I recently saw this post through a link from a high school friend on Facebook. Although I was simply scanning – not paying a lot of attention to the details of most of the entries – I had to read this one twice.
The first time, I was somewhat dubious of the author’s story. I mean, John Hughes’ pen pal? C’mon… When would HE have the time to write a little girl from nowhere? But something kept digging at me. And after a day of consideration, I decided to go back and read it again.
This was a post from a fan. Sure. But her genuine tone and the simplicity of the story built a defense that weighed more than the outrageous idea of a Hollywood powerhouse befriending a kid through hand-written letters. I realized this post went much further than a fan’s attachment to Hughes. It was a lesson in owning and having conviction in your personal brand, and building a compassionate community around it.
John Hughes built that community around his identification and cultivation of the mundane – teen life in the suburbs. And his commitment to his pen pal (his constituency) drove his decisions through his entire career – right up to his decision to leave the industry. (read the post, it’s powerful)
So, what’s my connection?
For me, Hughes meant a connection to the “real” world. I’d finally found verification and vindication that my “awkward years” weren’t actually so awkward.
Sure, my voice would go from basso profondo to soprano in a single syllable. And I couldn’t look at a girl below the neck without my palms sweating and needing to rush to the bathroom. But through his unique connection to our generation (only 10-years removed himself), Hughes made it all acceptable, if not expected.
So in 1984, when I walked into the halls of Herbert Hoover High School, I fully expected Anthony Michael Hall and the geek squad to welcome me at the urinals. And I also knew to expect that ass, James Spader, to be lurking ’round every corner (why did he always play a slime ball?). It was life for teens in the ’80s and made it okay.
John Hughes wrote A LOT of movies. Most of them were from the perspective of a teen struggling with self-assurance and social fears. He wrote about the trials kids went through to gain acceptance and maintain sanity at a time that seemed so simply insane. And he built the confidence of a generation with trust, compassion, relevance and, of course, humor. He even threw in some tears. Because what is adolescence without a tear or two.
Most of all, and illustrated by Alison Byrne Fields’ post (Twitter @abfdc), Hughes believed in his brand enough to let the fans (Allison, me and others) identify themselves as his characters. His brand was something to cherish, not for Hollywood, not even for himself, but for us.
And on a final note, in 1986 I took a young lady to a movie called “The Breakfast Club.” Nervously and somewhat sweaty, I sat next to her wondering if she even liked me – let alone enough to touch elbows across the theater seats or put my arm around her! And then, uber-clean, muscular, cool-as-hell Emelio Estevez walked onto the screen with the name “Andy” embroidered on his letter jacket. His character’s name was Andrew Clark.
Thanks John… for so much.
Andrew B. Clark (not the one from The Breakfast Club)
The Brand Chef
You can follow Allison’s Twitter accout at @abfdc.