John Hughes vs. Shane Meadows: This Is England (2006)



As someone who came of age during the 1980s, I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the critical response to director John Hughes’ recent death. Over and over again I’ve been told that he was “the voice” of my generation and that he “defined the ’80s.” Instead of pointing out the crass commercialism that made up the man’s entire film career, The New York Times has let A.O. Scott proclaim that John Hughes was “our Godard.”

John Hughes may have been many things to many people but there’s no denying that as a director his filmmaking career had a hell of a lot more in common with Judd Apatow than Jean-Luc Godard. How any film critic who writes for The New York Times could call Hughes our generation’s Godard and get paid for it is beyond my comprehension. And as someone who was a teenager in the ’80s, I also find it deeply sad and frustrating.

I’m unabashedly naive and extremely sentimental when it comes to my childhood in the 1970s, but the 1980s ignites a different kind of nostalgia in me. It’s an unpleasant nostalgia that took shape while my innocence was melting away and my teenage hormones were raging. That teenage rage has carried into adulthood and occasionally manifests into fits of anger like the one you’re about to read.

It’s important to note that I’m not particularly angry at John Hughes the man even if I loathe his films. And I’m not particularly angry at the people who enjoy them. I’m angry at the absurd critical response to the director’s death and I blame a culture that conveniently forgets facts in order to build critical arguments. If the cultural pundits and film critics are to be believed, an entire generation bought what John Hughes was selling them. But the truth is much more complex than that.

Hughes made films for mainstream America that resembled the Gidget movies of the late 1950s and early ‘60s. As a rebellious teenager, I absolutely hated Hughes. His simplistic, Reagan-fueled, capitalist driven, whitewashed, upper-middle-class view of the world reflected everything that was loathsome about the ’80s in my mind. Hughes was a conservative baby boomer and a yuppie that spoon-feed my generation, so-called Generation X, the worst kind of 1950s nostalgia imaginable in order to make a buck. His films didn’t speak to me at all since I had much more in common with James Dean than Gidget and John Hughes was no Nicholas Ray.

I’m told in countless obits written about John Hughes that some segment of ’80s youth culture found comfort in the way that his movies portrayed teenagers as well as outsiders and malcontents. But if you were actually questioning authority during the ’80s it was impossible to identify with any of the faux rebellion found in Hughes’ movies. The man preached conformity over and over again. The so-called “outsiders” in Hughes’ very white and very safe world rejected other teens like themselves so they could date popular jocks or beauty queens. In other words, if you followed the social rules laid out by John Hughes you’d get a “hot date” for the school prom and be “accepted” into Reagan’s America. Reality check! The real teenage rebels and outsiders didn’t go to school proms. They also skipped detention.

The myth of John Hughes giving voice to my generation is much like the myth of the ’80s in general perpetuated by silly television shows like VH1’s I Love the ’80s. But contrary to popular opinion many of us who came of age in the ’80s didn’t buy what Reagan and the Hollywood money-making machine that marched in boot step behind him were selling us. And John Hughes was a hugely successful part of that Hollywood machine.

95a3ed82-18c0-4a5b-b861-294b5830459b_size3Those of us who resisted the machine didn’t live in gated communities or spend our days in shopping malls. Some of us actually attended “Rock Against Reagan” protests and after the initial excitement wore off many of us didn’t want our MTV. We watched AIDS destroy entire communities as the homeless spilled out into our streets. We saw the drug wars destroy families and fill our prisons. We spent our time trying to self-publish zines that expressed our anger and frustration as a compassionless and cruel conservatism swept across America supported by the corporate owned and operated media. And last but certainly not least, we watched class warfare and racism take root in our high schools as they crumbled from lack of funding. The ’80s was a very scary decade to grow up in unless you conformed to rigid social structures and didn’t question authority. And the films that John Hughes made perpetuated a kind of thoughtless conformism that is frankly appalling to me and still prevalent today.

Of course, many people did buy the American fantasy that John Hughes and the establishment were selling them. Many didn’t see the casual racism, sexism, and homophobia that was evident in many of Hughes’ most popular films. Some people clearly sympathized with the materialistic nature of his young characters and I’m glad that so many have found some kind of joy in Hughes’ movies. But the fantasy world featured in his films was not representative of the ’80s youth culture that I came of age in and Hughes did not speak for me.





Thankfully some directors who actually came of age during the ’80s are now old enough to make films that truly reflect the decade as I remember it. One of those directors is British born Shane Meadows. Meadows’ unforgettable 2006 film This Is England takes place in Britain during the 1980s and attempts to show how the skinhead culture that took root there developed into an angry nationalistic movement. Many of the kids featured in Meadows’ film are fatherless and form a kind of family with other young people who share their taste in music and wear similar clothes. Much like Reagan’s America, Thatcher’s England presented British youth with a very bleak future and Meadows’ film skillfully chronicles the underlying frustration and resentment that so many young people from working-class families were feeling at the time.

Shortsighted film critics often overlook how much of Meadows’ movie can be seen as a general critique of the decade it calls into question and I think that is symptomatic of the increasing ignorance about what youth culture was really like in America during the ’80s. Point of fact—you could easily take Meadow’s terrific script, set it in San Francisco during the ’80s and simply call it This Is America.

In This Is England the main protagonist is haunted by his father’s death in the Falklands War. If you grew up in California during the ‘80s it wasn’t uncommon to know two or three kids who had lost their fathers in the Vietnam War and you often sat in classrooms with Vietnamese refugees. The Falklands War may have ended in 1982 and the Vietnam War may have ended in 1975, but both wars left my generation with fatherless kids and a whole lot of baggage. Many of the kids I knew also had their families torn apart by divorces or deadbeat dads who just walked out the door one day and never returned. Families were falling apart as fast as the economy. Reagan’s America might have looked financially sound if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth but for many Americans, it was a decade of increasing job losses, forced early retirements and an all-out war against organized labor.

