So Long, John, and Thanks for All the Quotes

The world is a little bit sadder now–filmmaking great John Hughes passed away at the age of 59. He hadn’t done a lot lately, so I’m afraid people may have forgotten just how significant this guy and his movies were. Website Big Hollywood calls him “The Frank Capra of Gen X,” and that sounds just about right.

A couple of years ago, some jerk from Slate decided he needed to tear Hughes down a bit, and I felt the need to write a response, which I repost in full below:

An article in Slate examines the political leanings of movie maker John Hughes in that gratingly snooty, over-educated way that you can only get from Slate or Alex Trebek. Some samples:

Hughes was also the first Balzac of homeroom, arguing that what stratified public education as much as looks, popularity, or natural herd instincts was net worth. Even those dismayed by the cheap sentimentality and wafer-thin plotlines of his films could at least appreciate seeing class presented as not something you skipped but were defined by. Hughes, though, was never quite the antagonist of the status quo he made himself out to be. He was actually a political conservative, and his portrayals of down-and-out youth rebellion had more to do with celebrating the moral victory of the underdog than with championing the underprivileged. In Hughes’ hormonal vale of tears, snobs and elitists were the ones who ruined wealth for everybody else.

Whu-huh? Here we have a textbook example of “over-analysis.” Can you clarify the difference between “celebrating the moral victory of the underdog” and “championing the underprivileged”? Which one was Anthony Michael Hall?

I may be reading too much into this, but it seems like the writer is angry at Hughes. It sounds like he was a big fan until he put two and two together and realized that this teen icon may actually be (gasp!) a grown-up. More examples:

It’s true that Hughes remained mute on his partisanship just as he was being hailed as the reigning auteur of angst, but a 1988 Premiere profile brushed up against his convictions by calling him the “sort of guy Norman Rockwell might have been if he’d lived in Hollywood.”

Yeah, he’s just like that bastard Rockwell… All those paintings and not one of them shows an image of Jesus in a Bo-Peep outfit covered in camel dung. You call that talent?

It should have come as no surprise, then, that a faint smirk of family-values-friendly subversion stamped itself on all of late Hughes, which is to say his even more establishment period as a filmmaker. From The Great Outdoors (in-laws sure are difficult) to Home Alone (towheaded McMansion latchkey kid foils robbery, saves Christmas) to Dennis the Menace (overall-wearing scamp of the manicured lawns sling-shoots his way straight into your heart)?these were comedies for the Dan Quayle in all of us.

Ah, reaching back to Dan Quayle for a punch line, are we? No, that’s cute, and only about 15 years stale too.

Any semi-conscious viewer could tell that Hughes was a very pro-family movie maker from the beginning. One constant theme of his stories are the problems that stem from fractured or broken families. His whole career was spent demonstrating the difference between Ferris and Cameron. The kid with loving (but gullible) parents was well-adjusted and successful; the kid with distant, distracted parents was a loser.

And by the way, it is unconscionable that any analysis of Hughes’ work go on this long without mentioning his opus, Uncle Buck. The salvation of every character in that movie grew from the realization, by Buck and his teenaged niece Tia, that family was more important than rebellion.

Now, to Slate’s Michael Weiss, here’s a quarter. Why don’t you go downtown and have a rat gnaw that esoteric film school claptrap off your face?

I don’t know what Hughes’ political affiliation was, and I don’t much care. What was obvious from his work was that he was extremely funny and talented, and that he had a pretty keen understanding of what was important in life.  Rest in peace.

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