Friday, August 7, 2009

No Teddy Rogers: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

(This started out as a comment on my man Ira Brooker's thoughtful John Hughes homage over at A Talent For Idleness. I've always felt that Ferris Bueller was overrated and when he started to blast on one of my favorite flicks, Pump Up the Volume, I got heated. The following rant ensued. My boy usually has a razor sharp cultural palette so he probably just ate some bad fish sticks or something. Then again, dude also roots for the Vikings, so who really knows. Anyway, Ferris Bueller gets the No Teddy Rogers treatment, which we all remember is Bring Me the Robe's examination of cultural affiliations so revolting they may drive you to threaten friends or loved ones who endorse them with a broken bottle. See 1:25 embedded below.)

Your way off base on Pump Up The Volume, Vikings fan, and I'm not buying Cameron Frye as one of cinema's iconic teenage characters (although Hughes gets props for dipping Cameron in throwback sports gear a decade before it blew up mainstream, and that it's a Gordie Howe is some extra strength shit).

I don't find any of the personalities in Ferris Bueller to be particularly sympathetic, with the exception of Charlie Sheen's ruffian at the end. He tells Ferris' sister to get the fuck over herself and that's what everybody in the this movie, especially Cameron, needs to hear. Why is your boy so maladroit? He's got a buttery house in the woods with a pool and classic cars in glass rooms. He should be parlaying his sheepish melancholia into sex with Ally Sheedy-in-The-Breakfast-Club-type honeys and buying high tone dope with the money his rich dad gives him. You know his pops is going to get him into whatever school he wants to go to. He'll major in Comparitive Literature and get a job teaching high school English somewhere and cash trust fund checks and sodomize his wife. His situation just isn't that bad.

Cameron getting emotionally in touch with abandonment issues is some low stakes bullshit compared with what Mark Hunter aka Harry Hard On has to take on in Pump Up the Volume. Just for starters there is the government trying to shut down his broadcasts, and an evil institutional conspiracy at his high school. Meanwhile dude is working on some alienation problems of his own, but instead of reverting to gestural, existential cheese like jumping into swimming pools, he gives his malevolence a meaningful cultural form through pirate radio. The superficially-reserved by day, zeitgeist by night character is one we've seen before, yes, but never have its metaphors been extended by such a unique and vital medium, and in such a specific narrative space. Seriously, who would you rather share a bottle of Mumms and drive out to the desert with, sad sack Cameron or the cat whose going to bring the benzos and the badass Leonard Cohen / Public Enemy mixtape?

My real problem, of course, isn't with Cameron but with Ferris Bueller himself and his actions as a mouthpiece for baby boomer hegemony. Here is a character I'm supposed to accept as a vanguard of youth who eats lunch at the squarest white collar joint in Chicago and listens to classic rock. He steals an old man's car and dresses up as his girlfriend's dad. The only people who give a shit whether or not he skips school are his malcontent sister and his oafish, painfully unfunny principal. Things are going to work out for Ferris. They always do. Do we worry for even a moment that Ferris might wind up facing severe legal and financial penalties for hanging Mr. Frye's Ferrari on a tree? Of course not! Ferris is a fully functional adult forced by the strictures of an agist society to attend high school despite the fact that he is pretty much a forty year old business man. Getting over on his parents and his academic supervisors is duck hunt to this guy. He projects such an air of invulnerability that his rumored illness becomes a powerful manipulative tool. He will not face the same exposure and downfall of Rushmore's Max Fischer. He's the guy who gets away with everything.

The character arc for Mark Hunter (sounds like a name from a Steven Segal flick) is more nuanced and subtle than I think you're giving it credit for. There is something telegraphic about the reconciliation of his social polarity, but one of my favorite aspects of Pump Up the Volume is the undercurrent of tension between Mark and his parents. Having uprooted their son, they don't ask too many questions about what he's up to with all the electronic equipment in the basement, for fear of alienating him entirely. Their passivity creates the kind of see no evil, hear no evil policy that simmers almost universally between parents and adolescents. While Mark Hunter's talk hard martyrdom may seem a little overwrought as teenage voices fill the bandwidth over the desert sky, at least the movie reminds us that the players are playing in a world where actions have consequences.

And I need not remind you, Vikings fan, that Mark gets rhythm from the fine dark-haired-chick-with-avant-garde-sensibilities character. The same type of girls I'm sure you were trying to press up on during your high school days in Sparta. Pump Up the Volume makes me want to be seventeen again and bump Bad Brains and chase girls like that. I don't know man, Ferris Bueller just makes me glad I'm not old. No Teddy Rogers!

1 comment:

IOB said...

Y'know, I debated whether to mention "Pump Up the Volume" at all. That's another film I didn't see until well after my teenage years, and I do remember liking certain elements of it quite a lot. I'll stand by it being bogged down by too much Hughes-derived pseudo-angst, but I should probably have given it a pass. Can we at least agree that Moyle's "Empire Records" is total bullshit buoyed by an overqualified cast and an excellent soundtrack?

As for Cameron, I try to never begrudge anyone his or her depression. I myself currently have most of the accoutrements of the American Dream going for me, yet I frequently find myself in the throes of self-loathing and abject misery. I think the fact that Cameron manages to be miserable despite having seemingly everything going for him just strengthens the characterization. Many of the most depressed folks I've met are the ones who seem to have nothing to be depressed about. Plus, the kid's a teenager. Teenagers are depressed about stupid shit all the damn time. I'll hold firm on Cameron being one of the more lifelike portraits of adolescent angst I've found in a film.

But yeah, Ferris is a prick. If you cut Cameron out of the movie, it would become far too obnoxious for me to sit through.

Also, what the hell kind of parade shuts down Michigan Avenue in the middle of a work day?