Monday, February 3, 2014

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Once, when I was a teenager, and experiencing the kind of emotional trouble experienced by such people, I told a friend several years my senior that all the stories he told me about himself when he was younger made it seem like he had a really easy time of it. He was so competent and witty and courageous when he was my age, whereas I was such an idiot and an emotional wreck. He calmly and immediately replied that this was because he didn't tell me about all the nights he spent alone in his basement listening to records, so that he wouldn't have to be upstairs in the living room.

I'm not saying to worship me or anything,
but pull me down the street on a big float
and dance around me.
The image I had of my friend was, of necessity, limited and incomplete, and I thought he was some kind of superman (or at least super-teenager). As a teenager, I could have said this of most of the people I knew. My image of them was necessarily limited and incomplete and, considering that I didn't see them doubting themselves or suffering from loneliness or confusion (and I was too self-absorbed to think about it), it was easy enough to think that they didn't suffer from those things. They were cool, and I was doomed inexplicably not to be.

Combine a self-indulgent sense of inadequacy with lack of objectivity and empathy (i.e. be a teenager) and bingo, it looks like there are any number of awesome people who have it all together running around, and you are one of the untouchables - doomed from birth to lose like the loser you are.

What does this have to do with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Ferris Bueller is the personification of this impression of other people. He is the Greek god of the other guy.

Looking at the characters in the film, Cameron is the one who actually develops at all[1]. OK, so the development is from “incredibly neurotic with a horrible family life” to “standing up and facing the fact that he’s incredibly neurotic with a horrible family life”, but it is something. Whereas Ferris has an exciting ride, but gets everything he wants and sets out to get, taking Cameron along with him, as implacable as fate. This is one of the signs of Ferris’s pagan godhood (in addition to hijacking a float in the German-American Stuben parade and causing everyone to come together in unfettered, joyous dance instead of, you know, getting arrested immediately). The whole movie could have been about Cameron, and Ferris’s character could have been replaced by an event outside of Cameron’s control, and the plot would have been the same. I’m not saying it would have been as much fun or anything, but it wouldn't be a different plot.

Do they all wear leopard print?
But, just because Cameron’s character develops doesn't mean he’s the character we like the most (or at all). Ferris, obviously, takes center stage in the movie because he takes center stage everywhere. He’s the other guy, and everything is going his way and is all about him. What people should realize (and Cameron, by the end, expresses this somewhat) is that you can’t be the other guy, you have to be yourself whether you like it or not because the other guy does not exist.

I’m not saying that no one is actually competent or courageous and everyone is secretly just as self-doubting and sad as a moody sixteen year-old. That is a perverse notion that wouldn't even solve the problem of the Camerons of the world if it were true; if no one is competent and happy, then Cameron can never be. What I’m saying is that the notion that the obstacles I face are inherently different or less surmountable than the other guy’s is an illusion caused by lack of objectivity and too much self-pity.

We could all be like Ferris Bueller, and could all stand to be, a little. Not by lying (and chronically at that) or taking expensive private property without permission, but by living courageously and acting with some spontaneity. The point being that, as long as we know what to do, if it’s good and worth doing, we should give up the idea that we are unable to do it because it’s reserved for the gods.

[1] And maybe Ferris's sister, but I'm not sure.

© 2014 John Hiner III

1 comment:

  1. Good post. Very good. I identify totally. The movie also exposed, unintentionally of course, the lack of fatherhood, so typical in the post WWII era. Dads were, for the most part, oblivious to their Catholic responsibilities. At least, so it seemed with the crowd I hung around with in the late 60s. Whoever it was who played Cameron should have got an Oscar. He was a natural.