College wasn’t an option for myself or most of the kids I knew. It was a luxury that few of us could afford. Without a supportive family and a college fund, the future looked incredibly bleak which often led to an increase in recreational drug use. Like the kids in Meadows’ film, we ended up forming makeshift families simply based on our musical tastes and wardrobes. But our clothing wasn’t just worn for kicks. What we wore often reflected our social class and attitudes. In other words, wearing an anarchy t-shirt wasn’t just a fashion statement. It was a social statement that could get you kicked out of school in the ’80s.

cqresrre19890512_im267.1Many of us who grew up on the West Coast in Reagan’s America also faced our own skinhead crisis thanks to a group who called themselves the American Front. The American Front was an organization loosely based on England’s National Front that is prominently featured in Shane Meadows’ film. Older members of the American Front often preyed on vulnerable and angry young men that they recruited off the streets. A new and deeply disturbing form of Nazism encouraged these young people to engage in violence and proudly sport swastika tattoos. They naively started to believe that immigrants, homosexuals, communists, and socialists were destroying the country and they blamed them for the collapsing economy.

The American Front became a dangerous threat to groups of neglected kids who had come together due to lack of family and outside support. As the ’80s progressed music clubs that once represented a small oasis where you could hang out with like-minded individuals began to casually transform into minor war zones after these white power-obsessed skinheads latched onto the punk and metal scenes. In this kind of environment, you were forced to grow up fast and your political identity was often formed before your 18th birthday.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrating for the presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. Nashville. Tennessee. 1980. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) .

You won’t see any of that ‘80s reality represented in the films of John Hughes.

John Hughes never spoke to me, but Shane Meadows does. Meadows is a truly talented filmmaker who knows where to point his camera and if you want to know what the ’80s was really like for those of us on the fringe who were trying to make sense of the world that was left to us watch This Is America England.

I should point out that This Is England takes some of its cues from other films about troubled youth such as Truffaut’s classic The 400 Blows and Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia (which I also think is a much better film about the ’80s than anything made by John Hughes), but Meadows’ packs enough punches and truth into his script to make it a truly original film and one of the best of the decade. This Is England also boasts some terrific performances from it’s two lead actors, Thomas Turgoose and particularly Stephen Graham as the deeply disturbed Combo.

At a time when it has become increasingly clear to me that very few journalists and tastemakers remember what the ’80s were really like I take comfort in a film like This Is England. Shane Meadows obviously remembers the decade well. And although This Is England is a very British film, Americans would be wise to watch the movie with their own country’s history in mind because many of the problems we face today are just remnants of unfinished business from that often misrepresented decade.

This Is England is available on DVD from Amazon and you can find it for rent at Netflix and Greencine.

The American trailer for This Is England (2006)

Modern Mondays is an ongoing project here at Cinebeats where I share a few thoughts or lengthy rants and raves about my favorite films produced during the last decade. Films previously mentioned on Modern Mondays include:

The Left Bank (2008)
Love Songs (2007)
Bright Future (2003)
Control (2007)
The Quiet American (2001)
A History of Violence (2005)

45 thoughts on “John Hughes vs. Shane Meadows: This Is England (2006)

  1. While I agree it is ridiculous to compare Hughes with Godard, I don’t understand your statement that John Hughes did not represent your generation. From what you describe, you yourself were not representative of the 1980s mainstream culture, which is the source of his career. It is no myth. He, unfortunately, did represent 1980s culture, which is what defined my own rebellion during those years.

    His slice of the U.S. teen demographic was a narrow but dominant one and he seemed to understand that. Yes, it was mainstream, mid-western and white, and while it wasn’t entirely representative of my life (skater punk), his films did help me realize why I rebelled against the very environment he portrayed. I can laugh at their follies without wanting to be in their situation.

    And while I understand that his death coincided with your Modern Monday feature, comparing Hughes’s film to This is England, which I also enjoyed, doesn’t help in understanding the outpouring of admiration for Hughes at the moment. It is different to make a film looking back at the problems of the 1980s than it is to tap into them as they were happening. Hughes tapped into the superficiality of teen problems in the 1980s. For those who found his films speaking their language, well, they’re probably right about that. They were superficial but representative, sadly.

    The film that spoke to me in the 1980s was Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983). It had many of the same teen stereotypes that The Breakfast Club contained but is a much more powerful film in every aspect (and a much better soundtrack). Rumble Fish, while not Coppola’s best film, seems to be buried under the more popular 1980s teen movies and is highly underrated.

    I understand where you are coming from but I don’t think you are being realistic. John Hughes wasn’t making films for and about people like us. He earned his success and was able to walk away from it all. Instead of berating a deceased man, we should be highlighting films made in the 1980s that speak to us.

  2. Thorsten – Thank you!

    Britt – I think I was really clear in my post and I don’t feel the need to explain myself, but thanks for sharing your thoughts. I will say that a generation is not represented by films that were merely made to make a buck. If that was the case film culture as a whole would be a very sad and pointless thing. And while I’m glad that you found some kind of kinship with Hughes’ films, they left me incredibly cold.

    I should also add that I don’t think I was berating a deceased man. My post is filled with facts and a few opinions and I make it clear that critics are my real target, but Hughes doesn’t need my defense. He’s getting worshipped left and right by countless film critics and bloggers at the moment. I considered writing a piece called “John Hughes Did Not Speak For Me” but due to my limited free time at the moment I thought it would be smarter to add my thoughts about Hughes’ films into this piece on This Is England. And frankly, I’m glad I made that choice. Feel free to write about ’80s films you enjoyed at your own blog (I’m also really fond of Rumble Fish and think it’s one of Coppola’s best films) but please don’t tell me what I should be doing here at Cinebeats.

