Life is Not Always Pretty Essay

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Marie Hunter


SOC 210

1 Oct 2019

Life is Not Always Pretty

Pretty in Pink is a 1986 film written by the coming of age king, John Hughes. This colorfully named classic is set in Elgin, Illinois and focuses directly on the characters’ daily struggles with social class hierarchies. While Hughes film is a beautiful love letter to most film critics, I find that it can also be interpreted as a metaphor for many sociological theories. For example, throughout the film Hughes intentionally exaggerates our societal stereotypes, challenging viewers to use the sociological perspective and realize how deeply rooted our social norms truly are.

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Pretty in Pink focuses on Andie Walsh, a low-income high school senior. Right away, the reader may have made the assumption that our leading character is a male, strictly based on the fact that their name typically refers to the masculine presenting name Andrew. In fact, I argue that the names of all the main characters exhibit subversive “gender-bending.

” For example, our leading lady is called Andie while the rest of her character is hyper-feminine. Similarly, the privileged playboy, who oozes stereotypical masculinity and patriarchal power is named Stef, a name typically short for the feminine “Stephanie.” I was surprised that none of Stef’s masculine power is subtracted from his feminine name, but in the larger context of the film’s subversive tendencies it is consistent. In the same way, the high school mean girl has a masculine name, Benny. Through feminist theory, we understand that society has labeled even names as contributing to the gendered power structure; that names have come to represent and contribute

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to the patriarchal power of men and the pretty docility of women. When the unspoken social rule of names for specific genders is broken, we don’t always know where we stand. However, in Pretty in Pink no one bats an eye or questions the breakdown of these markers of gender.

Social-conflict and symbolic-interaction theory also bring a new light to Pretty in Pink. As soon as the film starts rolling, the social divide of the “haves” and the “have-nots” is as clear as day. From the contrast of the chain link fences to the white picket fences, Hughes was in no way trying to be discreet about his point. Let us not forget the symbolic message of the literal train tracks our main character must cross over on her way to school. Besides living on the, “wrong side of the tracks,” Andie faces the social stigma of having a single, unemployed father along with an absent mother who abandoned her at a very young age. Because of this, she is given a hard time by the “richie” kids, who believe it is their job to make sure there is no change to the social structure. Choosing not to limit herself to her social “caste,” Andie is a bold, yet poised teenage girl who develops a love for fashion in an attempt to conform and blend in with her peers. Instead of clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue, she’s scavenging the thrift store racks and completely transforms the used pieces into her own unique style.

Of course, Andie’s magnetic individuality and assurance of self-worth does not go unnoticed. After all, this is a romantic comedy from the 1980s, so there is bound to be the social conflict of a love triangle, or in this case, a love square. First, we have her long-time best friend, Phil “Duckie” Dale, who has not-so-secretly been in love with her since birth. Unfortunately for him, the only type of love she will ever have for him is the extremely friend zoning, platonic kind. Next we have Stef McKee, the popular kid from a wealthy family, who is secretly interested in Andie.

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Sadly, as most bullies are, Stef is a weak person at his core who only values the privileges of his social status. This behavior, as well as all human social behavior, was learned. In his case, from the impacts of large macro-level forces impacting his micro-level perspective. Based on my own sociological analysis, I am going to assume that most of his life, Stef witnessed his parents treat people who are in a lower social class as if they were beneath them. Not wanting to change any of the small parts that could affect their complex society, Stef would never succumb to social change. Therefore, never dating outside of his social class. In order to deal with his self-frustration, he treats Andie terribly and even pretends to not know her name. His new goal being that if he isn’t dating her, then no one else will—even if it’s his best friend.

Which brings us to our final piece of the puzzle, Blane McDonough. In no surprise, we have another walking stereotype of who we expect a young, privileged, white male to look like. Blane suddenly develops a crush on Andie, and soon finds out that she feels the same way. Both Andie and Blane are afraid to cross the social barriers completely. Even though he claims the differences of social status mean nothing to him, it doesn’t convey that way in his actions. As soon as Stef finds out Blane is with Andie, he is furious, and convinces Blane that dating Andie is wrong. He does this, by asking if dating that, “low-income, piece of trash” is worth losing a friend over. Apparently, she wasn’t, because Blane completely ignores her after that.

As I said before, this is a romantic comedy from the 1980s, so of course there is a predictable reunion at the end with than an apology and an “I love you” between Blane and Andie. But, we have to put on our sociological lenses to see this film as having a more complex perspective on social structures. In the end, Andie and Blane are able, to some extent, interact regardless of their different social statuses, ultimately subverting the entire system. In this way,

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John Hughes’s film sends a very sociological message: social change is inevitable, but it will never be without pushback.

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