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Sex, teenagers and John Hughes

Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan note, in Camera Politica, that during the 1980s “Hollywood took both sides of the issue”when it came to depicting sex on film. The 1980s were a period in which sexual conservatism returned as a strong element of political discourse. At the same time the manner in which sex was depicted on screen tried to have it both ways, utilising imagery drawn directly from pornography while punishing both women and men who behaved in sexually transgressive ways. While films like Fatal Attraction (1987) and 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) are the best examples of this, this duality was a feature of many other films like Risky Business (1983), Class (1983), Top Gun (1986) and a whole range of other films.

In contrast, the film of John Hughes managed to capture something rather more innocent about teenage sexuality. While they were not without sex, in contrast to the overt sexual imagery yet punishing films that characterised much of the depiction of sex during the 1980s, this films showed sex as something messy and a little confusing. Often somewhat distasteful, as in Pretty in Pink (my personal favourite) or as an area of discomfort in The Breakfast Club. This recognition that it isn’t all candles and slow motion kissing with sweat glistening on backs was what a teenager wanted in a film when grappling with fears and concerns oneself. The idea that it was OK to say no like Andie was reassuring.

I guess it is no real surprise that when the market shifted away from teen movies that were really about teens, Hughes moved to more family friendly movies, or straight-out children’s movies. I am no major fan of his post Ferris Bueller oeuvre, but I am very glad he could give us those three or four films which will always be meaningful to the teenager of the 1980s. And the music!

And this fantastic story about Hughes reveals a little more about how he understood and acknowledged his connection to the teens of the period.


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