    This piece will undoubtedly piss off a lot of people and I expected a backlash. But sometimes a girl’s gotta do what she needs to do.

  3. When you started Modern Mondays, I was sad that you were being taken away from talking about the decades you love and the movies that are less talked about on the web.

    But this piece is a great combination of the new and the old. As a teen in the 70s, Hughes films just passed me by as lightweight Hollywood comedies, rather than any representation of reality. I’ve been mystified by their popularity with 80s teens, but accepted it as a given.

  4. How any film critic who writes for the New York Times could call Hughes our generation’s Godard and get paid for it is beyond my comprehension.
    Someone actually said that? While I admittedly have a soft spot for Hughes’s movies, actually making that comparison baffles me.
    I have seen all of Hughes’s directorial features and quite a few of the films he’s scripted. I was into The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink in high school, perhaps more for the music than anything. The endings of both films are deeply problematic.

    I was a kid throughout the 80’s, so I missed out on any direct experience of that decade as a teen, but I was somehow aware enough to recall that things were not all that amazing. It’s very odd to me when younger folks wax nostalgic and talk about it being a “more innocent time.”

    I’ve heard only good things about This Is England and will definitely have to check it out one of these days.

  5. Mark – Many thanks, but I think I should start calling Modern Mondays – Delayed Tuesdays – since I’m having hard time meeting my self imposed deadline.

    And I don’t think your assumptions are wrong about Hughes’ films. They were very lightweight comedies and I don’t find them any more relevant than the Gidget movies, but obviously I’m the minority which is nothing new. It should be pretty clear by now that I’m not all that interested in mainstream popular culture.

    Thanks again!

    AR – My response to Hughes’ death is really a response to a lot of the critical praise being heaped on him now. It’s naturally very sad when anyone passes away at his age, but I find his films incredibly problematic.

    I really hope you’ll give it a look This Is England a look soon since it’s an incredible film! I think you’d really enjoy it.

  6. The NY Times is a horrible newspaper, i’ve done 3 interviews with them and they’ve rearranged my comments to being inconprehensible. They have been going downhill for over 25 years in their desperate attempt to be “hip” to the public .
    All that said, John Hughes was okay as a filmmaker, his movies are cute, somewhat funny but Godard? I think not.

  7. I’ve been slowly working my way through Meadows film myself, so I have more to look forward too as I have yet to see This is England.

    I was also appalled that Scott, who should know better, compared Hughes to Godard. I am also amazed that few writers have addressed Hughes’ conservative, and even reactionary views, such as in 16 Candles, when the groom’s family is described as “bohunks”.

  8. Peter – Meadows is a really an interesting film maker and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his movies myself.

    I’m obviously also bothered by the fawning over Hughes that ignores the clearly conservative bent to so many of his films, but there seems to be a conscious effort by most general media to portray the ’80s as some kind of conservative wonderland. That myth has got to come to an end!

  9. Very pleased to read your appreciation of This Is England. Meadows is fast becoming one of my favourite directors, and I highly recommend his latest, Somers Town, which again features young Turgoose. Very observant comparison re the Falklands and ‘Nam, and interesting to read about The American Front. I can recall members of The National Front recruiting at football grounds over here during some very violent times, and skinheads were very much in evidence when I started going to games towards the end of the 60s.
    Meadows only lives some 10 miles from the town where I live, and I hope to meet him someday. He’s certainly a very talented director. Hope you see Somers Town (if you haven’t already. I think you’ll love it.
    Btw, have to say Hughes’ films leave me cold, too.

  10. Steve – Thanks so much Steve! I’m so glad you shared your own experiences with skinheads. The American Front was a real problem in CA and I had friends who sadly got caught up in it.

    I’m looking forward to seeing Somers Town now that you’ve mentioned it and if you ever happen to run into Meadows please wish him well!

  11. Dead Man’s Shoes is another great one from Meadows, Paddy Considine is amazing in it. This is England also has a great soundtrack but you have to get it as an import. I hope the hughes love will die down as we get farther from his death, but who knows, I can’t believe the ground swell of Reagan love currently en vogue. And thank you for the Suburbia shout out, great movie. I remember the nostalgia for the 60’s when I was a teen in the 80s , so maybe this current 80s love will pass too.

  12. I have to chime in here both with agreement with your anger about Hughes’ movies and over the outpouring of blind love in the obits for the man’s work. I took great care in my own assessment to make sure I clarified that mourning the man does not require that we whitewash what he did in his work. This is true of artists we love, despise and are indifferent to, and for you (or I, or David Edelstein, another one of the few other voices to have expressed something other than “appreciation” for Hughes’ movies) to suddenly pretend that he meant something to us, or that what he did mean was something valuable instead of destructive, is to be phony in a way that I just don’t know you to be, Kimberly. I thought I was going to retch if I heard again the phrase “bard of teen angst” again, or hear about how someone’s precious childhood died along with Hughes, but A.O. Scott evocation of Godard to describe Hughes, in any way, shape or form, seems especially misguided.

    Thanks for being honest and for expressing yourself about the movies. We can be sad for the man and still recognize that the movies, and their popularity, was part of what made the ’80s a difficult time for lovers of popular film (let alone lovers of the films that were crowded out of screens in order to make room for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Weird Science). You have once again shown, Kimberly, why you’re one of the ones in the e-wilderness worth listening to.

