If The Breakfast Club took place today, all those kids would just be silently texting about their shitty Saturday and never make friends with each other.
This has been going around Facebook the past few days. I’ve seen it from friends my age who use social media almost as an afterthought to their busy lives. There’s nothing wrong with that usage, of course, but it’s not mere coincidence that this is who is sharing it. They’re the people who least value social media and are, therefore, most likely to get it wrong. Let’s talk about how.
First off, let me note that The Breakfast Club was an idealistic fantasy when it came out. Having been a teenager in the 80s, I can tell you from experience that it took more than temporary isolation from the outside to break down the social defense mechanisms that kept kids from bonding across class and tribe.
Yes, even the unhappy kids. In fact, it was often the kids who were the most unhappy who clung hardest to their tribal affiliations. Adding stress wasn’t going to change that. The movie was an escape fantasy aimed at kids who’d suffered from tribalism, but it was just that–a fantasy.
So if we were going to update The Breakfast Club for today’s social media landscape, we’d be looking at the best of all possible outcomes, just as John Hughes did. That’s good, because otherwise, we’d already be running into problems with the premise that kids would be allowed to bring their cell phones to detention. Instead, we’ll just suspend that bit of disbelief.
Once we do that, here’s a taste of what a modern Breakfast Club would look like, social media and all.
After the initial blustering from Vernon, we do indeed see some quiet texting. However, it’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Replies are not forthcoming, so it’s on to Tumblr and Instagram after a brief peek at Facebook.
Suddenly, into the silence, comes the sound of a tiny kitten’s meow. (Let’s not claim Hughes was hugely original in this movie.) Claire frantically turns down the sound on her phone, but Andrew, bored, demands to be shown the video. As the meows keep going, Brian first, then Allison, step cautiously behind Claire to watch.
Eventually Bender makes a show of swaggering over to join them. “What the hell is wrong with that cat?!”
“She’s a Napoleon.” Claire frowns. “She’s half Persian and half Munchkin. She’s supposed to look like that.”
“Stupid things hair is longer than its legs.” Bender swaggers back to his seat. The others watch the last few seconds of the video, but the spell is broken. They drift away from Claire again.
A little while later, Andrew laughs. Then he realizes everyone is looking at him. It’s his turn to provide entertainment. He shares the homophobic joke one of his teammates posted about an assistant wrestling coach. No one in the room reacts until Bender clomps over to give him an exaggerated punch in the shoulder and shout, “Good one, bro. No homo!” When Andrew puts his head back down, so does everyone else.
The next person to break the silence is Brian. His “Ooooh” would be inaudible in any other room, but here it cuts through the boredom instantly. His contribution is a Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA. There are technical reasons why NASA chose this picture, and Brian patiently explains them as he zooms in on the picture. Nobody else cares about the technical details, but pretty picture is pretty. Even Bender’s “Nerd!” is an afterthought as he walks back to his seat.
Slowly Brian realizes Allison has been typing on her phone this whole time. Even he expects that he’d be the first person to write the essay, so his curiosity is piqued. “What’cha writing?”
Allison glares at him from under her hair. “Nothing!” She hasn’t stopped typing.
“Oh, okay. Sorry.” Brian recoils at the rejection.
Bender grabs his moment. “You want to know what she’s writing?”
Seeing the look barely visible on Allison’s face as she types faster, Brian isn’t so sure. “Uhh….”
“Little missy there is an au-thor.” Bender ends the sentence in sing-song. “Hard to say what she’s working on now, but it’ll probably go great in her creepy fanfic collection. What are we looking at today, Allison? The sexiest of the Dark Arts? A tasty little bit of Hannibal?”
“Knock it off, Bender.” Brian sounds uncomfortable, as though he didn’t mean to say anything but couldn’t help himself.
That makes him the next target, as Bender goes around the room sharing the little private things he’s been digging out of everyone’s social media. Brian’s unrequited crush on his popular-girl lab partner. The existence of pictures of Andrew’s wrestling wardrobe malfunction. Ugly things Claire’s friends have said about her behind her back.
As they unite against him, Bender waves them off, saying it’s trivial to find almost anyone’s secrets online, which is why he doesn’t use social media. Then he hands them a peace offering: pictures of assistant principal Vernon with his male partner, posted to the partner’s Facebook page.
This takes their minds of themselves as they argue about sharing that information with their peers. There’s no doubt it’s interesting, particularly since it’s hidden. Then Allison, speaking in complete sentences for the first time in the movie, makes a passionate case for keeping Vernon’s secret because the town’s attitudes are backward and harmful. She shoots a meaningful look at Andrew, who has the grace to look abashed.
Andrew turns the focus back to Bender by saying he isn’t hiding anything by staying off social media. They don’t need to look online to figure out that he’s a criminal and a creep. Bender taunts Andrew, claiming Andrew couldn’t handle the things he hide. They argue until Bender makes the big revelation about his home life.
That ends the group conversation for a bit, but social bonding has occurred and the kids all interact in various ways as they drift apart then come back together for more revelations. Social media informs all these interactions.
Andrew laughs at a nerd joke on his phone, then says, “Never mind. That wasn’t really funny”, when he sees Brian look at him curiously.
Claire and Allison still experiment with makeup, but they both change their look when Allison shows Claire a cat eye tutorial on YouTube. They giggle together over how dramatic the results look in a high school bathroom.
Bender confesses to Claire that he’s found her poetry on Tumblr. In exchange, he offers her his poetry, also on Tumblr on the account he’d just claimed not to have. None of it’s any good, but that doesn’t stop them from making out.
Andrew reads some of Allison’s fanfic. He asks her why she paired certain characters, and she gives him a history of slash. He looks thoughtful and goes back to reading.
As the day draws to a close and the essay comes due, Brian shyly asks Allison to work on it with him. She shyly agrees, and we see the two of them argue good-naturedly with their heads together in front of one of the library computers.
We hear two voices instead of one for the closing voiceover. As the kids drift apart, we know they may not come back together face to face for a long time, if at all. Their future relationships won’t be what they were today.
It’s okay, though. As they’re driven away or walk home, we can see them with their heads down over their phones. They’ll always have text.