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Ferris Bueller, 25 years later

Adriene Hill Feb 21, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Did you see the Matthew Broderick commercial during the Super Bowl? The one where he riffs off Ferris Bueller? Anyone? Anyone? “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?” The movie?

A couple months ago, we went looking for a way to tell the story of how people are feeling about their lives, what they hoped for when they were younger, what they expected would happen. So we went to the movies — places made famous in screenplays. First stop in a series that’s coming over the next couple of days was Ferris Bueller’s hometown.

Here’s Marketplace’s Adriene Hill.

Adriene Hill: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a movie about — above all else — joy. The sheer joy of doing whatever you want, getting away with anything you want, for one perfect day. It’s the story of a clever high school senior who spends a day with his friends in downtown Chicago after convincing his parents’ that he’s sick.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” clip: You fake a stomach cramp and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid. But then so is high school.

Oh yeah. One more thing you need to know: Ferris is supremely, awesomely, confident. The kind of kid you only wish you could have been.

Jodi Snyder: I love “Ferris Buellers Day Off!” My mom has always been like, ‘Oh, he went to your school, the director!’

That’s high school senior Jodi Snyder, whose mom was right. Jodi goes to Glenbrook North High School, where parts of the movie were shot. It’s also where director John Hughes went to high school. It’s the kind of high school where almost everyone goes to college. It’s in Northbrook, Illinois — a Chicago suburb sprinkled with white colonials where the median value of homes is around half-a-million dollars. It’s full of professionals. It’s the kind of place that people stick around. They grow up here, raise their own kids here.

And I’m here, back in high school, to find out how life has changed since Ferris — had he actually existed — graduated 25 years ago. Change one: Kids today are more anxious about the world outside of high school than Ferris or his friends ever were.

Mike Piskel: Twenty years ago, when they say I don’t know what I’m going to do, it was, I don’t know what I’m going to do and I really don’t care yet. I’ll figure it out. Now it’s like, I don’t know what I’m going to do — and I’m really nervous about that.

Mike Piskel has been teaching at Glenbrook North for 31 years. He says there was some truth to Ferris’s happy-go-lucky, world-is-my-oyster confidence, Today, kids are more stressed, way more stressed. They still want to be successful and rich and happy grown-ups. But…

Piskel: Now it’s like, gee, we’ve got everything from global warming to an economic downturn. So what’s going to happen to me?

Some of the Ferris confidence is gone. Perhaps because of change two: Kids are well aware of the economic downturn. Ferris was decidedly upper middle class. His friend Cameron, upper-upper class. Cameron’s dad had a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” clip: I love driving it. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Folks in Northbrook today still make good money. The median household income is above $100,000 a year. But…

Paul Pryma: There’s an underneath kind of palpable feeling that a lot of people aren’t sharing really the pain of what is occurring financially within their homes.

That’s the school’s principal, Paul Pryma. There are foreclosures in Northbrook. Property values are down a third. Parents are losing jobs, changing jobs.

Pryma: Our counselors are dealing with kids that are feeling all kinds of pressures and this time of year with college placement the realities of, ‘What happens if I do get accepted to a private school on the East Coast, will my family even be able to provide the financial backing for that decision?’

There’s an anxiety about money that we don’t see in Ferris. There’s worry about the future, which bring us to change three: Kids just don’t skip school the way they used to.

Ferris Bueller: This is my 9th sick day this semester. It’s getting pretty tough coming up with new illnesses.

Today, not so much. In fact, not at all. Here’s principal Pryma again.

Pryma: The kids just said we come to school when we’re sick. We can’t afford to miss those minutes of class.

Kids care about high school. And getting good grades. And getting into a good college.

Snyder: You miss a lot of work that you need to do later on, it’s not worth it really.

That’s high school senior Jodi again. Sure, she says, there are times in classes she wishes she was some where else, times she’s excited for college. But there’s another reason she wouldn’t skip.

Snyder: I think high school is really fun. There’s something so safe and nice about going back to your house every day. Just, everyone is there and you go to high school and just you know you’re taken care of.

A change — it’s a different portrait altogether of the high school that John Hughes and Ferris gave us.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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