Thursday, August 20, 2009


You can't see stars in New York. Well, you can see Claire Danes walking her dog, but that's not the kind of star-sighting that inspires a person to contemplate the universe. Instead we have a skyline. A beautiful, awe-inspiring skyline, no doubt about it. And if you are lucky enough to have access to a view, you can gaze upon it and think about your future. "I'm here, New York City!" you can call out to Manhattan. "I'm here to stay!!!" But the sky against which those awesome buildings scrape boasts only an occasional night flight into JFK. No stars, shooting or otherwise.

And I wonder if that does something to us, we city people. I wonder if it makes us feel so much more important than we are. A skyline is intimidating, but somehow conquerable. The vast, infinite curtain of light that is a summer night sky over a skittish mountain lake, on the other hand, can make a person take pause. Because even if you can get a same-day reservation at Il Mulino or you are a regular attendee of Paris Fashion Week, or you have seventeen Rolexes and a wife who looks like she belongs in a calendar hanging on the wall of a car repair shop, put in the context of infinity, no one is that much of a big shot.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Suburbia was marketed at its inception as an exclusive, banded enclave for "desirable" inhabitants. We separate things into unlike categories, we surround ourselves with people who we identify as being like us. So we snuggle into our white protestant suburb or jewish suburb or black suburb or italian suburb. We have our own social gatherings; we hope and expect our children to marry from within. We exclude; we are excluded. We are comfortable with that. Crossing these boundaries of difference instills an anxiety in the community, for the insulated as well as for the trespasser.

This is the subject of John Hughes' films. They were funny and touching and entertaining, but more than that, they explored the thrill and anxiety of breaking down boundaries, between childhood and adulthood, cool and uncool, rich and poor, city and suburb. Are the rules of exclusion that cause a white woman to call the police when she sees a black man trying to enter a house in a wealthy white neighborhood any different than the sociological breakdown of a high school cafeteria? Stay Where You Belong, that's how our society would prefer us to behave. But the characters in Hughes' film perforate those borders; they will not allow themselves to be banded.
Consider the following scene from Pretty and Pink. To ask Andie out for the first time, Blaine leaves his friends, the rich kids who eat inside, and steps out to a courtyard where Andie and her friends eat lunch. Out in the courtyard, Blaine is greeted with a general hostility, and he is visibly self-conscious.
Andie: Is this your first time out here?
Blaine: Yeah. I don't think I'm very popular out here.
Andie: I don't know. You're just fine inside...
Or The Breakfast Club, wherein five high school students are removed from the daily pressure to stay in their own circles, and discover the meaninglessness of those differentiations.
You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s how we saw ourselves at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

During the rest of the week it is the differences between these kids that defines them. On Saturday, in the library, with no one else around they realize that they have more uniting them than dividing them.

I wrote a paper about Suburbia as a location for 80's movies that I will post here.

In the meantime, John Hughes, rest in peace. And here's some Duckie for all of us. Sigh.