Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Trickster

It started out innocently enough. I came across this post on PopDose today, and it reminded of me of the fact that I have an almost visceral reaction to the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. As in, I want to empty the contents of my stomach when I think about it. So I changed my Facebook status to "Dan is probably the only person on the planet that doesn't like Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I'm okay with that."

I did not realize that I was unintentionally igniting a controversy with those simple words. Comments on that status have ranged from stunned amazement to defenses of the film, as well as some people agreeing wholeheartedly with my assessment (special thanks to my brother for that - I fully expected him to be amazed at my dislike as well.) It is by far the most number of comments ANY status of mine has ever generated.

But I feel compelled to elaborate. The reason I dislike Ferris Bueller's Day Off is actually two-fold. Mostly, I can't STAND Ferris. I just want to punch his smug little face every time I see it. Perhaps the biggest reason Ferris annoys me so much is that his life is completely devoid of consequences. He does all this shit on his "day off" and fucking gets away with all of it. The law of "actions have consequences" does not apply to him. It's a teenage version of The Cat In The Hat, which Heidi has always had a bit of a problem with because the cat comes in and wreaks complete havoc and does everything that he's not supposed to and gets off scot free. Same thing with Ferris. His bad behavior is rewarded and celebrated.

The more complex reason is a bit more personal. There was a guy in my high school who pretty much WAS Ferris. He was one of those guys that was popular with a wide swath of people, was very visible in nearly every aspect of high school life and lapped up the attention that was the result of this. Earlier on in our life, we had been fairly good friends. But at some point in time, we grew apart and really didn't hang out anymore. It was probably in junior high that we stopped hanging out and, at that point, he found in me a great verbal punching bag. The fact that the insults came from someone I had been friends with made it even harder - this was someone who knew just how to get at me, even at that age. The incident that sticks out in my head the most was the day we had school pictures taken and he came up to me as I arrived at school and said "Hey Dan, can I borrow your shirt for nerd day?" It was also one of the milder ones.

What Ferris and this guy share is that they are both from the same archetype – The Trickster. In West African culture, it was the Anansi and Norse mythology had Loki. Perhaps the best and most direct modern day descendant of this concept in American folklore is Bugs Bunny. Robert Thompson of Syracuse University says "If you want to teach Folklore 101, and you need an example of a Trickster, Bugs Bunny is it. He defies authority. He goes against the rules. But he does it in a way that's often lovable, and that often results in good things for the culture at large." Perhaps this was what the writers of Ferris Bueller were going for. Perhaps that was why the guy I went to school with seemed so insanely popular. People love the Trickster, they want to be the Trickster and get away with insane shit that would normally have huge consequences. But for me, that is aggravating and annoying and when I look at Ferris’s shenanigans, all I can see are the people that are adversely affected by it, much like I was during my adolescence by my interactions with my own Trickster.

Because it is Hollywood, Ferris Bueller wraps up all neat and tidy. Ferris gets away with everything so it’s easy for me to hate him. Real life is never as simple. My Trickster never moved from my hometown and followed the trajectory to “local celebrity.” But my version of the story actually ends rather tragically, as he died several years ago from cancer. We had not seen each other in years, the last time being Christmas 1995 at Wal-Mart. I have this feeling that had I gotten to know the adult version of him, there's a possibility that I wouldn't have such hard feelings. That's not possible now, for he's frozen in time as that version of himself that was caught up in the circus of high school. But because of his premature death, even the act of being mad has been denied me.

Looking back on it now, as the one with the luxury of being alive and the ability to reflect on this, it's hard to know what the resolution is, if there is any. That's the thing about emotions - they frequently don't make sense and sure as hell don't always tickle. It's highly likely that I have put a lot of things that I don't know what to do with into my dislike of Ferris Bueller. That may not be fair, but it's what I have.

And even I didn't know all of this before I sat down to write it. Amazing how the things we think we know so well are often those things we understand the least.


Anonymous said...

Had I been in your high school, the Ferris Guy would have annoyed me, and I would have been trying to figure out a way to get your attention without freaking you out and sending you running. (I would have failed and just been too aggressive then, so it's good we waited until 1995.)

Love you, hon.

Anonymous said...

I have never read a more valid reason for hating a film than this. We like what we like and we don't what we don't. I have always had an aversion to most 'alpha male / dude' types in culture and in real life for similar reasons. Sounds like your Ferris was an idiot - funny how we are still affected by these people so long after the fact. P

Matt said...


I completely agree with your idea that Ferris represents the Trickster...but would also like to defend Ferris by pointing out that he had no malice. In fact, one of the most famous lines in the movie is spoken by the school secretary when explaining that Ferris is loved by all.

Wait...maybe I was the Trickster...

John said...

I have always referred to this movie as "movie of the Gods, movie to live by", but I think that a lot of that may be that I was much more Cameron than Ferris, and at 17, the vast majority of people want to be Ferris. More importantly, it becomes clear at the end of the movie that, while Ferris will get the glory, Cameron will probably have the more grounded life, and he'll be alright. That actually gave me some hope.

Having said all of that (and having resisted saying anything about the status), I completely see and understand where you're coming from.

Dan said...

What I'm finding amazing is that what is basically a "fluff" movie can provoke such profound reactions. I understand other people's reactions and respect them, just so long as people respect my reaction to it.

I recognize that I am in the minority on this one. When I was researching this topic a bit, I found that it is nearly universally referred to as "one of the most important comedies of the 80s."

My reaction toward Ferris probably also has roots in what I refer to as "my nonwayward youth." I did most everything I was supposed to, and the last thing I wanted to see what someone NOT doing that and having no consequences. It reminded me of what Roger Ebert said about the movie Annie - in that when he was a kid, he never liked movies about kids because he was always jealous. Maybe that's part of my issue.

Good discussion all around!