So who, exactly, is the audience for The Breakfast Club?
The "Children of the Eighties" are those born after the Baby Boom, but before the Babies-on-Board 1980s, between 1961 and 1981 (Howe 12). We've alternately been tagged "Generation X," "Baby Busters," "Computer Babies," the "New Lost," "Tuned-Out," "Blank," "Numb," "Nowhere," "Boomerang," "Doofus," or "MTV" generation. The newest wave of Pepsi commercials aimed to tear us away from their rival, the pick of Boomers ("I'd like to teach the world to sing . . .") and little kids (those cute polar bears), proclaims Pepsi to be the choice of "Generation Next." Not much better, if you ask me: Perpetually next in line just waiting a turn that will never come because we'll always be "next"? Next-best-thing? It's just a series of ads, but that what we feed on, right? Or so the characterization goes. We're a generation a terminally bad image. We get no respect because everyone has already heard about sagging test scores, rising violence, sexually transmitted diseases, the declining job market and the fact that this generation will be less well off than those which came before. But the auditions for generational press agent have begun in earnest since the early 1990s, when the eldest of our ranks began to turn 30.
In 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, set out to define--and to help their fellow Baby Boomers and elders understand--the generation of Americans they call the "Thirteenth." We are, after all, the thirteenth generation to know the American nation, flag, and Constitution. But there are also the connotations that come with such an "unlucky" number. It is "a gauntlet, a challenge, an obstacle to overcome," perhaps eerily fitting for all that with which this generation has been charged. Geoffrey T. Holtz, himself a member, labels Americans born between 1960 and 1980 "The Free Generation": "Free" because of the liberation of choices available to us; "free" of a defining, catalytic event or experience (like a great big war); "free" as in "free spirit"-uninhibited; but also "free" in the sense of rootlessness and "free" in the sense of extra, loose or spare-in a society that "has long found us somewhat superfluous, if not bewildering or outright inscrutable" (Holtz 3). There is an irony in the moniker "The Free," as our generation sees its prospects for education, jobs, and a standard of living comparable to our parents-the very tools which allow us to exercise free will-slipping away. Holtz acknowledges that "to call us 'the Free' may seem a cruel joke," but does so nonetheless. I could live with "13th," or perhaps the more problematic "Free," or even use the seemingly ubiquitous "Generation X." But I hate to endorse what is merely tolerable. So for the sake of this project, without attempting to argue for a lasting identification, I will refer to us all as Breakfast Clubbers.
Like Holtz, other Clubbers have also spoken out: novelist Douglas Coupland, who coined the "X" tag; Bret Easton Ellis; Nancy Smith; Naomi Wolf; Elizabeth Wurtzel; Stephen Beachy; Paul Beatty; Ian Williams, who "crashed" 13th Gen for Howe and Strauss'; and Eric Liu. These spokesmen and women-although they "do not pretend, singly or collectively, to be the 'voice of the generation'"-have contributed to our understanding of the experiences of growing up in the Breakfast Club, writing in magazines and journals and collections like Next: Young American Writers on the New Generation (1994, before the Pepsi commercials), edited by Liu (vii). They illustrate that we're a bunch of street-smart survivalists, cautious of the grandiose, and individualistic almost to a fault-we can't even come to a consensus on a name. We're pragmatic and realistic, too, though. No one wants to be defined but it's inevitable, so we have striven to do so for ourselves rather than accept the largely negative image projected by our elders.
Unlike the Boomers, whose outbursts have been characterized as proactive, pieces of a widespread movement to create a new and better society, the deeds (and misdeeds) of the Breakfast Clubbers are defined as responsive, even reactionary. Even sympathetic portraits can connote negative responses by removing personal responsibility and "explaining away" behavior as "a manifestation of the frustration and alienation felt by a disenfranchised and economically manipulated group" (Cote xv). We all reflect the world in which we grew up and our choices may be limited, but few Clubbers would accept this sociological explanation. For within our limited range we do make our own choices and, despite our elders' sentiment otherwise, we claim personal responsibility. We have a track record of looking after ourselves which lends a great impetus toward accountability and consequences. Howe and Strauss describe the 13er: "He rejects the therapeutic ethos under which he was raised, in favor of an ethos of personal determinism that requires each individual to take responsibility for his own condition" (31). Holtz stresses that "the Free Generation" long ago learned that exercising free will brings tremendous responsibilities (4).
We may find and sometimes even revel in the faults of our forefathers and the system they have created, but in the end we own up to our reactions to and actions against it, rather than simply laying blame. In The Breakfast Club, Andrew explains that the reason he is in detention is that he "taped [another student's] buns together," an action he links to his father's constant pressure to be a macho wrestling champion. But he does not say, "my father made me do it." We see rather that he accepts his own decision to act in the manner his father proscribes, rather than to stand on his own. He alone shoulders the burden of guilt for his behavior; he knows his own faults as well as those of his father.
The truths we find in The Breakfast Club are not always pleasant, but the are compelling. The film has retained its power and cultural significance because its not just another teen movie.