Ferris Bueller is the Problem

ferris-buellerIt took me twenty-seven years to finally watch the classic coming of age 1986 comedy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  The only thing I missed by waiting so long was a clearer understanding as to why hedonism is so mainstream.

The film follows Ferris Bueller, a high school senior who fakes being sick and skips school to spend the day in downtown Chicago. It was one of the top grossing movies for the year and received enthusiastic acclaim by both critics and audiences.  It is now considered to be a cult classic.  A young adult once told me the movie is one of his favorites and it inspired him in high school to skip school for the sake of fun and adventure.  I hated it.

The movie is fiction so what’s a little lying and playing adults for fools for a laugh? Perhaps I’m stepping on the toes of fans but that movie exemplifies the philosophy that self-indulgence trumps good morals. The plot was about Ferris’s pursuit of a good time, which required ongoing deceit.  Brief flashes of the boring school day reinforced the notion that lying and sneaking is heroic in the quest for enjoyment.

The moral of the story is that there are no morals when it comes to having fun.  Even sneaking and ruining the car of Ferris’s friend’s Dad was considered worth it in the name of fun. But it’s not just the movie that is the problem; it’s the philosophy behind it that has taken root in our culture. People are living as if fun is the ultimate goal. The philosophy that propelled Farris—satisfying yourself first—is ruining our culture.  How many abortions are performed because the inconvenience of a baby would interfere with a fun life? How many marriages have ended because one of the spouses finds something or someone seemingly more fun? How many lies are told for the mistaken belief that they count for nothing if a good time results?

Along those lines, in the more recent movie, The Bucket List, two terminally ill patients escape from a cancer ward to accomplish their worldly adventures before they die. But an end-of-life plan to prepare for facing God by indulging in worldly desires is giving your all for the god of fun in place of the real God.  It’s foolish and puts the soul in jeopardy

I recently read two books that are refreshing antidotes to Ferris Bueller and The Bucket List’s false worship of fun.  In the book, God’s Bucket List, author and EWTN TV and radio talk-show host Teresa Tomeo, appeals to examine God’s to-do list for us.  It is no holier-than-thou advice since she once led the way down a path of worldly dreams.  As a one-time TV news reporter in Detroit, her god of fun came in second only to the god of success.  Not until everything started to unravel, did Tomeo realize there was nothing left in her worldly treasures to hang onto.  Finally, when God was moved to the center, she found peace and a different kind of success. “Scripture tells us only God knows the desires of our hearts,” Tomeo says. “ It was, after all, God who placed them there because they are designed to lead us to His will for our lives.“

God’s Bucket List is not God versus fun; it is God and eternal happiness verses fleeting pleasures and sin.  It is the true joy that comes from peace, love and holiness versus living only for today.

The other book that pulls the rug out of shallow adventures is The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.  With reflections and pictures of Gospel lands, Pacwa led me from the comfort of my home into the footsteps of Jesus.

I have no qualms with traveling and soaking in what the world has to offer.  After all, God created the world.  But our good times must be had in union with God and not in spite of him.  I love all kinds of travel, but it is the ultimate adventure to visit a past, which provides passage into eternity.

A Bucket list adventure and Ferris Bueller’s idea of fun pales against visiting the land where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; where the walled city of Jerusalem guards the relics of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Seeing the cave where Jesus was born and walking the way of the cross right up to the place of his crucifixion and burial, is to walk in the footsteps of God.

”We enter the Holy Sepulcher Church across a courtyard and through a large door.  Immediately upon entering, you’ll see a narrow, steep stairway which leads up to Calvary,” Pacwa wrote.  “A floor is built upon pillars to facilitate a visit to the site of Jesus’s crucifixion,” He explained that there are three altars, and under one, pilgrims can kneels before a metal plate with a hole in it.  “Through this hole you can touch the actual rock of Calvary.”

Life is lived deeper when it is in union with God. There are many ways to grow closer to God such as prayer, giving alms, charity to others, Mass, and inspirational reading.  Ferris Bueller would have thought religion was boring; maybe even worse than school.  But Ferris Bueller was plotting his adventures against God and not with Him.  He aimed for temporary fun rather than true joy in union with God.  If Ferris was a real character, I would pray for his conversion. Instead, I will pray for the conversion of a culture that thinks like him.

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now.

To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

Looking for a Catholic Speaker? Check out Patti’s speaker page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.

