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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Ferris Bueller heralded the rise of the cool geek

A few years ago I put together a list of my own personal top 100 films, those movies have been the most influential on my love of movies. I’ve just updated the list (see it here) with a few films from the early 2000s, but for the most part, the films on the list cluster in the 1980s and early 90s, because I’m a Generation Xer and that’s when my brain was in its most malleable, most warpable period. And because Xerness is in many ways synonymous with geekiness (as I’m attempting to chronicle at Geek Philosophy), many of these 100 films have come to be understood, in that telepathic way that pop culture seems to work among us Xers, as geek classics… and the ones that aren’t seen that way, well, I can connect them.

So, in no particular order, I’ll take a quick look back at the films on that list, one film each Wednesday. Today:

I was not Ferris. I was Cameron, with a touch of Ferris’s angry sister, Jeanie. We all were, most likely, those of us who saw this film as teenagers when it was new and hot and like a breath of revelatory fresh air. “High school sucks,” it told us, and in a way that we could understand, especially us unpopular geeks (for this was the era before geekiness was cool): You didn’t have to be a bad student, struggling to make good grades, to hate high school. You could be smart as hell, as Ferris clearly was, and still hate the stifling conformity and the mindless tedium and the wasting of gorgeous days sitting in stuffy classrooms listening to the droning of hopelessly inept teachers — “Bueller… Bueller… Anyone…? Anyone…?” — when you could be looking at great art.

Yeah, Ferris goes to an art museum when he cuts school. Okay, sure, he also scams a meal in an amazing restaurant and joy-rides in a fantastic sports car and hangs out at a ballgame, but all this just points to his well-roundedness. Ferris showed us the way to a coolness that did not eschew brains. It was the summer before my senior year of high school when Ferris was released, and we all, my peers and me, saw the possibilities of Ferris-ness. We wanted to be Ferris. If we already had been Ferris, the film would not have had the appeal that it did — but no one was Ferris then. Ferris was the shining beacon of geek chic, an ideal that we all aspired to… and then went ahead and invented for ourselves. Ferris asked for a car and got a computer and deemed that being born under a bad sign. We 80s geeks asked for computers and got them and deemed that being born under a good sign even though we knew we were big ol’ dorks for it… but then we started doing interesting stuff with those computers, things that, perhaps, Ferris would have approved of (videogames, bulletin boards, the Internet, etc). And in the process, we all made those dorky things cool, got everyone intrigued by them, and became the popular kids, much to our own amazement.

In the years immediately preceding Ferris, Xer movie hero John Hughes made The Breakfast Club and Weird Science and Sixteen Candles, where the heroes were geeks but in an environment where geeks were still dorks. With Ferris, Hughes invented a fantasy world in which geekiness was the pinnacle of cool, and accidentally helped make such a world come to pass.

[also posted on Film.com]

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