Saturday, January 02, 2010

[Movies] Suburban Samuel Clemens

Suburban Samuel Clemens: I didn't post anything the month John Hughes died because everybody else in the world already did, but he was always one of my favorites. Lost in the standard view of his films as sweet-and-sour adolescent comedies was his oblique appreciation of suburban middle-class life. It's not obvious what a radical concept this is until you give some consideration to how middle-class life is constantly portrayed in art as empty and phony. If you live in a nice middle-class neighborhood Hollywood will portray you as closet sexual deviant or a secretly violent criminal, or, God help you, a Christian. At best you'll be a repressed corporate stooge in dire need of some spiritual enlightenment.

I would guess at least 90% of the current inhabitants of the world, and probably 99.9999% of everyone who ever lived at any time in human history, would view middle-class suburban life as an outright utopia just on the basis of safety alone, never mind comfort and convenience and economic opportunity. But we sneer at it. We refuse to believe we are safe, expecting our children to be kidnapped at any moment or fall and bump their heads if they are not wearing a helmet. We spend our time perfecting the aesthetics of our yards or shuttling kids to soccer games or running home businesses on the side because we can grab a quick bite of fast food and find everything we need in one trip to Costco, but we decry the consumerist society that makes that possible.

There's a reason our culture has organically evolved the middle-class as it has, and it is because it's the exactly the life we have wanted; the best that flawed human nature has ever achieved. Appreciate it. Celebrate it. Enjoy it. John Hughes did. He laughed at it because, as a product flawed humanity, it will have its' share of absurd irrationalities. He found drama in it because, as a product of flawed humanity, there will be conflict -- pain and pleasure. But he also saw what a great achievement it is.

You certainly don't see a lot of that in the arts. The old TV show Wonder Years (oddly unavailable on DVD) comes to mind. And more recently the wonderful pop band Fountains of Wayne seems to take that tack, especially on their Utopia Parkway album. I am trying to hit that chord also in Misspent Youth; we'll see if I succeed. But for the most part cynicism and negatively rule the day.

All this came to mind when I happened to stumble on Sixteen Candles for the nine-millionth time, but the first time in ages uncut with no commercials -- 25 years old and it hasn't aged a day. And I saw that a new documentary about Hughes and his abrupt disappearance from Hollywood in 1991, Don't You Forget About Me, recently hit cable (haven't seen it, reviews mixed). For some reason, they neglected to interview me for it, but if they did I would have told them that I think Ferris Buellar's place in the Pantheon is right next to Huckleberry Finn, and the suburbs and the Mississippi aren't all that different.