  13. I remember enjoying a few (early) John Hughes movies when they were released, but Kimberly makes a good, if very British-centric (I’m Canadian; we didn’t worry about the National Front) point. I related a lot more to Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet, come to think of it—now there’s a coming-of-age film. Also, let’s not forget that Hughes was responsible for a good deal of pablum—Curly Sue and Home Alone are his.

  14. Hi Kimberly! You bring up an interesting point for me, particularly because I am a fan of John Hughes. What I find interesting is that I wasn’t a teenager in the 80’s, nor was I a rebel during high school. I fit in comfortably – but I was not a snob and befriended everyone. Your personal perspective makes your feeling about Hughes’ films accurate, but it just shows that he had a distinctive point of view. I don’t think he was trying to be the ‘voice of a generation’. Of course others may have been tagged on him, then and now, but who really has that as an agenda when they create something? (If they do it’s rather pompous. Someone like Kanye West might try and tag himself as such, but that’s plain silly.) Anyway, as far as Hughes goes, I think there can be worse things than someone who attempts to show various sides of the human experience – even if he doesn’t cover everyone. I think he tried. It’s the sincerity that his characters exude and his attempt at being somewhat authentic that resonates with so many people. There are moments in “Pretty in Pink” that are very poignant. Maybe Duckie and Andie would have refused to go to prom in real life, but I think the Hughes’ various portrayals of his misfits were quite lovingly executed, and that’s what I took away from his films. On another note, I also think “This Is England” was amazing, intense & powerful – it provides an accurate and gritty view of the ’80’s. Hughes’ films may be fluffy and idealized, but they are fun and memorable entertainment. And there are certainly far worse auteurs out there, right now…

  15. While I still don’t understand how you can claim that it is a myth that John Hughes gave voice to “your generation” (when you earlier claim you were outside mainstream culture and the subject of his films), I see now how you and a few other comments have inflated his influence due to critics and reviewers paying respects to the filmmaker. It’s easy to take a counter stance when everyone is paying their respects, but I would rather see an engaging criticism of his work compared to other films of the times, such as WarGames, Risky Business, Fast Times, Back to the Future, Real Genius, Stand by Me (almost all of which did better at the box office). If you’re going to compare films, at least do so in a way that makes sense.

    While I have never been a fan of Hughes (I was more into Ramis at the time), for lovers of popular film, as Dennis states above, the films that were crowding the screens were not Hughes films. His rarely made the top ten. The films that were crowding out others were tripe like E.T. and Star Wars sequels.

    I especially find this statement a bit hyperbolic: “Hughes was a conservative baby boomer and a yuppie that spoon-feed my generation – so-called Generation X – the worst kind of ’50s nostalgia imaginable in order to make a buck.”

    You seem to want to lay your own claim to that generation since you repeatedly refer to it as yours. From what I’ve read, Hughes never claimed it as his own. Rather he only wrote about what he experienced. I think there’s a lesson there.

  16. John – I look forward to seeing Dead Man’s Shoes in the future and I’m obviously with you about the Reagan love. The 80s is a complex decade that really needs to be reexamined. I suspect that the last decade will suffer from a lot of the same problems and misinformation that has plagued the ’80s.

    Dennis – I really appreciate your kind words and thanks for sharing your own thoughts about Hughes’ films. As I mentioned above, it’s sad when anyone dies prematurely and Hughes death was a sudden and tragic loss for his friends and family. But I don’t understand why critics are not willing to discuss the real man and his movies.

    This kind of false reality is problematic of ’80s nostalgia that really needs to be put to rest. The ’80s was simply the worst decade in American film history and there’s no getting around that sad fact.

    Thanks again Dennis!

    Shawn – I don’t think my point was British-centric at all. If you lived in CA during the ’80s you would understand that my experience with the American Front is not all that rare. Contrary to popular opinion, skinheads were not a British-centric phenomenon.

    I haven’t had the opportunity to see Life Is Sweet, but now I’m curious about it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  17. Britt – I’m sorry you don’t understand my point, but if you feel as if Hughes spoke for a generation than I’m happy for you, but I believe that his movies were as important as the Gidget films were to the late ’50s and ’60s and I think history will be on my side. It’s a bold claim but I’m sticking to it.

    You seem to want to lay your own claim to that generation since you repeatedly refer to it as yours. From what I’ve read, Hughes never claimed it as his own. Rather he only wrote about what he experienced. I think there’s a lesson there.

    When you write about your own experiences it’s commonplace to refer to yourself. I’m writing about myself here. I’m trying to make it clear that John Hughes did not speak for me. And therefore, his voice did not speak for an entire generation.

    Maybe you should write your own pro-Hughes piece and share how much his films meant to you? I hope you will. Maybe you’ll be able to shed some light on the current outpouring of praise for Hughes’ films.

  18. Klara – Thanks for stopping by.

    I don’t think he was trying to be the ‘voice of a generation’. Of course others may have been tagged on him, then and now,

    I think I understand what you’re saying and that’s why I tried to make it clear above that a lot of my frustration is based on the critical response to John Hughes’ body of work now that he’s passed on and not the man himself even if I don’t care for his movies and make that clear. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’m old enough to know that film criticism often has a deep and long lasting effect on the populace as well as history so I’m baffled by the current critical response to Hughes’ films. I also think it’s important that people offer other perspectives right now because the current political climate can be directly traced back to the ’80s and the decade has been glossed over by history and that needs to stop. John Hughes’ films are part of the gloss in my opinion.

    George Santayana, said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    I would counter that with those who don’t remember the ’80s are doomed to repeat them and I think we spent the last decade doing just that.

  19. I like how you’re trying to place me in a pro-Hughes camp. That’s called a False Dilemma.

    I was actually hoping to find an intellectually stimulating critique of his work but only found generalizations, name calling (to Hughes, who can’t defend himself), and statements that aren’t backed by any research or examples. It’s sad what passes for film criticism these days.

