So I was listening to a podcast, as I often do, when I heard something that piqued my interest. Someone was talking about a segment on a recent episode of This American Life (a radio show/podcast that I once half-ass gave a try and was slightly bored by) in which Molly Ringwald watched The Breakfast Club with her 10-year-old daughter and then recorded the conversation they had afterward about what the girl thought of the movie.
As someone who grew up watching the edited-for-TV version of the film that was on WGN seemingly every Saturday afternoon, I found that fascinating and immediately found the episode and listened to it. I was not disappointed.
You can check it out here. Scroll to the bottom to hear just the Ringwald segment. There’s a brief, unrelated anecdote at the beginning but it’s only like 2 minutes long.
For me, there’s nothing more interesting than human behavior and interaction. There are so many variables that affect what you’re trying to communicate to someone and the way that person takes in what you’re saying. Your tone, your history with them, gestures and facial expressions, the issue your discussing itself. It’s such a crap shoot that I’m kind of amazed we’re able to continue as a society, though some would say we’re not doing so hot at that.
I would. I’d say that. I’m saying that. We’re not doing so hot at this whole society thing. But I digest…
So if you’re too busy with your own meaningless comings and goings to listen to 20 minutes of fascinating audio, I’ll step up and tell you about it. ‘Cause I can be your hero baby. I can kiss away the pain.
The segment consists mainly of an interview with Ringwald discussing the experience she had watching the film with her daughter with a few audio snippets of the conversation they had after.
Most of the obvious aspects of watching a coming-of-age story with your pre-teen daughter are touched on. The fact that the girl, Matilda, wanted to watch it because all her friends had seen it (probably unedited via online streaming as opposed to my experience). How Ringwald would handle her daughter watching her smoke pot on-screen. Hoping that all of the teen angst toward the character’s parents would make her own child think that her parents aren’t so bad. Diciest of all, what about that “have you or haven’t you/answer the question, Claire” sex talk scene?
Getting to experience something like that as an actor or actress, to share what you did with your children must be amazing. I don’t intend to have children but the idea of having a son and getting to sit him down and watch The Breakfast Club with him for his first time gets me as close as I’m gonna get to wanting to spread my defective seed. I’m rarely, almost never ever ever jealous of my friends who have kids but this idea? I’m a little jealous.
And what a fantastic learning tool for a parent to have! To be able to say, “Here’s a collection of typically insecure kids in this movie. Do you feel like you understand what any of them are going through?” I’m certainly no kid expert but I know that getting one of them to talk openly and honestly about their feelings is nearly impossible, especially if you’re the parent.
What interested me the most, and ultimately led me to wanting to write about this, was the way Molly the mom reacted to Matilda the daughter’s answer, and in turn how Matilda the daughter was affected by Molly the mom’s response.
You can hear the tone in Molly’s voice as soon as Matilda answers, rather tentatively, that she related most to Brian, Anthony Michael Hall’s studious character who was privately crumbling under the academic pressure his parents put on him.
“You kinda feel like Brian,” she asks, her voice raising to a slightly higher register when she says the name.
It’s relatively subtle but I’m kind of obsessed with dissecting how people communicate so I noticed it immediately.
A few weeks ago I was at work and found myself in the unenviable position of having to deal with another human being. Shit luck, that. A female customer, pleasant enough in appearance and demeanor, caught me in the grocery section and asked if I knew where the vinegar would be. As you know I participate in my job as little as possible so I in fact do not know where the vinegar would be.
But as I instinctively reached for my radio to ask this question of my coworkers who would know, I stopped and thought, “You know, we have a ‘baking aisle’ which contains the flour and sugar and things of that nature. Maybe there’s a good chance vinegar would be there.”
As we entered the baking aisle I saw that there were some clear jugs of some sort of liquid about halfway down the aisle and I hope-guessed that “maybe the vinegar is around there?” Keep in mind I didn’t say that and immediately take off as if that was the extent of the service I was going to provide. I continued walking with her toward that area and as we approached those bottles of what turned out to be cooking oil she said, “By the oils?”
Her voice went up on oils just like Ringwald’s voice went up on “You kinda feel like…Brian? The thing about kids is that as stupid and awful as they are, they’re super-sensitive to that kind of thing. Especially from adults.
As I was writing this I actually thought, “Should I look up how Matilda is spelled?” I like accuracy and you never know with names, especially with these Hollywood types. I decided the effort wasn’t worth it. I mean, how many different ways are there to spell Matilda? Well I found the transcript of the segment and OF COURSE it’s Mathilda! Gotta have that ‘h’ in there! Gotta be unique. Who knows, maybe it’s a family name.
“It’s a fat girl’s name.”
Nobody asked you, Bender!
So I’m not gonna go back and change all of the Matilda’s to Mathilda’s but I guess I can spell it correctly from here. I guess.
