John Hughes is one of the most beloved filmmakers of the all-time – in fact, he’s the 80s auteur of teenage angst.
I’ve seen each and every one of Hughes’ films more than once (OK, a lot more than once) and I’ll continue watching them from here until my end.
But I have a confession to make – as much as I love Hughes’ films, the way he treats love is very troubling (sometimes it’s darn right horrifying).
It’s because of this that I must caution romance seekers against using his films as a guide for lovers. Instead, I recommend that you watch his films with one thing kept in the back of your mind – John Hughes offers truly terrible relationship advice.
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Sixteen Candles: John Hughes advises against consent
Released in 1984, Sixteen Candles is John Hughes’ directorial debut. It marked his name as a specialist of coming-of-age rom-coms, with the film’s protagonists caught in a tangled love web. But hidden beneath the VHS-tinged nostalgia is some troubling advice – that consent in relationships isn’t necessary.
The premise of Sixteen Candles is simple – our heroine, Samantha “Sam” Baker, turns 16 and has to live through the drama this brings to her relationships. Some of the drama is avoidable (her family forgetting her birthday), and some is unavoidable (Sam’s crush on the school heartthrob, Jake Ryan). But there’s no drama in Hughes’ treatment of consent in relationships – at least not on screen.
While there are a number of moments where the issue of consent is raised, the key one comes when Jake consents to his girlfriend, Caroline, to be taken away by the Geek. Caroline is blind drunk and unconscious, she neither gives her consent to the Geek nor is in a position to offer it – in essence, Jake has given his approval to the Geek to do as he wishes (I don’t have to spell out why this is so troubling).
So, how could Hughes have tackled the issue of consent in Sixteen Candles? By pointing out that instead of aggressively hunting for love, you should engage in consensual courtship. It’s why real-life love coaches like Orion’s Method advise that you allow love to come to you and when it does you know that it’s because you and your partner exude mutual interest.
The Breakfast Club: John Hughes advises forced interaction
So much of the ground covered in John Hughes’ films concerns rites of passage (it’s why I’ve already mentioned it once in this article) – there’s your sweet sixteen, first serious partner, maiden detention, and lots more. But with The Breakfast Club, Hughes created a rite of passage himself – you simply cannot finish high school without seeing it.
But while there’s so much to enjoy about The Breakfast Club, there’s one bit of relationship advice in Hughes’ finest film that really shouldn’t be taken to heart – that forced interaction leads to romance.
The plot to The Breakfast Club is borderline kindergarten in its complexity – five students are made to spend a Saturday together in the same room because they’re all on detention. What unfolds is the development from mutual dislike to camaraderie and even romance – all because our five heroes were made to spend time together against their will.
So, how would I advise people to tackle the issue of interaction in romance? Change the dynamic that Hughes uses to bring people together. Instead of forcing interaction with a person you may have a romantic interest in, make the effort. This brings us back to the importance of exuding interest – The real-life love guide Nick Notas advises that you create an opportunity for mutual romance to blossom. You can do this by building up the confidence to ask them and by doing this you start without the honesty that a relationship needs to be healthy.
While I’ve picked just two of John Hughes’ films to highlight the poor relationship advice given by the darling of 80s teen cinema, there are lessons across his entire catalog – Weird Science advises that love can be invented (it can’t), while Ferris Bueller’s Day Off suggests that deceit is a healthy shared interest in relationships (it’s not).
The reason that Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club offer such clear examples of why you shouldn’t get your relationship advice from Hughes is that they teach the same lesson – that love is a natural situation that two people want to happen, not one where a single party who engineers a situation that tricks, persuades or coerces another into something they don’t really desire.