Or: Why it was totally fucking obvious that John Bender in John Hughes'
The Breakfast Club was a flaming homo (it just took us 15 years to notice)
For the alienated middle-class girl growing to womanhood in the early
1990s, there were some things that were assumed.
Few such chicks at the time would have dared argue with the conventional
wisdom that you could never be too glum, too fond of cider, or own too
many pairs of scuffed DM boots with multi-coloured laces.
And the greatest film in the canon of 20th Century cinema? If you don't
know that answer you were never an alienated teen, male or female - quite
obviously, that would be The Breakfast Club.
Equally obviously, it has to be stated
that you could not be a truly alientated girl-teen if you didn't feel
a somewhat masochistic urge to be humiliated by and then in turn to seduce
Judd Nelson in his guise as John Bender, the bad boy with the bleeding
The acid tongue, the Rottweiler puppy-dog eyes, the soft silky hair, not
to mention the easy access to vast amounts of evil illegal intoxicants:
John Bender had everything you wanted in a boy.
Though you knew deep inside that John Bender would rip your heart to pieces
like a textbook and then confuse you by weeping over the pages, you still
wanted to hang out with him in the car-park, and for it to be your earring
he proudly sported in his left earlobe.
Oh, to kiss John Bender on the neck whilst locked in a broom cupboard.
These are the things that Physics lesson daydreams are made of.
But watching The Breakfast Club last week for the first time in too many
years, something struck me. Something I'd never thought to notice before,
although it was staring me in the face throughout my adolescence. John
Bender was gay.
No, hear me out. First
of all, there's the name: John Bender. Well, there's
a semiotic signpost if ever there was one. How did we miss that little
Secondly, there is the undeniable fact that Bender was, to quote Molly
Ringwald, 'such a bitch'. How many straight men are actually
I don't mean to generalise, but hello! 'Does Barry Manilow know you raid
his wardrobe?' There are drag queens working guest-lists who would stilletto
you in the eye for a line that cutting.
The whole gay nostrils combined with macho don't-give-a-fuck thing is
also a dead giveaway. You see, Judd Nelson was a genius.
He knew that other, lesser actors would have taken the character John
Hughes gave him and, ignoring the narrative power of subtext, camped it
up horribly - maybe even going so far as to do the whole film in a Gaultier
dress and toting a cigarette holder.
So he went in the exact opposite direction and had Bender wear flannel
and sing Eric Clapton tunes. Thus the character simultaneously becomes
a satire on American masculinity and a touching window on the true nature
of keeping your essential personality hidden.
|In support of my argument,
I would like to again mention the nostrils. Those are not the nostrils of
a heterosexual man.
And the bit where he says to Emilio Estevez that he has such great admiration
for men who roll around on the floor with other men? Men wearing tights?
I think context demands that we replace the word 'admiration' with 'jealousy'.
I mean, methinks Bender doth protest way too much.
He so blatantly wants Emilio to knock him to the ground and tape his buns,
it's almost palpable. It's jumping out of the screen at you, for Christ's
Finally I'd like you to remember the scene where he's under the table looking
at Clarie's cunt. Doesn't he rather look as if it's the first time he's
ever been that close?
(Please note: I'm not saying that Judd Nelson himself is actually gay, although
I do think you'll find a similar thread of conflict running through his
portrayal of Alec in 'St Elmo's Fire'.
'No Springsteen is leaving this house?' Oh admit it, Alec - you just want
to keep the sleeve of Born to Run! You won't be listening to the actual
The essential subtext of Judd Nelson's
performance is not simply that Mr Bender Snr. is an evil asshole and that
consequently John has issues with authority.
Rather, Bender is gay as a hat and doesn't know how to deal with the horrifically
narrow-minded environs of the typical Chicago high school, except with
anger and disdain.
This is a performance dripping with homoerotic signfiers, the relevance
of which I cannot believe it has taken 15 years for anyone to pick up
Judd Nelson is, through the persona of John Bender, making a plea for
understanding and tolerance, exhibiting Bender's need for a space in which
he can be proud like a lion and free like a bird; a place where he can
wear tights and read Molliere without feeling shame and anger.
We know that one day John Bender will try out for a 'scholarsheee-ip'
- to the University of Gayness, specifically the Out and Proud campus,
a place where he can be the Bender he wants to be.
Jesus. I forgot to mention where he hides his doobage. I rest my case.
Alice BS Rooney