Anyway, so she says “You kinda feel like Brian,” and you can immediately feel the kid start to pull back.
“I do…kind of,” she says, trailing off to the point where I wouldn’t have even known she said “kind of” had I not found the transcript. It doesn’t help that the mom doesn’t even let her finish the sentence before asking a completely inane question.
“He’s really sweet, isn’t he,” she talks over her daughter.
“He’s really sweet, isn’t he? To reiterate, I’m not doing this to bash Molly Ringwald. It’s just SUCH a classic parental mindset. You so think/hope that your kid’s life is perfect and happy in every way and when confronted with the idea that inevitably it’s not, you automatically get defensive. You take it personally. And you should take it personally because it’s probably your fault. But that’s the thing: it’s your fault because there’s no such thing as the perfect parent. You’re bound to screw up your kid in some way.
Have you ever met a perfect human being? Of course not. That doesn’t exist because everybody’s got some issues and everybody’s got some issues because everybody that came before them had some issues. There’s never been a perfect parent and yet you’re all still egotistical enough to think maybe you’ll be the first. You idiot. The best you can hope for is to not screw your kid up too much. Again, understand that’s not a slam. It’s just reality.
“He’s really sweet isn’t he?” Yeah, your daughter identifies with Brian because he’s really sweet. She was watching this film and the whole time she was thinking, ” Wow, that guy is really sweet, just like me. I really identify with him because we’re both so sweet!” Very likely.
In response, daughter says, “I know, but you kind of, like, sometimes pressure me in school.”
It’s almost painful how unsure she is but that seems to be how most kids are. At that age you’re probably close to developing some independence but when you’re 10 your parents are still everything right? You’re entire world. How could you ever question them or believe you have a right to your own ideas? Ironically you think they’re perfect just like they convince themselves you are. The difference being you’re 10 and have no way to know better.
You kind of, like, sometimes pressure me in school.
And now we pretty much come off the rails here. Now, the transcript says, “Wait, you think I pressure you,” but the reality is it’s more like, “Wait…you think I…I pressure you?”
Here’s what I hear:
Whoa whoa WHOA!
ME?! I pressure you?!?!?! You think I do that? I do that?! What?!
I know I keep repeating myself but I feel like because I’m usually coming from a place of intense intense white hot hatred for people that you’re going to think I’m saying this person is a terrible mother and I could do such a better job parenting. Not my point at all. She’s not a terrible mom. She’s just a mom and sometimes moms are gonna be terrible. I don’t know that I could do better myself. Patience is not my strong suit. Really, patience isn’t even a suit I have in my closet. One of the reasons I choose to not have kids.
So at this point even a 10-year-old can see that her statement is basically being challenged. We’ve gone from a more subtle change in tone to blatant calling into question. An ideal response in that situation would seem to be a gentle, “Okay, talk about that,” and even then a 10-year-old might put up walls. It’s a crap shoot. That’s why it’s so interesting.
Naturally the kid goes into damage control mode immediately.
“No, but barely. Like–”
And finally, just straight up parental denial sets in.
“Wow! Really?” She actually says, interrupting again. Then she laughed in a way that to me sounded like an adult realizing she’s taking offense at something a child is saying and realizing how silly and childish that is. From here it just turns into a mess so I’ll just spell it all out.
No! Not any more! No! I take that back.
Wait, wait, wait. Wait, no, no, no, no. No, tell me. Tell me. Oh, hey!
Yep, mom handled the situation so deftly that she made her daughter cry. Holy cannoli.
Hey! No, it’s OK.
No, it isn’t!
No, no, no. Sweetie– it’s OK!
I’m just– I’m just surprised.
But I told you barely!
Just barely, like a little bit?
OK. Well, you know what? That’s really good for me to know. I had no idea. Like, when did I make you feel like that?
Well, you kept on saying, like, I wish I did better in school.
Oh, because I said that I wish I did better in school?
Yeah, and like you wanted me to do good.
Oh. I’m sorry I made you feel that way.
But you don’t anymore.
And that was the end of the audio. You know, by the time the kid is crying there’s not really anything you can do and all of the “No it’s ok, tell me’s” are just too little too late. “It’s ok, tell me” is where you start.
Back in the interview, Ringwald says she was so surprised and not expecting that response at all. She then proceeds to describe what she calls the “homework battle” that used to go on when she tried to get her kid to do her work and because of that she doesn’t help with homework anymore. So almost in the same breath she says she was so surprised that her daughter felt any academic pressure and then talks about the knockdown drag outs they’ve had over homework. You know the longer this goes on the more I kinda do start blaming her. She really doesn’t come off great here.
She also goes on to tell a story about her own mother which maybe sheds some light on why she handled this situation the way she did, but the part where she made her kid cry is the most compelling to me so if you wanna hear that story just go listen to the fucking thing. God!
This has been July 6, 2014.
This concludes our broadcast day. *click*