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  1. Having grown up in the 80’s and knowing and loving this movie as much as I do, I have to say I think you really missed the boat with this one. I don’t think Ferris is the problem with this movie. The problem to me, is the adults. This kid took advantage of a situation. Most kids do. But, if we want to raise kids to NOT be like this, then we as adults need to rise to the challenge of raising kids. Every adult was stupid in this movie. Every one. Why aren’t you asking what’s wrong with adults today and even 27 years ago to allow kids the opportunity to make these decisions? Really. Why aren’t you asking why we live in a society where adults are too interested in their own pursuits: getting ahead, the next promotion, getting a bigger house, the latest iphone, whatever instead of their children? Why do we live in a society where it’s almost impossible to get a substandard teacher or school administrator replaced? Fix these things and smart kids like Ferris can use their creativity in more productive ways. Care about your children. Be present in their lives. Sit down and ask them how there day was. Find out what the teachers in your child’s school are all about and fight like hell if they’re no good. But don’t blame kids for the opportunities that come available due to poor parenting and poor schools. Be a parent who has high morals and be actively engaged with your children and you’re more likely to raise kids with solid morals as well. But STOP blaming the kids. They’re the victims in all of this, not the ones at fault. Having said all of this, I absolutely love this movie, will watch it with my kids at an age appropriate time, and show them how lucky they are to have adults in their lives who really, really do care! I look at this movie as having some teachable moments in it versus having created a culture in which, “hedonism is so mainstream.” Maybe you need to give this movie a second look.

  2. I think it’s dangerous to totally remove a child’s accountability from the equation and place the blame for all of their decisions on parents. As a pretty progressive teacher, I can see parents who rise to the challenge and parents whom have fallen short. And the same with my colleagues. But to say that all the decisions a teenager makes- and God knows I made some doozies myself- is the blame of clueless and disconnected adults is detriment to teaching accountability and furthers the culture of “not my fault”.

  3. My husband and I were aged 24 and 23, as well as the parents of a one-year old when “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, was released, and it is *still* one of our of my all-time favorite movies. I agree with Maura that you missed the point, but I want to go a step further: I think you totally missed the boat. You cannot tell me with an iota of honesty that you spent your youth obeying *everything* your parents or other adult authority figures told you. We’re humans, we’re flawed. It’s one way we learn to make our way through this world–how to learn right from wrong. I know I sure wasn’t perfect. Yes, as hard as it seems to believe, I was a bit of a rebel (Romans 12:2). Most of my fellow Christian friends joined me in a bit of this non-offensive, but somewhat troublmaking rabble rousing. So it may just surprise you to learn that we are all productive citizens and good parents today.

    “Ferris Bueller” merely a tale of fantasy: Who wouldn’t love to go to downtown Chicago and end up on the float of a spontaneous parade singing a Beatles’ classic? Heck yeah, I would–sign me up! And as a teen of the late 1970s, early 1980s, I do, in a way, find blaming this movie for everything that is wrong in this world a little bit offensive because as Billy Joel penned in the latter part of other 1980s, “We didn’t start the fire, and when are gone, it will still burn on, and on, and on, …” That’s right. Shenanigans similar to those in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” have been going on for decades; at least since the organization of public education. Is it possible that you’ve never seen a “Little Rascals” or “Our Gang” short? These short films were made from 1922 through 1944. The 22-year range of these films include the era in which not only my parents were raised, but my husband’s parents, too. Our parents are members of “The Great Generation,” as Tom Brokaw deservedly dubbed them. They matured quickly as children of The Great Depression, boys became men as soldiers in WWII, girls became women when factories previously occupied by men needed “Rosie the Riveter.” Following WWII, as well as the Korean Conflict, together they raised the Baby Boomer Generation, of which my husband and I (as well as many of our friends) are at the tail end.

    So my point is, instead of blaming a movie for everything that’s wrong in this world, I encourage you to open the ears and eyes of your soul. Ask God what He would have you do to make this world a better place, not just at present, but for the generations that will come after we are gone? Spend time discerning that instead of placing blaming a beloved movie character.

