From Goth Allison to Fantasy Allison:
Like, *How* Racist is The Breakfast Club?
by Mark Richardson

It's 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 pleasure.

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 way.

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.)



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