  20. Britt: I don’t much relish getting into a nitpick fest, but both E.T. (1982) and the Star Wars sequels (1980, 1983) predated the first John Hughes film, Sixteen Candles (1984) by several years. While Sixteen Candles may not have been number-one at the box office, I’m quite sure it made the top 10 when it was released and it was a modest hit. And I don’t think you could characterize movies like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone as anything but box-office smashes, huge, culture-influencing hits that spawned any number of imitators which, yes indeed, did crowd out a lot of much more worthy fare during a decade that Kimberly rightly deems a relative desert in the history of American movies.

    But this confuses me– “Hughes never claimed (the ’80s generation) as his own. Rather he only wrote about what he experienced.” Since he was a good 15-20 years older than most of the characters he portrayed (or pandered to) so sympathetically in those films, he’d have a hard time claiming the experience of kids of the ’80s as his own. How did he translate his “experience” in this movies? I think this is where people who find Hughes’ movies problematic have staked their worries. Hughes had a good ear for dialogue, and he found big fortune in replicating and exaggerating the way modern teenagers talked. But he wasn’t writing about his own experience, he was projecting pre-fab experience onto his audience, and a very complimentary, self-congratulatory vision at that, one which kneaded fantasies of adult corruption and teenage innocence– never mind all the superiority complexes forwarded by the shrill-self-centered characters in Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller— into a yeasty dough of materialistic values, primarily white teen entitlement and hip sentimentality. What kid wouldn’t want to buy into that? That many did doesn’t validate Hughes’ vision, it just means he knew what buttons to push at what time.

  21. Dennis. Sixteen Candles was #44 at the box office in 1984.

    And, yes, you are right about his projecting his experience onto a younger generation. Your paragraph above gets at the core of the question as to why his films are seen as emblematic of a generation, one which he wasn’t part of. He was a good writer and tapped into an angst that, while not tackling difficult issues, many teens identified with and that were representative of the times. That’s exactly why I think he is a voice of that generation because there was a general backlash against talking about political issues.

  22. The thing that bothers me, Britt, is that I suspect the kids who clung to Hughes’ movies saw them more as justifications for their own self-centered inclinations rather than genuine reflections of them. The Hughes movies certainly didn’t seem this me-first attitude as a problem. The counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s didn’t need Easy Rider to represent them– that was a morbid, self-congratulatory movie too, but it sprung from the counterculture, not as a response to it. (And the many attempts to duplicate its success were themselves failures.) However, hip self-concern, not to mention a curious disregard for those who REALLY didn’t fit in (Long Duk Dong, anyone?), especially coming from someone so identified with championing the “outsider,” is at the heart of Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller. As I’ve already noted, I was too old to be a part of Hughes’ demographic, and his movies never were intended to speak to me. But had I been a few years younger, like Kimberly, I would have actively resented his attempt to appropriate my concerns as his own, not to mention the media’s insistence on crowning him as a spokesman for my generation, the “bard of teen angst.”

    (And regarding Sixteen Candles‘s box office, I was referring to the opening weekend top 10. The movie made about $23 million total, which in 1984 wasn’t huge (just enough for a #44 ranking for the year, perhaps?). But given its low budget, and its permeation into the then-nascent home video market, it would be disingenuous to suggest that it was ignored.)

  23. I like how you’re trying to place me in a pro-Hughes camp. That’s called a False Dilemma.

    Britt – Give me a break. Your bait and switch form of attack is tiresome. That’s called Bull Shit.

    You approached the discussion with attitude. I attempted to answer your questions and I was polite, but you seem to have a lot of trouble understanding my original point.

    As I mentioned above, I don’t think Hughes is really worthy of intelligent discussion. His movies are light entertainment at best and at their worst they represented (and I’ll quote myself here since I’ve made myself perfectly clear in my a original piece) “everything that was loathsome about the ’80s in my mind.”

    It’s sad what passes for film criticism these days.

    It’s sad what passes for reading comprehension these days. This is a blog. No one’s paying me to write and no one’s asking you to read it. But I’ve never claimed to be Jonathan Rosenbaum. If you want to read what most consider to be “real” film criticism you’ll find it over at The New York Times. Just do a search for A.O. Scott or follow the link I posted somewhere in this thread.

    He was a good writer and tapped into an angst that, while not tackling difficult issues, many teens identified with and that were representative of the times. That’s exactly why I think he is a voice of that generation because there was a general backlash against talking about political issues.

    You don’t seem to understand my original point at all, which was “John Hughes Does Not Speak For Me.” I wrote that because countless other writers were telling me Hughes was the “voice of my generation” and he simply represented one small segment of ’80s youth. Naturally this means that I don’t think he was a very good writer. He may have spoken for you and the people you knew, but I found nothing to relate to in his films when I was growing up. His movies were completely alien to me and my experience. I didn’t find him subversive at all. He was making movies for money. Period. And generally speaking mainstream Hollywood films didn’t appeal to me when I was a kid and they don’t appeal to me now. Why is that so hard for you to understand?

    You keep bypassing questions and pointing out how much money Hughes’ films made. For what purpose? Penelope Spheeris’s Suburbia was a film I really liked and it was released the same year as Sixteen Candles. It had a 1 million dollar budget. Sixteen Candles had a 6.5 million dollar budget. I can’t tell you how much money Suburbia grossed because those numbers aren’t available anywhere but I do know it made a lot less money than Sixteen Candles.

    Hows that for a bunch of useless facts that do nothing to move this discussion forward?

    But at this point I don’t think you’re interested in having a discussion and I don’t enjoy talking in circles.

