Defining John Hughes

What was his legacy for American pop culture?

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Filmmaker John Hughes has passed, inspiring the usual wave of fond remembrances and music-backed YouTube clip compilations. But three unusual takes on Hughes' legacy and his meaning for American pop culture are taking shape. Did he, his films, and his legions of fans represent a movement of conservatism? Class war? What about simple bourgeois capitalism?

John Hughes, Conservative  Such is the headline of Kathryn Jean Lopez's National Review post. Lopez simply reproduces three script excerpts from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, implicitly suggesting that Hughes held a variety of socially conservative positions. Ben Stein, who appeared in Bueller, took advantage of his free time to argue the same, calling Hughes "an avid Republican" on Fox Business. "He was sending me emails about the political scene and some of them were very wickedly funny," Stein said.

John Hughes, Class Warrior  Gawker's Alex Pareene co-opted Michael Weiss's 2006 Slate piece, "Some Kind of Republican," to argue that Hughes was not in fact conservative. "His movies dealt seriously, if not always realistically or positively, with class," Pareene wrote, arguing that his films showed "his loathing for (and, frankly, fixation on) the entitled trust fund kids." Pareene skeptically described Hughes as part of "that weird '80s pretend-counterculture conservatism."

John Hughes, Bourgeois Capitalist  Slate's Dana Stevens explored the economics of Hughes' "sheltered" teenagers acting rebellious "at the height of the Reagan revolution." Stevens argued that Hughes participated in "the mass commodification of adolescent angst," celebrating, rather than rebelling against, the "seemingly oppressive" middle-class suburbia that James Dean and Marlon Brando rejected. No matter how counter-culture Hughes' characters may have acted, Stevens suggested, we're meant to assume that "they'll likely retain the class affiliations and cultural milieu of their parents."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.