Saturday, 27 March 2010

Sins of the fathers

I blame John Hughes. The recently deceased recluse spent the best part of the 1980s giving the world a plethora of pro-teen movies that depicted sluts, jocks, dweebs, nerds, geeks and wastoids all enjoying their day in the sun.

Don't get me wrong - it would be nice to think that every underdog ultimately has its day. The boy from the wrong side of the tracks gets the rich girl. The nerd teaches the jock bully a lesson. The prissy cheerleader learns to unhook her own bra and discovers the joys of The Cure and heavy eye-liner. Unfortunately, real life usually turns out somewhat differently.

Technology may have advanced beyond all recognition, but teenage life is no better than it was twenty five years ago. Don't believe me? Just ask Derrick Martin, who's been thrust into the spotlight purely based on his choice of prom date. As well as been cursed with a dyslexic's spelling of his name, Derrick has had to deal with the fall-out from his declaration that he wants to take a boy to senior prom.

This is a big issue in the States right now, with two different teens hitting the headlines for their same sex preferences. Just last month, Constance McMillen was in the news when her high school prom was cancelled to prevent her from bringing her girlfriend to the dance. Since the story broke, McMillen has worked the talk-show circuit like a pro, and garnered over 400,000 fans on facebook thanks to the support of the ACLU.

This week, it's all about Derrick, who has been fighting to bring his boyfriend Richard Goodman to the prom. The difference is, Derrick actually won his argument, with Bleckley County, Georgia, allowing Martin to attend prom with his chosen date.

Since this decision was made, Derrick's parents have thrown him out of the house, arguing that he disrespected the family by allowing himself to be interviewed by local news crews: "I know they had the right because it's their house. Now I just want to get an apartment and then go to college."

If Derrick was a notorious trouble-maker or attention-seeker, it might be a little easier to understand how his own family could turn their back on him. In fact, he's already scored a scholarship to Georgia Southern University, and spends his spare time tutoring at-risk third, fourth and fifth grade students.

But Derrick's parents aren't the only ones making his life difficult. His classmate Amber Duskin has been keeping busy organising a rally to protest his attendance at the prom. She argues that it's not about homophobia - she's protesting because she didn't want her little home town thrust onto the evening news.

Apparently, Amber and her friends don't want Cochran to "be known as a pro gay town". They're concerned about the fact that this story is "bringing all this attention" to the biggest night of their lives. Still, Amber can't quite help herself, adding "I don’t believe in going up there and dancing with gay guys like that."

Is it really Amber's fault though? A little bit of digging (i.e. one simple Google search) reveals that the actual organiser of the protest was Amber's dad Bobby, a 'worried father' who claimed “I'm going to speak out. Because I’m a father, and I’m proud to be a father and I’m going to look out for my kids no matter what and I’m going to stand up for them no matter what.”

You know, maybe I was a little unfair. Perhaps it's not John Hughes' fault at all.

He may have spent his time conjuring up wish-fulfilment fantasies that depicted the downtrodden enjoying their moment of victory, but there was another message at the heart of his work. Hughes' real contribution to popular culture was his incisive understanding of the role that domineering parents play in their children's lives.

He understood the pressures that teenage kids have to face, and where those pressures often come from. They may be lining up on either side of the protest lines, but I'm willing to bet that Amber and Derrick actually have more in common than they realise.


  1. Americans can be so bloody backwards can't they?? But good on Derrick! I wish I had that kind of courage when I was his age (a couple of years ago).

  2. At times, I feel like sexuality becoming more of a non-issue, that today's kids really don't care. And there's definitely evidence of that. Then stories like Constance and Derrick make the news. I admire both of them for being so brave.

    I'm happy the school did the right thing for Derrick, but am sad about his parents. But what's most disappointing is how the kids at Constance's school didn't rally behind her. Maybe that's too much of a John Hughes' movie ending, but they missed a tremendous opportunity to teach narrow minded adults a lesson. Instead, they took a step closer to becoming narrow minded adults.