Vale John Hughes, nerd with 1000 faces

By Nate Cochrane on Aug 7, 2009 4:40 PM
Filed under Software

Obituary: To whom will geeks turn to have their stories told?

Today Australians woke to the news of distributed denial of service attacks on social networking sites such as Twitter and the death by heart attack of 59-year-old Hollywood filmmaker, John Hughes.

Twitter is back on its feet as I write this and it's a good thing; because it would have been a travesty if generation X lost this medium to mourn a man who helped define our world view.

Hughes passed away last night Australian time while walking through Manhattan, New York City, his spokesman said.

It's a testament of sorts to his lasting appeal that while many other films from the time are only found in bargain bins, Hughes' were quickly translated to formats such as Blu-ray and are on constant rotation on peer-to-peer filesharing sites.

Hughes' films such as The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Pretty in Pink (1986) and Home Alone (1990) made heroes of nerds, geeks and outsiders in an era that celebrated the popular, powerful and rich.

Many of his heroes were nerds and geeks but their struggles to find their way made them cool.

For instance, in one of Hughes best-known films Ferris Bueller concocted an elaborate ruse to take him, his girlfriend, Sloane, and best friend, Cameron, on a last great blowout before their lives changed forever and they graduated.

Bueller's hacking into his school mainframe to change his grades and use of mostly analogue technologies to cover his absence, to fool his parental units and forestall principal Rooney who displayed an almost Terminator-esque determination to spoil the kids' fun was an inspiration to many teen nerds struggling with the "childishness" of school.

And Bueller was one of the most notable "cool" nerds on the silver screen to that time, as Rooney's assistant, Grace said: "He's very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude." Of course, most of these social groups were on the fringes of '80s American school society: no cheerleaders or preppies (other than Sloane) were among Bueller's disciples.

But it wasn't the first time Hughes had lionised the role of the outsider-nerd in society. His film the previous year, Weird Science, showed two computer geeks using CAD/CAM drawing software to design their ultimate woman in the form of pouting Kelly LeBrock.

Even his later films such as Home Alone, which never attained critical praise, had seeds of this earlier desire to elevate the outsider in all of us. Who can forget the amazing booby traps that Kevin McCallister, abandoned by his family in their rush to go on holiday, used to foil the robbers' efforts?

Kevin went from what his sister, Linnie, delightfully called "les incompetents" to a gadgeteer who could gain an internship in Q's laboratory.

There's evidence that Hughes' vision came from deep, inner feelings of being on the outer when he was growing up in Northbrook, Illinois, the setting for many of his films.

It is perhaps a paradox that it took a baby boomer to give voice to the nerds of later generations and an indication that there's less difference between us than we think.

Share your favourite moments and quotes from Hughes' films in our comments below.

 
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