When I was barely-out-of-diapers-young, one of my favorite books was a collection of jokes for kids. The big finish — the joke they just had to save for last — was a simple riddle: “What’s big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock eater.”
Try the veal and don’t forget to tip your servers. I’ll be here all week.
Since then, I’ve read the poetry of Jim Morrison; the columns of Maureen Dowd; the backs of countless boxes of Boo Berry Cereal; the 1988 Libertarian, Republican and Democrat political platforms in their entireties; the works of various Brontë sisters; particularly heartfelt lines from love letters I wrote to my high school sweetheart; I even read George Friedman’s The Coming War with Japan — which he wrote in 1991.
These are the credentials you need to know when I tell you: In the 38 years since I learned to read, I have read some really stupid shit.
But I have never read anything quite so stupid as Alan Siegel’s article in The Atlantic, insisting that everyone “get over” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
On the movie’s 25th anniversary, Siegel’s problem with Ferris Bueller is Ferris Bueller, appropriately enough, whom he derides as “banal.” The primary complaints all come from the middle of the piece, where Siegel complains that “Nothing challenges Ferris. Unlike most teens, his life is free of adversity.” That the movie is “dripping with classism.” And while John Hughes’s other movies “may not channel Dickens, but they’re at least populated with teenagers who’ve had it rougher than Ferris.”
Boo-hoo, I suppose, because Bueller didn’t bear enough boo-boos. But let’s try and remember that the movie is about a kid’s day off. It ain’t The Basketball Diaries, nor is it supposed to be. And anyway, accusing a teenage boy of being banal is like accusing… a teenage boy of being interested in sex. Why, I never!
Siegel’s complaints about Ferris generally break down to “kind of sad where they aren’t plain wrong.”
Take Siegel’s claim that Ferris enjoys a life “free of adversity.” The reason we loved Ferris back in 1986 is the same reason kids — the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads — all still adore him today. And that is: Ferris’s problems were our problems; he just was way cooler dealing with them.
Check out Ferris’s bitch list: Useless parents, officious school officials, whiny siblings, not having a car, stuck in class, needy best friends — stop me if anything on here sounds entirely foreign to your teen experiences.
Full Disclosure: Maybe I wanted to identify with Ferris more than most kids. After all, I saw Ferris Bueller on the big screen exactly one night before going off to spend my senior year under the iron-strict discipline of Missouri Military Academy. We couldn’t even skip a study hall without the Hand of God coming down to smite our precious little free time. Just seeing Ferris be Ferris gave me strength enough to get through nine more months of endless shoe shine sessions, polyester uniforms, and miserable Sunday afternoons spent out on parade come rain or shine.
But I don’t think I’m a special case, or else I’d be one of the very few who remember the movie so fondly. Instead, I’m one of untold millions. Because whether you were a well-off kid in the ‘burbs, a miserable military school miscreant like myself, or maybe even a kid in the projects, Ferris represented the exact same thing to all of us: Effortless, stylish escape.
Ferris, in other words, had plenty of adversity. He just handled his with the aplomb the rest of us wish we had. Everybody at school loved him for that. And why shouldn’t they? After all — we love him for it, too.
Except, of course, for Alan Siegel. And to be fair, he wraps up his piece with two much more weighty complaints Or, they would be weighty if they weren’t from some other movie I’ve never heard of before.
At the end of the show, when Cameron’s father’s prized 1961 Ferrari 250GT California lies totaled on the ground far below, Siegel writes that Cameron “martyrs himself, deciding to take the rap for wrecking his absent father’s Ferrari, while Ferris gets off, scot free.”
Except that’s not what happened. Cameron, rightly or wrongly, thinks that his father “loves this car more than life itself.” So in a fit of rage, Cameron kicks in the bumper, again and again, and yells, “Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car!” His intention was to do something so awful his father would have to pay him some attention.
But Cameron kicked too hard. The Ferrari came off its blocks, and its still-spinning tires took it through the plate glass garage wall and down 50 feet to its death. Watch what happened next:
(Caution: Some mildly-NSFW language.)
Ferris didn’t pin any blame on Cameron. Instead, he offered to “take the heat” for his best friend. That’s the exact opposite of what Siegel claimed. Did Siegel misremember the movie — or did he misrepresent it, just because he hates Bueller so much that he wants you to hate Bueller? I don’t know. But I do know that either reason is just plain silly.
You see, Ferris Bueller isn’t about Ferris Bueller. Ferris leaves the story the same way he entered it — he remains as breezy, as fun, and as inconsequential as a sunny spring day spent playing hooky. Cameron is the character with a story, with an arc. He has much more serious problems than Ferris does, but with the help of his seriously unserious best friend, Cameron takes a big first step towards overcoming them:
I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.
Ferris never has any lines that important, that un-banal, because he doesn’t need them — it’s not his movie. Bueller is merely the catalyst for the deep changes which Cameron undergoes. You’d think a guy like Siegel, who’s spent so much time obsessing over Ferris, would understand this one simple truth about Ferris. Or maybe you wouldn’t think that, not after this next bit.
Siegel wraps up his piece nodding with approval at Ferris’s crabby sister. Siegel quotes her at length, so allow me to quote Siegel quoting Jeanie:
“Why should he get to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants?” Jeanie rightfully asks before the script forces her to cave. “Why should everything work out for him? What makes him so goddamn special? Screw him.”
Siegel even repeats Jeanie’s drama-queen resentment that Ferris “gets away with everything.” Siegel writes: “It’s aggravating. It’s ridiculous” that even Jeanie “eventually gives in to her brother’s charm.” Only — once again — that’s not what happened.
Jeanie didn’t succumb to her brother’s charm, not hardly. Instead, she succumbed to the boyish charm and good sense of Charlie Sheen. Hey, it is just a movie. Watch:
(Again, some mildly-NSFW language.)
The next time we see those two crazy kids together, they’re tonsil-deep in one another’s mouths. Jeanie learned to relax and enjoy her brother’s harmless hijinks. By the end, she even proved instrumental in putting Principal Rooney in his well-deserved place. Jeanie, in short, quit using her bottom to make diamonds out of coal.
So — take away the complaints that Siegel got just plain wrong, and here’s what you are left with: There aren’t enough black people in Chicago’s ritzy suburbs. Or as we used to say in the Eighties: No shit, Sherlock?
Maybe Siegel needs a hot make-out session before he relaxes enough to drop his unseriously serious anti-Ferris pose. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, I’ll let Ferris give Siegel the last word — he’s earned it.
Or as Jeanie might still say: “Screw him.”