Goth Allison to Fantasy Allison:
Like, *How* Racist is The Breakfast Club?
by Mark Richardson
been bothering me for years now. The final few scenes of The Breakfast
Club. You know, where the five teenagers overcome their differences and
realise that they are all unique individuals and more than just
the silly labels they give themselves.
'Jock'. 'Princess'. 'Brain'. Et cetera. I mean, I know that's the way
it had to be - after all, if we didn't have the sugar-coated ending to
The Breakfast Club, then we might never have seen the nihilistic, Nietzschean
Noble versus the Slave ending of Heathers (which is clearly an attack
on the patronising position John Hughes often takes towards teenagers
at the end of his films). But what bothers me most is the treatment of
Ally Sheedy's character, Allison.
For a start, John Hughes doesn't seem to have the bottle to just be honest
and describe her as a Goth. Instead, her label (the one which under the
film's moral structure, she is required to overcome) is 'basketcase'.
I mean, how offensive is that!? Even worse, at the film's end we see her
transformed from a supposedly ugly 'basketcase' into a beautiful swan
of a princess. Gone are the dark clothes, unruly hair and Goth makeup:
in come the cheerleader sweater, the hair band and the blusher!
I believe that all Goths, Allison included,
suffer from more than a silly label - I see them as genuine victims of
racist ways of thinking. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues
that racism does not proceed from a clash of cultures or values but, in
fact, develops through a suspicion of the Other's enjoyment. The Other
might be a Jew, an Arab, a black person, Japanese - whoever: what is crucial
is the way in which the racist mistrusts the methods through which the
Other enjoys him or herself. For instance, people are often suspicious
of the workaholic culture amongst the Japanese or, to take an older example,
throughout the centuries, white people have often irrationally suspected
that black people have some kind of strange, privileged access to sexual
|Yet is this not the same weird way
of thinking affecting the way in which many people (even within supposedly-enlightened,
'indie' circles) view Goths? I remember I once arrived, purely by accident,
in a Goth nightclub. Confronted with the sight of various Morticias, Marilyns
and Scissorhands actually (shock! horror!) smiling and dancing, I immediately
identified the nature of my prejudice. To those on the outside looking in,
the pleasure the Goth takes in life is an unknowable X-factor.
The compelling twist in Zizek's argument is that he points out that when
the racist cannot fathom the X-factor in the Other's enjoyment, he or she
simply invents a fantasy to conceal the gap - 'I don't know how the asylum
seeker gains pleasure' says the racist. 'But I guess it must be pleasurable
to come here to Britain and rip off the hard-working taxpayer'. And it's
precisely this kind of thinking which can account for the attitude taken
towards Allison in The Breakfast Club.
Whereas 'normal' teenagers can relate to the idea of pleasure taken from
sexual desire, Allison says she enjoys paying her shrink for sex - which
is certainly an X-factor of sorts! And when she admits that this is a
lie, she suddenly, in the eyes of her peers, becomes a compulsive liar
who has the power to mess with their heads in some strange, privileged
By changing her physical appearance, the other teenagers turn Goth Allison
into Fantasy Allison, just as the racist turns the Genuine Asylum Seeker
into the Fantasy Asylum Seeker (who gets free cars and houses from the
social security without ever having to work and who, of course, does not
actually exist). 'Ah, yes, we know what you really want now - you want
a relationship with Emilio Estevez!'
And here is the film's greatest conceit: that the fantasy projected onto
Allison by the others is falsely positive, not (as it would be in real
life) negative - and it is this very flaw which reveals the film's insincerity.
Towards the end of the film, Molly Ringwald's character gets slated for
suggesting that on Monday, after a Saturday's detention in which they've
cast off all those silly labels, the group won't really be friends and
nothing will have changed. They shout at her and call her a 'bitch', to
which she replies: 'Why? Because I'm telling the truth?' The truth being,
of course, that we need to respect our differences. Not overcome them.
(With thanks to Alice BS Rooney for writing an AMP article on The Breakfast
Club's John Bender which, in turn, inspired this piece.)