  24. Dennis – Thanks for pointing out the insufferable “Long Duk Dong”character as written by Hughes. Not to mention Hughes casual inclusion of racist terms like “bohunks” in his scripts that Peter pointed out above.

    It’s really strange to me that so many people who came of age in the ’80s feel that a father figure like Hughes is the “bard of ’80s teen angst.” He was the parent approved “bard of ’80s teen angst.” Much like Gidget was probably the parent approved teen figure of the late ’50s/early ’60s.

    Of course no one would claim that Gidget was the voice of her generation.

  25. Kimberly, what you don’t seem to understand is that you continually find ways to say that I am a fan of his movies when in fact I am attempting to critically examine why he is seen as the voice for teens in the 1980s. You seem to enjoy painting me as a Hughes fan boy when I have declared that I am not. That is what has brought on my attitude.

    And don’t kid me. You knew by writing this post you were going to raise some ire. You prefaced it in your Twitter posts, so don’t play the victim now. You probably didn’t think you would get objections from somebody who basically agreed with you.

    I understand that Hughes didn’t speak for you. He didn’t speak for me, but he is being touted as the voice of a generation. Hughes does speak for what was known as the Me Generation, the mainstream. His films fit the qualities of the Reagan/Bush era and the crass commercialization of youth interests. Why shouldn’t he be their voice?

    Just because I understand that many people and film critics feel that way doesn’t mean I am in their camp. I want to better understand why they feel that way and offer constructive alternatives to them. I came here hoping for one but only see that you have a difficult time comprehending that. You also seem to have difficulty understanding A.O. Scott’s intention when he refers to Godard. He obviously wasn’t speaking for you but you seem to want to control the dialogue about whose generation it is.

    And I only pointed out Sixteen Candles box office results because someone else mentioned it was probably in the top ten. I don’t know how you interpreted that as a sign that I am pointing out how much money his films made. I am trying to get at how a filmmaker whose movies were not at the top of the box office become recognized as the voice of a generation. If you’d take the time to drop that ax, we might be able to come up with some answers.

    Hell, I never thought I’d spend so much time on John Hughes but if you want to accuse me of responding with attitude, I’ll admit it. I was responding to an even bigger one, unless you feel your original post was lacking it.

  26. Britt – Play the victim? Stop kidding yourself. The only person playing the victim here is you.

    No one is putting words in your mouth. You simply give his work more value than I do. You don’t have to be a “fan” of his films if you don’t want to and valuing his work doesn’t have to mean you like it, but lets be a little more honest here. I know for a fact that you care for the guy’s movies more than I do. You even mention above that Hughes was a “good writer.”

    You claim that:

    I am trying to get at how a filmmaker whose movies were not at the top of the box office become recognized as the voice of a generation.

    You’ve got your facts wrong. Hughes films WERE at the top of the box office. His movies were hughly succesful mainstream hits. I’m utterly baffled that you think otherwise. Where are you getting your false facts and data from?

    I pointed out a film like Suburbia to you that was released the same year as Hughes first movie as an exmaple of an actual film that didn’t make any money. Hughes movies made lots and lots of money.

    I’ve made it clear again and again that Hughes’ fantasy films are simply unworthy of much critical thought. They’re like the Gidget films of the late ’50 and ’60s. You do know what the Gidget films are, right?

    My piece was a reaction to how ridiculous it was for film critics to universally proclaim Hughes the voice of a generation while they wrote glowing loving pieces of nostalgia about a really nasty decade. Once again I’ll repeat – an entire generation is not represented by its mainstream films produced to make a buck. Just because a bunch of mainstream critics who obviously had blinders on during the ’80s say so doesn’t make it true.

    I also clearly say in my piece that it was a reactionary – and angry – response to the way mainstream media has painted Hughes as the voice of ’80s youth. So why are your panties in a bunch? What is it exactly in my piece that bothers you so much? I’m not ashamed of my anger. Maybe you should read my piece again.

    You also seem to have difficulty understanding A.O. Scott’s intention when he refers to Godard. He obviously wasn’t speaking for you but you seem to want to control the dialogue about whose generation it is.

    This is just laughable. Read Scott’s piece. He was attempting to talk to me AND for me. I’m only a few years younger than the guy. Mainstream media controls the dialogue. My piece was a reaction against that. You do understand that I have absolutely no control, power or effect over the New York Times or news outlets like CNN, right? You do know that as an unpaid blogger I answer to no one but myself? I am simply sharing my experiences and reminding people that 1) Hughes was part of the conservative establishment in power during the ’80s and 2) the ’80s was a nasty ugly decade but mainstream media doesn’t want you to know that and 3) Hughes film did not speak for an entire generation. Besides the New York Times, every major news outlet was proclaiming the guy the “voice of a generation.”

    Hughes made propaganda films that sold kids Reagan’s America and guys like A.O. Scott bought it. Or at least he bought a good portion of it. If Scott had any common sense at all he would have never compared Godard to Hughes. As I tried to point out in my piece, the incredible ignorance shown by A.O. Scott represents the white-washing mainstream media has been giving the ’80s for years. Do you understand that Hughes was an extremely conservative commercial filmmaker who made movies in order to pay his bills and Godard is an artist?* (Edited to add: I should have said, “Godard is an artist who stands at the opposite end of the political spectrum.”). I have to ask because I’m not sure you do understand the difference. Or at least you don’t seem to understand why I find the comparison so wrong and just plain offensive. My apologies if I’ve somehow read you wrong.

    And last but not least, please don’t claim you want to “drop the ax” and then sucker-punch me with some half-assed comment about my attitude. Either take the high-ground or don’t.

