Ferris Bueller, You’re My Hero

John Hughes died a couple of weeks ago. Heart attack. That makes me feel old. That is, when one’s idols of their youth start to pop off from the things that killed our grandparents, that oly serves to remind us how old we’re all getting. That the chances of leaving that good-looking corpse gets slimmer and slimmer. I was thinking about how much (back in the 80s) John Hughes movies were, as they say nowadays, the shit. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty In Pink, even Some Kind of Wonderful — all classics of 80s teen cinema (and I must say much better in quality than Losin’ It, The Last American Virgin or The Joy of Sex. Yes, there is a movie that shares its title with the Alex Comfort sex manual). I remember when these movies were the hottest thing worth watching, that everybody had their favorite movie from which to cull movie quotes a plenty; “what’s happenin’ hot stuff?”, “you got my doobage?”, “what about prom?!?” “roll ’em up!”…. it goes on, and on. I decided, really because I had nothing better to do, to watch a John Hughes movie. I picked the 1986 Hughes flick, Ferris Bueller’s Day off. That movie, of course contains the sage advice from Ferris, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. The idea I guess, is that I’m supposed to learn the value of carpe dieming from a character that is still in high school. Personally, when I think back to how I was in high school, I remember that I was undre the delusion that I was smarter than the average bear. Thank God that I didn’t follow my own advice! Anyway, I was watching Ferris and co., when it suddenly hit me. Maybe it’s looking through the cynical eyes of someone past puberty, but I realized how horrible Ferris really was. I realized what self-indulgent jerks so many of Hughes’ characters really are! Here’s a taste: Farmer Ted is a date-rapist (he got Jake Ryan’s girlfriend, with Jake’s encouragement, no less, when she was drunk), Andy (Pretty In Pink) was a bitch, who in no way deserved Ducky, and the Griswolds were racists! These people were supposed to be like typical Americans. Yeah, I guess if you live in a world where amazingly enough, everybody is white, and the only minorities you encounter come right out of black acting school .I think, in retrospect, that John Hughes’ American teenager was about as real as Shermer, Illinois. But back to Ferris. I think, of all of Hughes’ main characters (with the possible exception of Kevin McAllister,the kid from Home Alone, who seems to know to set booby traps for intruders better than a seasoned Navy Seal), that Ferris Bueller is Hughes’ biggest selfish ass. Despite the fact that all the “sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads” all adore him and think he’s a “righteous dude”, Ferris, for my two bits, is an asshole. The whole day is devoted to his dicking off. For starters. He doesn’t care if everyone else has to go to school or to work “on a day like this”. Oh, no. It’s all about the fact that Ferris can’t be bothered by responsibility. That’s what other people (like his sister Jeanie) do. He needs a day off! Ferris doesn’t care when his BF Cameron tells him that he’s sick. Ferris doesn’t care about the fact that Cameron’s (seeming abusive) father would certainly kill him if his prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California gets messed up ( and we know that it does). To have his day off, Ferris is wholeheartedly willing to lie to his parents, and to his principal. He pulls his girlfriend out of class (thus depriving her of a day of learning) by faking her grandmother’s death, humiliates a maitre d’ at the restaurant to prove his superiority, and eventually (in a all-eyes-on-me move) commandeers a German Day Parade float. The only time that Ferris shows any kind of remorse for what he does is when he feigns regret so that he can further exploit other people. Now, either Ferris manifests some sort of sociopathic personality disorder (mainly an extrene case of narcissistic personality) or, since I am a philosopher, and neither qualified nor willing to render a psychiatric diagnosis (especially for a character who does not exist), I’m more willing to say that Ferris is an egoist. Egoism, bare boned, is the idea that everyone ought to look after his own interests. This is because we are unable to know anyone else’s needs or motivations. We only really know what we need or what motivates us. Therefore, the egoist says, not only are we restricted to seeing the world from our own point of view, but that (because of this fact) we are morally obligated to act in a manner that benefits ourselves. Happiness is achieved when one acts according to his own rational interests. In short short, egoists practice Kirk’s inversion of Vulcan logic, in that an egoist, like Kirk, believes that the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. But enough Star Trek. The egoist is concerned about others in so far as his concern for others contributes to his own happiness. For example, I give to charity. Sure, I help the poor, but what I really want is pats on the back, maybe some civic award, a chance to meet the president, whatever. The point is,, is the fact that the less fortunate got some help was a bi-product of my wanting to be the center of attention. So when Ferris says to Cameron that the day was really for him, we know that Cameron’s good day was a fortunate consequence to Ferris’ egoist act. It seems that, since the day ended pretty good for everyone (well, Principal Rooney looked like he wasn’t going to enjoy that bus ride), what’s the harm in being selfish, so long as you don’t hurt anybody? The people at school adore Ferris. Their lives are made better by the fact that he exists ( remember, they take