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Posts Related To The 1980s


Half-Baked Preliminary Thoughts on Molly Ringwald’s New Yorker Essay, The Breakfast Club and #MeToo



Because many of you asked what I thought about Molly Ringwald’s recent essay in The New Yorker.

1. Ms. Ringwald is absolutely right. Movies endure not just b/c they meant something to us way back then but b/c they should allow for rigorous re-examination as our cultureĀ evolves. Great movies hold up to that examination, not by seeming contemporary (which is impossible) but by constantly engaging us as we change, even though they don’t.

2. It is not “political correctness” to re-evaluate a work of art in contemporary context. It is perhaps myopic to say it shouldn’t ever be seen again because of what it said when it was made and how it isn’t cool to say that now. But Ms. Ringwald isn’t arguing for censorship. She’s arguing for not letting nostalgia gum up the rigor of our intellect.

3. Nostalgia is, by definition, a failed enterprise: A wish for what is no longer presumes a) we can turn back time and b) nothing should have changed between then and now. Both are impossible. There’s nothing wrong with looking back fondly on things from the past. Bear in mind that the best of those things (like, for example, The Breakfast Club) are still remembered not just because of what they were then but how they continue to speak to us now.

4. John Hughes made great movies not in spite of being a flawed person but because he was a flawed person. The remarkable thing about genius is that it happens in human beings who are by definition good at some things and not others. If they are in fact, geniuses and the things they create are too, then they invite that rigor of examination not shy away from it. Dude, Where’s My Car deflates like a leaky balloon upon examination. Huck Finn, The Age of Innocence, James Brown Live at the Apollo and The Breakfast Club are so good and complicated and magnificent and frustrating in so many ways that they are gifts that keep on giving. And we look away from the full extant of those gifts, if we ignore that Mark Twain was a genius but a terrible businessman which probably hurt how much we know of is work, that Edith Wharton was a genius but an unapologetic snob that probably made her output less rangy than the true scope of her genius, that James Brown was a genius who was a terrible boss and lost a young Bootsy Collins as a bassist because of it and imagine what Mr. Brown’s music COULD have been like and that John Hughes was a genius who had great difficulty emotionally reaching beyond whom he was as a teenager and examine what could have been had he been able to write and direct movies not about the suburban midwest?

5. “Imagine if” always comes with examination of genius. Bad movies/books/songs/tv shows you cannot even summon the energy to do that.

6. I promise you, no one, not Molly Ringwald or Criterion or I or anyone else who wishes to have lively conversation about your favorite movie from childhood, is trying to ruin your childhood. We are in fact trying to acknowledge that we all grow up and change and we STILL have the opportunity to have ongoing evolved, long term relationships with the pop culture of the past. That, in fact the needlessly linear narrative of pop culture as new–>passe–>forgotten–>kitsch–>reboot is a diet of junk food and culture is meant to be a feast.

7. The evening I read this Molly Ringwald essay, I also saw Night Ranger in concert. And 35 years after their heyday, they were fantastic. Which led me to watch a ton of concert footage of theirs and to the one, every video had at least a dozen comments talking about what Night Ranger does is over, musically and will never be again, despite what I had seen with my own eyes the night before, they fact that I could watch 35 years of the band’s history for free, the fact that armed with a Spotify subscription and a web browser, I could summon Night Ranger and 25 bands like them across four decades of popular music with a few keystrokes and search terms.

I submit if you spend a bunch of your time talking about how “over” something is, you are really not talking about “it” being over but you. You’re sad because that band/movie/book reminds you a special time in life from long ago. Fine. If you want to be done having special times with art and pop culture, be my guest. That strikes me as an entirely avoidable self-inflicted cloud of depression you have decided to stand under without an umbrella. Show a little backbone, take two steps to the left and come out in the sunshine where the rest of us live.

8. I am deeply thankful to Ms. Ringwald for saying from her unique point of view better than what I tried to say in Brat Pack America that nostalgia often keeps us from further discussion, further engagement, from having marriages instead of flings with art and culture we love That living there is a wasteful and potentially dangerous enterprise. And we owe to our kids and nieces and nephews and our mentees and our young friends who we wish to share it wish to keep talking.


Half-Baked Preliminary Thoughts on Ready, Player One. The Movie


1. I had great fun watching this movie. I would have even if 80s pop culture weren’t my subject/passion. It’s paced beautifully, it looks great, the CGI is tremendous fun and the acting is adequate enough to not get in the way of that other stuff. The pop culture signifiers are whipped cream, not the sundae.

2. It’s about 60% true to the novel which is about average for Steven Spielberg. Remember the novel Jurassic Park was practically a dystopia with John Hammond as a maniacal billionaire (not kindly old Richard Attenborough) and at the end of the novel The Color Purple, the main character ends up befriending her abuser. Spielberg’s adaptations of well known novels are usually departures in at least one significant way.

3. The novel’s pop culture references are exclusive to the 1980s including extended sequences about the pioneering text adventure video game called Zork and the 1983 classic War Games. The movie has a very loose interpretation of “the past” pop culture-wise. It references Saturday Night Fever (1977), The Shining (1980), Nightmare on Elm St. (1984), Say Anything (1989), and The Iron Giant (1999) a span of 22 years and 3 distinct eras (maybe more) in pop culture.

4. There’s some good stuff here about who owns the future, about net neutrality and about how we spend our time but with and away from screens.

5. The movie’s politics overall though are on shakier ground. For most of the story, the protagonist wants to win a contest so he can rule a virtual world and get a lot of money for it, a hard ask for sympathy and relatability. Also, it is never in doubt that the protagonist is the most skilled player of the game and yet the movie still saddles him with a “we are the rebellion and must fight” speech. Rebellions are about power imbalance. If you are clearly the best in the field of battle, you don’t get to call yourself “a rebel”. LeBron James is not a rebel no matter how well or poorly the Cleveland Cavs do. And maybe I’m making too much of this but people with great power talking about what rebels they are feels a little Trump-y in its delusion to me.

6. Part of my problem with #5 may be that I think one of Steven Spielberg’s biggest weaknesses as a storyteller is how he handles villains: Villainous roles in Spielberg movies either do nothing for the actors who play them (see Paul Freeman who played Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark) or take remarkable actors and render them unmemorable (Remember the legendary Max Von Sydow as the villain in Minority Report? Neither do I). The latter happens in Ready Player One where the usually terrific Ben Mendehlson is written and performed as a laundry pile of tics and motivations that ultimately mean nothing. It’s hard to feel like the good v. evil struggle at the center of RP1 means anything when the villains motives are being dictated by the CGI and plot rather than the character.

7. There really isn’t much for the actors to do in this movie overall which is too bad, because between Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Ben Mendohlson and Mark Rylance, it’s a fine bunch.

8. Mark Rylance plays the deceased creator (not a spoiler. It’s revealed in the movie’s prologue) of the movie’s virtual world beautifully, as a sad brilliant man who never wanted to grow up and therefore never really lived and died of a broken heart because of it.

9. I hope I am not the only one who fears Lena Waithe is stuck here playing the magical black best friend.

10. I wonder if this is the end of our current 80s pop culture revival (see Stranger Things, Atomic Blonde, Red Oaks, GLOW, The Americans and I could go on like this). Historically when a genre or a time makes reference to itself being riffed upon, it’s over (See what happened to the 80s teen movie when Heathers became the first satire of the 80s teen movie. John Hughes never came to play again). And although RP1 is being talked about as a zenith of our 80s pop revival, its pop currency of “the past” is vaguer, looser, blobbier. Are we still in an 80s pop revival if everything from Saturday Night Fever to the Iron Giant counts too?