  27. Thank you! Your damn right Hughes was no Godard.

    He was thought of, at the time, as creating commercial pap. Enjoyable at times, yes, but artistically meaningful? NO. And I resented him eternally for foisting talentless actors at us in the form of the brat pack.

    At the time Hughes was at his zenith, I was into Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Those were the films that defined our generation, even if they were during the 70’s.

  28. Melponeme – Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    As for American directors who were creating important and pertinent work in the ’80s, I would personally point to filmmakers like Penelope Spheeris, Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee (I should note that Spheeris really plummeted downhill as a filmmaker in the ’90s and has never recovered). All three directors really came into their own in the ’80s and they made films about young people or “younger” people that resonated with me a lot.

    I think a lot of American directors who actually came out of Gen X are suffering from some form of arrested development and they’re just starting to find their voice. It will be interesting to see if they’re willing and able to make films that directly speak to and about the ’80s in the way Shane Meadows has.

    *Edited to add: I wanted to mention that Greg Araki is a great American filmmaker that has made some really subversive teen films that parody John Hughes’ movies. He’s too old to be a member of Gen X, buthis films are subversive and smart.

  29. For me, John Hughes was a fun brand name- he had a particular style of humor (not always pc though) and storytelling that I mostly enjoyed— but I agree that ‘a voice of a generation’ is pretty EXTREME.

    ‘Planes Trains and Automobiles’ is a comic classic for me- the teen angst ones— not so much.

    For mindless fluff, Hughes was something fun to look forward to as a brand name. At the same time, I taught at a lower-income high school last year and was suprised to find a number of the students there relating to Hughes’ films a lot- I think the idea that a number of younger high schoolers who get obsessed for a time with romance above all will always be able to relate to a film where teen romance does seem like the most important aspect in the world for a time— in that regard, some of Hughes films may always speak to teenagers…..although on a pretty superficial level.

    Heavy thinking not required for any Hughes films. In looking at the popular films by Judd Apatow nowadays— you’d think that Hughes films were extremely intellectual by comparison. So, I don’t think Hughes is THAT bad.

    Given that, I should put in context that the high schoolers I taught also really loved ‘High School Musical’, too. So, apparently fantasy to kids can sell to kids of all incomes. Not every high schooler in my class was representative of this generation, either— I’m sure that there are plenty of students that would hate/ don’t care for his films as well— but thought I’d throw that out there.

    Anyhow, I don’t think that Hughes was nearly as bad as Michael Bay is now (at least Hughes didn’t do anything nearly as horrible as Pearl Harbor and try to pass it off as real history)— but he was a fun distraction, but I agree the critic was going overboard in praising his importance to film.

  30. H-chin – I appreciate your comments! I can understand why someone would think his films were lots of fun and entertaining (I like the Gidget film myself). I just don’t think they’re representative of an entire generation or decade. And over and over again every film critic on earth was calling Hughes the “voice of a generation.”

    As I hope I made clear above, my point was just to write about my own experiences and point out that “John Hughes Didn’t Speak For Me.” Totally personal piece in a totally personal blog. Obviously I’m in the small minority since hundreds of film critics could relate to Hughes’ films and loved them.

  31. I don’t think anyone would’ve made a film like This is England actually in in the 80s. You say it was such a horrible decade that some people turned to recreational drug-use to escape – well, by the same token, maybe some people liked John Hughes’ films as escapism. If someone had made This is England in the 80s, well… it would’ve gone down like a cup of cold sick. It seems a bit odd to compare films made in the 80s to a film made in 2006 about the 80s.

    And I say this as someone who lived in England in the 80s, and there were miners picketting the port where I lived because they were importing Polish coal. If someone had made Billy Elliot or Dockers or This is England in the 80s, no one would’ve gone to see it.

    This is England is a brilliant film, but it suffers from 80s nostalgia. Compare to Made in England, starring a pubescent Tim Roth, to see how skinheads were portrayed in the 80s: a knucklehead delinquent without any of James Deans’ swagger.

    In fact, I have to wonder if This is England is partly about how people in England live now, especially with people voting for the BNP (many members of which were NF members) and the hatred spewed by the right-wing press, confusing refugees with economic migrants, as well as the huge number of British soldiers dying pointlessly in Afghanistan.

  32. Helen – Thanks for your comments, Helen. If you’ve ever visited my blog before you’ll know that on Mondays I regularly write something that I call “Modern Mondays” where I talk about new films I like. And if you take the time to read my comments to others above you’ll see that last week I didn’t have the time to write a whole post on John Hughes so I decided to include my thoughts about his recent canonization by the media into this post about This Is England.

    If someone had made Billy Elliot or Dockers or This is England in the 80s, no one would’ve gone to see it.

    I disagree. I think it could have found a small audience but it probably would have never seen the kind of success that Meadows’ film has now. This Is England benefited from word of mouth, the web, DVD rentals, etc. We had less movie theaters in the ’80s and we didn’t have the “internet” yet. We were also still watching movies on video.

    This is England is a brilliant film, but it suffers from 80s nostalgia. Compare to Made in England, starring a pubescent Tim Roth.

    Thanks for the rec. I’ll give it a look.

    In fact, I have to wonder if This is England is partly about how people in England live now,

    I think you’re right and I kind of made that same point at the end of my piece. I think it’s important to not gloss over the past (or the present). I also think a lot of the problems we face today can be traced to the past. I’m glad filmmakers like Meadows who came of age during “Gen X” are finally making films that tackle that really complicated decade.

  33. As an ’80s teen, I didn’t find much to identify with in Hughes’ movies, either. I was not down with the ‘quo, to say the least. Of the Breakfast Club characters, I could relate most to Judd Nelson’s stoner dude.