    And to end my response, I quote another great, beloved movie character, Forrest Gump: “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

    1. Marcie,

      Twice you accused me of blaming everything in the world on this movie. I never once did that. Also, I did all sorts of things wrong as a teen but what does that have to do with my judgement of a movie that glorifies dishonesty? According to that thinking, anyone who has a wild past must now accept all bad behavior in the present.
      Since this movie is a cult classic, it became fodder for an article on it’s celebration of lying and sneaking for a good time. Your response was to expound on all the fun they had and who would not want to do all those things? You also talk about all the other movies that kids do bad things they shouldn’t. I’m very aware of that message in our culture is not to worry about morals and many movies reflect that. I also knew that some would not agree with my negative view of of the movie.

      Ferris Bueller is not the reason for the problems in our culture; it is just symbolic. Take away the entertainment value and simply look at the message and the behavior. Is it sin or is it behavior that leads to holiness? Again, I know I sound like a killjoy, but plenty of movies are entertaining and still keep right and wrong in tact. And plenty don’t. What is wrong with pointing that out? . Recently, a 28-yr old told me Ferris Bueller was the inspiration for him skipping school when he was in high school. Kids are influenced by movies so shouldn’t we take a hard look at them?

  4. I agree with you that adults that behave in a lame way contribute to the downfall of kids and society. The movie made the adults out to be lame–that was part of the plot–and the kids played them for the fools they were. You came away saying don’t blame the kids. I’m not placing blame on the kids I am saying the movie glorifies dishonesty and deceit. Teens don’t need much encouragement to think it’s cool to skip school, lie to adults who are fools and have a fun day. And like you, some come away from the movie saying “Don’t blame the kids for what they do under these circumstances.” According to that, then Jesus would not blame them either and so what they are doing is okay, aka blameless. The point is the message of this movie is a bad one but it is one that society seems to be modeling itself on.

  5. In its positive message, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is really something of a Christian allegory. Ferris is an unselfish and friendly chap, apparently loved by one and all except his sister and the school principal. Ferris isn’t selfish, he’s generous in how he helps two of his friends to take the day off with him and escape the pharisaical principal Ed Brown and his very Martha-like sister, Jeanie.

    This one day escape isn’t a descent into hedonism at all, it’s an adventure into life, including a visit to an art museum. The Ferrari was a symbol of empty materialism and parental neglect (if anyone was a hedonist, it was Cameron’s Dad) and expensive though it was, deserved to be destroyed. What was more important than the Ferrari? Love. That was Ferris’ message to his friend Cameron.

    1. thread winner!!

      there’s a strong tension among religious people about “fun”, and it’s very tempting to come down hard on every secular influence as being evil — however I thought one of the great things about Catholicism is that we aren’t like Mormons, Baptists, or Muslims. We don’t ban drinking, dancing, good food, great artwork, musical innovation, etc. Rather we can see God in all things, through all things, being in the world but not of the world.

  6. I could have picked many other movies but since I had just seen Ferris Bueller and since it is considered a classic, I analyzed it. Granted, I know that we aren’t going to go through life analyzing every little thing, but I took a moment to look at the message of this movie that we have come to accept in our culture.

    You say that it is nothing more than an adventure. But it was an adventure won through lying and sneaking. Your stance is exactly what I am saying the problem is: sometime sin is okay if a great adventure is the result. I agree that the symbolism of Cameron’s Dad’s expensive car being destroyed was making the statement that the father/son relationship should be more important than the car. However, since when does 2 wrongs make a right? Does stealing from the rich make stealing not a sin? Catholic teaching is that the ends does NOT justify the means. Ferris is likable and friendly, so your conclusion that he is a nice guy, even Christian in being so kind as to want to share his fun with his friend. His friend did not want to go. His friend was actually sick and resisted going but Ferris kept insisting. I don’t think it was out of Christian love for his friend, it was because Ferris wanted company in his adventure. A teen sneaking and convincing 2 other friends to join him has been turned into an act of charity.
    I know it was just a movie, but it’s interesting to see people making excuses for sin and even saying it’s not sin at all but something good. That is done all the time in our culture to defend wrong doing.

  7. I too was a teenager when FBDO was released. I loved the movie when I saw it and never gave much thought to what it represented until my eleven-year-old said that he heard something about it and wanted to know if it was something he could watch. I immediately told him that it was not appropriate. Later, I thought about why I was so quick to respond this way when I, myself, had thought it to be such a great movie. I finally decided that it wasn’t an appropriate movie for essentially the same reasons you have addressed. I couldn’t agree with you more. Sin is often fun when it’s happening, but we are all called to holiness which is often not easy but, as our faith tells us, leads ultimately to joy.

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