they play games of pepper in between classes?). Instead look at where the lucky students enjoyed their lunch, in a wide open space under the blue skies.
Is this common for warm-weather states? Along with proms by the ocean, probably. I might have stayed in school during lunch hour if we had access to those types of facilities. Instead I made the two-block walk home each day to make my own sandwich and watch Supermarket Sweep. Our lunch room was on the bottom floor, with the long tables and tiny, springy seats on one side for elementary students and round tables for upperclassmen on the other. A teacher wandered around here or there keeping some order.
Lord of the Flies metaphors? Yes.
Anything involving actual marching bands with marching students in uniforms playing instruments
When we combined schools the marching band went the way of the Golden Bears and Colts nicknames. At parades, as other schools proudly showed off their military-like formations, our marching band rolled by on a big ol’ flatbed truck, which would first confuse people and then, as the years and parades went by and nothing changed, angered them. Oh they’d still applaud, lightly, but they didn’t mean it. It even offended my mom, an old marching band member herself, who has yet to say a negative word about someone in 63 years of existence. But a band that sits instead of marches? Look out.
What kind of scenes could have been depicted on screen that would have accurately represented our school? Oh, lots of things. Like a special ed teacher forced to hold classes in a third-floor converted closet. Kids in driver’s ed who have actually been behind the wheel since they were 11 or 12, either because they grew up on a farm or swiped a vehicle at an early age.
I’m not upset that I couldn’t always identify with what I saw in movies set in high school. I loved our school and had a blast, and the fact we couldn’t identify with movie scenes or cliches is ultimately a positive.
Besides, no one ever had a nine-hour detention, right? Right?