Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Commercial Break: Don’t You Forget About JC Penny

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 14, 2008

“Does Macy’s know that you raid their wardrobe?”

Weird as it is for me to see any sort of Back to School commercials during this, the first summer in probably something like 18 years that I’m not going back to any sort of school at all, this one was more than a little bit puzzling. The first time I saw it was on mute, when I wasn’t really paying attention, and at first the images were just vaguely familiar. That library–where had I seen it before? And those kids running in a group through the hallways…wait a minute, is that…? By the time it got to the synchronized dance sequence, there was no longer any sort of doubt–this was the latest in a long series of pop culture tributes to The Breakfast Club. But was it a preview for a remake? A parody advertizing some new TV show? Nope–just ads for JC Penny’s back to school line. No wonder the Judd Nelson character looked so pristinely ‘drobed.

My brother was so horrifically offended by this commercial that he actually called me (presumably drunk) to rant about it after seeing it the first time. Me, I wasn’t so much pissed off as I was bemused, and somewhat intrigued. After all, this yet another homage–one presumably aimed at teens–to a movie that no one currently under the age of 23 could possibly have been alive to witness. I mean, imagine if NBC tried to advertise for Friday Night Lights using ads based around scenes from Lucas, or if Barrack Obama’s ad campaigners tried to draw parallels between John McCain and Martin Sheen’s character in The Dead Zone. Yet The Breakfast Club, like no other 80s movie besides possibly Back to the Future, continues to endure not only in the public consciousness, but in the notoriously short-memory of youth culture.

Observe, for instance, this commercial poster for recent critical darling and possible sleeper hit documentary American Teen:

Pop culture acolytes will no doubt recognize this poster as being a recreation of the iconic Breakfast Club cover:

And my question about this phenomenon would have to be: Has it really been 23 years since we’ve produced a truly iconic high school movie? Why is it, that when ad execs wanna conjure collectively shared high school film memories, they still have to reach all the way back to 1985? What about all the classic teen movies released since then? Heathers? Dazed and Confused? Empire Records? Any of the class of 1999? Bring It On? Mean Girls? Superbad? All fine, well-loved, representative teen movies that you’d have to think would mean a little more to kids today then a movie that was released when Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” was on top of the chart? Yet none–not even Ten Things I Hate About You–have yet to even threaten The Breakfast Club‘s supreme status as the ultimate teen film.

I mean, I guess it’s sort of understandable. High school archetypes are high school archetypes, which never really change much (except for the clothes, anyway), and no movie boiled down high school archetypes to their barest essences like The Breakfast Club. Throw in a bunch of classic lines, one of film’s all-time great Asshole Authority Figures, a great new wave band at their most begrudgingly anthemic, and not even the totally ridiculous synchronized dance sequence can make it seem that badly dated. Plus, we’re still in the 00s, and thus the 80s will still be the retro decade of choice for another year and a half, after which we can all look forward to a whole lot more ironic Nirvana t-shirts like the one the sixth (??) girl wears in this one.

In any event, I guess it’s infinitely preferable to an ad that apes Sixteen Candles. Long Duk Dong and Jake Ryan just don’t quite have that same air of timelessness about them.

One Response to “Commercial Break: Don’t You Forget About JC Penny”

  1. stabes710 said

    > And my question about this phenomenon would have to be: Has it really been 23 years since we’ve produced a truly iconic high school movie?

    Not at all IMHO. I’m old enough that I was actually in high school when all those John Hughes movies first came out, but I think there’s been a ton of really good high school-themed movies in the last 10 years many of which are as good or surpass Hughes’ best work back then.

    I think what is happening is that the folks who run some of these big ad agencies now and have influence over the creative for the spots we are seeing now grew up during the same era as me so they are referencing the touchstones of their teen years. Hence ad with Toyota and Cadillac ads with Buzzcocks and Jam soundbeds. Its the same cycle repeating that had us all having to suffer through all the 60’s retreads in pop culture back in the 80’s. Believe me, when the kids that grew up on Mean Girls, American Pie, Superbad etc. reach that age, the cycle will repeat all over again.

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