    Anyway, call me a sap, but Planes, Trains & Automobiles is still one of my favorite comedies.

  34. Oh, and This is England is on another stratospheric level than Hughes’ formulaic pop-culture schtick.

    One ’80s flick I could relate to, though, was Foxes, with Jodie Foster. I think this film gets overlooked. It was one of my faves as pot-smokin’, acid-droppin’ outcast.

  35. Foxes is a great film, Taylor! I really like it a lot and think it’s one of Jody’s best movies. Thanks for mentioning it. It always feels like it’s a ’70s movie to me, probably because it was made so early in the decade and has a really rough and “real” quality to it.

  36. Yeah, Foxes came out in 1980, so it was obviously filmed in the late ’70s. It is an overlooked gem. And, indeed, the gritty realism of the characters’ lives really connected to me growing up …

  37. Hi,

    Regarding the question of whether John Hughes spoke for a generation. As a working class bloke growing up in and coming of age in Britain in the 80s – no he din’t really speak for me or speak to me or my concerns. He did however provide me with entertainment from the rental store. Part of my nostalgia for my youth by definition has to involve a nostalgia for John Hughes films.

    The question about This Is England. Not sure it is about now. I am a similar age to Meadows and was a skinhead in the early 80s. he tells it pretty much as I remember it too. And the 80s were alive with gritty social drama (boys from the blackstuff immediately springs to mind – though it is far too grim for my tastes these days).

    I am guessing but I see This Is England as something personal to Meadows and to the time in which it was set. about the feeling of belonging people got when they were skinheads back then- the haircut, the clothes and the ska. So rather than about now I see it as a Quadrophenia for a different generation altogether.

    The racist character in this is england I also saw as not being a comment on today (or the bnp) but more a honest, warts n’all look at what the skinhead culture was about back then. To have done less would have resulted either in a romanticised telling of history or too far to the other extreme would have in the racist caricature of the whole rudeboy/skin thing.

    For what it was worth, as a slightly awkward teen, the film that seemed to speak most for me way back when is Gregory’s Girl.

  38. Thanks for sharing your own experiences, Nigel! The ’80s was a complicated decade and many American writers seem to want to capsulate it into some “simple to repeat” description so I enjoy reading other perspectives.

    I think it’s easy for some of us to compare the situations & events in This Is England to what’s going on today because history tends to repeat itself if particular behaviors/events are ignored or not dealt with when they’re occurring. And unfortunately a lot of the more nastier stuff that happened in the ’80s was sort of shoved under the carpet. At least that’s what I believe and I think it’s biting America in the ass right now. The recent mob rules mentality at basic health care events in the US is a prime example of what I’m referring to at the end of my post.

    Last but not least, Gregory’s Girl has some terrific moments in it and I’m glad you brought that film up! I hope people will seek out movies like Suburbia, School Daze, Foxes, Gregory’s Girl, etc. if they want to see “80s youth” films.

  39. Kimberly- I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read your piece. I too was a teenager on the west coast in the ’80’s. I remember these movies as establishment fantasies that offended
    me and my friends. I agree that these films seemed to us as extensions of the Reagan machine. Big houses, big families (straight and white) and redemption through the landing of a “popular” date. We didn’t want to date cheerleaders or class presidents. We wanted to change the world that wanted to keep us quiet. It is amazing how the history of the 80’s has been written. I imagine that their are many who lived through the fifties and scratch their heads when they see the idyllic depictions of America. The fifties that segregated citizens, by race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. I am afraid that the unlike Shane Meadows many of those that promote the 80’s as “quirky” and “fun” are using Hughes instead of experiences as their source material. Thanks for bringing me back to reality.

  40. John – I really appreciate your comments. It obviously deeply bothers me that the ’80s have been morphed into some kind of Hughes’ fantasy by much of the media. There’s a place for comedy and lighthearted funny films, but there was a real nasty streak in many of Hughes’ movies that I personally found repulsive. And they seemed to be so disconnected from any kind of reality. I’m sure there were kids in the ’50s and ’60s who hated the Gidget movies, but it’s really strange that a director who spoon-feed these same kind of ’50s ideals 30 years later in movies like Sixteen Candles would be so celebrated and called the “voice of a generation” now. Film critics and entertainment sites should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating a myth. It makes me depressed and a bit angry, but I’ve been pissed at film critics and mainstream media for the last 20 years so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

  41. Nice work! I was thinking of “suburbia” as you were about to mention it. I think that film (and “River’s Edge”) represented a more accurate picture of what living in the Reagan 80’s as a teen was really like. I also love “This is England”. It’s one of the best films of this decade, no question. Thanks for nailing it!

  42. Hi Kimberley,

    Brilliant post – very passionate and telling some necessary home truths about the mawkish sanctification of John Hughes’ filmic legacy.

    As a Nottingham lad born and bred, it’s been a blast to see Shane Meadows carve out a niche for himself in British cinema, particularly since his vision is so gritty, uncompromising. His depiction of the 80s is how I remember it, too. It’s heartening that his work seems to have so much resonance in America.

  43. Kevin – River’s Edge is a great film! Very dark and almost meditive in the way it deals with the problems of youth. Thanks for mentioning it!

    Neil – That’s super kind of you! Glad to know others find the sanctification of Hughes as problematic as I do. It’s a shame that Hollywood films have become so bogged down in mediocrity in the last three decades that people don’t seem to realize how troubling Hughes’ films were and still are.

    Meadows is a terrific filmmaker with an original approach that is really refreshing. I look forward to seeing how he develops as a filmmaker!

    *Important Note*
    This thread is closed. I’ve got nothing more to say about John Hughes and I frankly don’t care what anyone else has to say about him. He’s not worth any more of my time or yours.

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