I posted this on another blog today but thought I’d post it here too because it’s a good example of how a story can have a powerful effect on an entire generation.

Sometimes there’s nothing like a movie in the ability to make a person simultaneously feel understood and be able to feel empathy.

The Breakfast Club is 25 years old this year. Wow. Time flies.

Because Wisconsin schools now have to adopt policies against bullying, and the state must provide free anti-bullying curriculum, I’ve been reflecting on how bullying affected my life as a child.

As a Gen Xer, the best way for me to think about bullying is to talk about the best “anti-bullying curriculum” of my generation…The Breakfast Club.

The movie was released in 1985 when I was a freshman in college. It’s about five high school kids who have to spend a Saturday in detention together.

On the surface, the kids each fit a certain stereotype and seem very different from each other: a criminal, athlete, princess, basket case and brain.

If you’ve never seen this movie, this short lunch scene will give you a glimpse of what the characters are like:

The movie was wildly popular and my friends and I quoted lines from it for months. Even 25 years later, if I say “Mess with the bull and you get the horns” to a college friend, it gets a laugh. I watched the movie on Netflix instant viewing last night and was amazed at how many lines I still knew and how well the movie has aged.

The reason the movie resonated with us so much is because the movie perfectly captured what high school life was like. The movie understood us.

Whenever I talk about the movie with another Gen Xer we inevitably discuss the question, “Which Breakfast Club character were you?”

In my case I was a mix of the Anthony Michael Hall character (the brain/dork) and the Ally Sheedy (the basket case) character.

The movie was therapeutic as well because it also helped us see beneath the tough exterior of bullies.

The person that bullied me in junior high and high school was much like the Emilio Estevez athlete character, right down to being a wrestler.

Of course when Bender, the criminal character, teases the jock character by saying that all you need to be on the wrestling team is a “lobotomy and some tights” I laughed and immediately wished I could have used that line with my bully back in high school.

But near the end of this movie the jock character lets down his guard and talks with shame about the act of bullying that led to his detention and said he engaged in that behavior because of anger toward his father. He hated how his father pushed him in sports.

While watching that scene I felt what I never thought I’d feel toward the boy who bullied me…empathy.

At the end of the movie, the essay the brain character wrote for detention is read out loud. It says that by the end of the detention they realized that each of them was a criminal, princess, athlete, basket case and brain combined.

Or as the athlete Emilio Estevez character said earlier in the movie, “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”

Getting to that place of understanding is the key to overcoming bullying. I’m grateful to John Hughes for helping my generation in that regard and am hopeful that the new policies in Wisconsin will help this generation.

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Filed under: Stories/Storytelling

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