Don’t You (Forget About Me)

The Breakfast ClubIn an era of increasingly brazen, callous, and heartless sell-outs, perhaps no capitalist re-appropriation has incensed me like this one.

I’m speaking, of course, of the JCPenney back-to-school ad that has dozens of sporty-looking, hoodie-wearing, completely-adjusted teenagers aping moves from John Hughes’ coming-of-age classic, “The Breakfast Club.”

Ask my wife; I screamed for twenty seconds when I first saw it.

While some desparage Hughes’ genre-defining film for its implicit message of conformity (Ally Sheedy, you’ll recall, receives a makeover from Molly Ringwald) the film is an undisputable classic.

It’s simple conceit — five apparently different kids (The Brain, The Athlete, The Basket Case, The Princess, and The Criminal) spend Saturday detention together to discover that they’re not so different after all.

Hughes’ script tactfully, authentically and hilariously nails the existential woes and mini-crisis of youth: make-up, break-ups, cliques and castaways, anorexia, pot, grades and the overwhelming, soul-crushing desire to be loved.

His cast — Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estivez, Sheedy, Ringwald and Judd Nelson — embody the tension between their characters’ youthful vulnerability and adult detachment. Nelson in particular manages to be cruel, callous, creepy and completely loveable. None were better prior, or since.

Better still, the film is loaded with one-liners that (sadly, perhaps) still pass my lips today:

I am the eyes and ears of this institution.

Demented and sad, but social.

Don’t mess with the bull, buster; you’ll get the horns.

The cheeks cannot hold their smoke, dat’s what it is!

That Saatchi & Saatchi went so far as to shoot the commercial at the same location of the film (Shermer High School, Shermer, Illionois) only adds insult to injury.

Despite its attempted authenticity, this painful thirty seconds of television is riddled with enraging instances (beyond the initial recognition that they’re defacing the Mona Lisa).

There are three times too many kids in the spot, presumably to model the full line of back-to-school fashions.

Worse, lacking context or narrative, the kids are simply posturing. It feels like bad karaoke.

The last shot shows the kids leaving the school together with the apparently rebellious character (identified soley by his poses, as Columbine has long-since rendered trench coats taboo) in the back of the pack. Like Nelson, he raises a fist in defiances.

Like the original “Breakfast Club,” the scene freezes. Unlike the original, though, this shallow, pantomime of a commercial skips Anthony Michael Hall’s poignant voice over.

Dear Mr. Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

The Breakfast Club

That Simple Minds apparently refused to licence their version of “(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” is small consolation, as we’re made to suffer through a pale imitation.

It’s good to know something’s not for sale. But it reinforces a painful, modern reality.

Advertisers see us as they want to see us; not as brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses, and criminals, but — in the simplest term and most convenient definition — as dollar signs.

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