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Don't you forget about me: How '80s films shaped the teen movie genre

The cover of
The cover of "Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies" by Kevin Smokler.
Courtesy Rare Bird Books, A Vireo Book

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When most people of a certain age think of the '80s, music probably comes to mind first. Groups such as Duran Duran and The Cur shaped the soundtrack to a lot of memories.

However, just as important to the era were the movies. Films like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Breakfast Club" helped define the decade.  

It's a time that Kevin Smokler wrote about in his new book "Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies."

Arguably the pied piper of the '80s teen movie is John Hughes. His credits include "Sixteen Candles,"  "Pretty in Pink" and "Weird Science," just to name few. 

Smokler spoke with A Martinez and talked about how Hughes was always fascinated with the stories of teen life in America, so much so that he created his own little "Hughes-iverse".

Interview Highlights

Teens move to the forefront

"He was fascinated by the stories of young people as not particularly unique but as this sort of universal phase we all go through in life. And that is really what we have John Hughes to thank for, is moving adolescence to the same place of primacy in the human story as childhood or adulthood."

The "Hughes-iverse"

"To me the 'Hughes-iverse' as Kevin Smith called it, is an obviously white upper middle class, largely, Midwestern suburban universe mostly composed of good kids trying to do the right thing. It is a place of fable not a place of realism. John Hughes was in the business of making fables about teenagers, not documentaries about teenagers...

At its worst, the John Hughes-iverse was very small and myopic and you could not see your own story in there and you wondered, even if you felt like you were leading a typical teenage life when you first saw those movies,  why you weren't included."

How did the 1984 Olympics shape teen movies in the era?

"The '84 Olympics has this weird checkered history of being a high point for Los Angeles, depending on who you ask, and being a real symptom of class and race unfairness and prejudice at the same time. 

...A disproportionate number of the teen movies that were self-consciously set in Los Angeles at this time are about class divisions, are about kids caught on the wrong side of a slippery wall of money and class that they can't seem to climb over. The obvious examples are movies like "Valley Girl" and "Karate Kid" but also "Pretty in Pink" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Stand and Deliver." It is fascinating to me that...without meaning to or even knowing it, this small sect of movies at the time had a greater insight into what was going on with the citizenry of Los Angeles than the public image Los Angeles projected of itself during the '84 Olympics..."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.