up a collection to help him recover from his illness). Cameron finally gets the courage to stand up to his father. That’s good, right? After all, being self-centered is a natural psychological disposition. Spend an afternoon with a chilod under 6 and it’s fairly easy to see that this is the case. Being self- centered, from time to time, does is good. It’s a survival machanism. So, if at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, everyone is happy (especially Ferris — and it is important that Ferris is happy), no harm no foul right? In a way, Ferris is a typical example of an egoist character. In many ways, he’s not unlike Howard Roark, the protagoinist of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. In her description of Roarke, Rand writes: “He is not militant or defiant about his utter selfishness… He has a quiet, irrevocable calm of an iron conviction. No dramatics, no hysteria, no sensitiveness about it – because there are no doubts… A quick, sharp mind, courageous and not afraid to be hurt, has long since grasped and understood completely that the world is not what he is and just exactly what the world is… He will be himself at any cost – the only thing he really wants of life. And, deep inside of him, he knows that he has the ability to win the right to be himself”. Not only is Ferris an egoist, apparently, he’s an Randian Objectivist. I don’t know if this is what John Hughes had in mind when he created Ferris Bueller. I suspect that he did not. But, Ferris is a character who we see does not back down — he lives his life on his own terms. This is why we like Ferris. This is why all the “sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts,” etal. adore him. We know that, deep down, we are Camerons, living a life that Thoreau said is lived in “quiet desperation”, needing our Ferris to come to tell us that there is a lfe out there that we are missing. Hughes said that Ferris isn’t “labored with all the difficulties that everyone else is”. We know that because Jeanine, Ferris’ sister, says that he “gets away” with everything. Ferris is a self-defined man who does not allow the obstacle of other people get in his way. Rand describes 3 fundamental values of man: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. Co-star Ben Stein described Ferris as having an “inner mobility” and “inner sense of freedom and self-confidence”. Stein’s description also falls in line with Rand’s values. Ferris, is as Rand’s ethics describes, a man who lives for his own sake — is an end onto himself. The achievement of his happiness is his greates moral purpose in life. Ben Stein claims, however, that Ferris is not in it for himself. He is a great friend, Stein says, because he helps Cameron to liberate himself. I say this may be true, but as an egoist is sure to point out, Cameron’s liberation is but a happy accident. A smart egoist knows that he cannot and should not prance about waving his egoism in everyone’s faces (mostly for fear of being mistaken for an egotist, which is another individual altogether). Ferris, like many egoists, is very clever. Brian Medlin says that egoism has one, big problem — namely that it is self-defeating. The only way that one can be a successful egoist is if one is closeted about it. Doing so supposedly also undermines egoism, as a good moral theory is one that we should be able to make public. Medlin writes, ” what is he when he urges upon his audience that they should observe his own interests and those alone? Is he not acting contrary to the egoist principle? It cannot be to his advantage to convince them, for seizing always their own advantage they will impair his”. So, if Medlin is correct, Ferris could not ring up Cameron and say, ” hey Cam, as an egoist, I’m going to tke the day off. I’m going to spend the entire day devoted to pleasing me, and I’m going to exploit you and Sloane along the way. Wanna come along? By the way, bring your dad’s car”. This would not work, Medlin claims, because no one wants to live in a world where people only look after themselves. (And therefore, we toss out egoism). But, the key is is that exploiting others doesn’t always mean that they are harmed. Really. Especially if you keep it a secret that that is what you are doing. So when Ferris borrows Cameron’s pop’s car, it’s outwardly for Sloane. When Ferris humiliates the maitre d’, it’s because he’s putting a snooty butthole in his place. When Ferris lip-syncs to “Twist and Shout” on the float, he’s showing Cameron something good that day. The fact that Ferris was Ferris’ main motivation didn’t mean that others had to get hurt. Medlin and other haters tend to act as if being an egoist means that you’re somewhere near the Marquis de Sade in how you treat others. Not so. The trick is that you don’t go waving your egoist banner everywhere. If you have to tell other people that you’re a Kantian, so be it. Just as longs as everyone (especially you) is happy. If you are successful, you can get exactly what you want, while everyone else thinks you’re a righteous dude. All it takes it a little bit of obfuscation. And because no one admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy. Especially Ferris. BTW: anyone get the feeling that Cameron didn’t show the next day at school? or the next… or the next….

2 thoughts on “Ferris Bueller, You’re My Hero

  1. As funny as that scene with the Ferrari was with Cameron kicking the shit out of his dads car, we all know his dad probably shot him for it.

    • We imagine that Morris Frye (Cameron said his dad’s name was Morris, didn’t he?) strangled Cameron. Maybe with some headlock and/or people’s elbow action.

      But yeah. We all know Cameron was never seen again.



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