The Breakfast Club is a film detailing a Saturday detention involving five very different students who are forced into each other’s company and share their stories. All the students are deviant in their own way and eventually are able to look past their differences and become friends. The film also offers detailed observations of social status, the different aspects of identity formation, social sanctions, and the three different sociological perspectives.
The first concept seen in the film is an issue of status, which is a ranking of person with in society, which could either be ascribed, achieved or a master status. Each of the characters is associated with an ascribed status at the start of the film. For example, Allison is known as a basket case and liar, while Andy is seen as a jock and bully, John is characterized as a criminal and failure, Brian is known as a “geek” and people pleaser, and Claire is seen as a spoiled and conceited princess. They have based their being on social interactions and the culture surrounding the students has dictated the role that each person should play. In the beginning of the film it appears they are content with the social status they each represent. For example, Claire and Andy acknowledge they are in the same upper social standing by sitting at the same table in the library, while all other students sit alone.
Apparent in the film is that each of these characters are at or going through different stages of identity formation. Identity formation being the natural process all adolescents proceed through; moratorium, diffusion, foreclosure and achievement. Brian and Andy in foreclosure, Claire in achievement, John diffusion and Allison in moratorium. Yet, given their actions, I would argue that each is in moratorium and has not settled on their true identity and this is expressed through their deviant behavior. A deviant is a person who breaks significant societal or group norms. Each character is seen as deviant by either their actions which placed them in detention and or certain acts they perform during the detention. For instance, Allison is a thief and steals Brian’s wallet during the detention and also comes to detention without even being in trouble. Claire is deviant in the way she skips school to go shopping and enters a relationship with John during the detention. Andy is deviant when he smokes the marijuana because he is a varsity athlete. Brian is deviant when he brings a flare gun to school in order to commit suicide and John is constantly deviant in the ways he is not involved in school activities, challenges Principal Vernon, and destroys school property. Clearly they are struggling with their identities.
Another principle observed in the film is social sanctions, or rewards or punishments that encourage conformity to social norms. This is seen when the students cover for John when he snuck back into the library and also in the way Vernon threatens the addition of more Saturday detentions to control the students’ actions. Similar to this is peer pressure. In the film peer pressure is used to encourage both positive (when behavior over conforms to expectations) and negative (when behavior under conforms to expectations) deviance. An example of negative deviance encouraged through peer pressure is when John convinces everyone else to smoke pot with him. An example of positive deviance would be in the way Brian tries so hard to please people, especially his parents. This can be seen in the way he is driven to suicide because he is failing a class and the way he offers to write the essay for everyone at the end of the detention because he is “the smartest”.
Finally, the three sociological perspectives can be seen. Functionalist can be observed in the way the Saturday detention serves the community both manifestly and latently. The manifest function is to punish the students for misbehaving in school, while the latent function is to use Saturday school to main a sense of control for the school. Ultimately the dysfunction results in the students becoming friends and uniting to oppose Vernon. Conflict perspective is demonstrated in the way the conflict between the group members at first serves them positively in the end. This is because even though they are all different and from different groups and backgrounds they are all students and focus their energy against the school system. They appear to make a social shift; Allison changes her appearance to be more mainstream, Claire shows her rebellious side, and Bender shows his emotions while spending time with Claire. If even just for the day, the students become conditioned to the environment they are and establish new roles. They morph into the people they would truly be if culture and society had not dictated who they should be
In the end, they are able to offer different points of view on situations and share feelings and stories that eventually help each other deal with their individual problems. The symbolic perspective is seen through the essay at the conclusion of the film. Brian states in the essay that they are all a little bit of everything in the end. They accept that they are all outcasts and weird and despite what Principal Vernon wants them to write, they refuse to associate themselves with a single group or labels and rather band together as one. .
Overall, The Breakfast Club demonstrates the effects of social status and identity formation on individuals. It also discusses several types behaviors based on excepted social norms and how we often rebel against them to achieve an identity or status. Eventually, they all become friends and help each other accept their differences and others’ differences, as well.