Monday, May 30, 2016

Matthew Broderick CANNOT be 54

(Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)
I am at a strange time in my life. Things in the world are not just changing, they are also changing over, and I am not yet clear on how I feel about it. Change itself is inevitable, but often, what something changes into is not revealed in a linear fashion. The end result of change, if there is such a thing (there is not), is often only vaguely connected to the intention at the point of initiation. This is because the process of change itself is poked and prodded along the way by outside forces that contribute to change. These forces are ever-present, making the very idea of change a difficult one to conceptualize because there is no "opposite" to reference. But as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I am more interested in discussing change over than change, since this is a potentially digestible exploration.

Matthew Broderick just turned 54. I think he is too young to be as pudgy as he is. He and I were, until he turned 54, the same age. I am a few months behind him, which means that from his birthday until the day I celebrate mine in August, he is temporarily one year older than I. I am not entirely okay with him being anywhere near my age, but it is what is happening. As everyone knows, he is also married to Sarah Jessica Parker, who I think is too old to be as thin as she is.

They have a son named James Wilke, who is 14 as of this writing, and they have twin girls who were delivered by a surrogate, who also have names. They have homes in New York, Ireland, and the Hamptons, and are worth several millions of dollars together, so you don't need to feel bad for them for the things I am saying. Besides, what I am saying is not about Matthew or Sarah, nor is it about their kids, of whom I have named one. It is about me.

What you need to know about me is that I am not okay with Matthew Broderick being an older man. Granted, 54 is not "old" in today's bionic culture, where nobody seems to get forehead wrinkles anymore, but if you lived through the time when he was a "big deal", then maybe you can relate to my current distress.

What is bothering me is that I have no frame of reference for thinking of Matthew as an older man. To me, he is now and forever Ferris Bueller, the coolest and cutest guy in school, and I, by association, am a person still capable of feeling renewal. But he is far from the former, and I am reduced to playing 'hide and seek' with the latter.

I remember when I went to my first high school reunion. It was our 25th, can you imagine? I was unsure about attending, as I had not seen any of my schoolmates since our graduation in 1980. I was not sure I wanted to see what had become of them, but even more so, I was not sure I wanted to see how they had become 25 years older. My memories of high school are precious to me, as they are to many people, and I like to think of that time between 1977 and 1980 as an era of innocence, not in deed but in thought, where I moved through my life at the helm of possibility. The construction of myself has depended, in part, on the stability of the building blocks. If I were to see in my classmates' crumbling facades both the celebrated and failed middle age adults they have become, I was not entirely sure what would then become of me.

The good new is that I turned out okay, post-reunion, but not before I negotiated adjustments to the narratives of both my past and my present.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off came out in 1986. I was 24 at the time, moving toward 25, and I was a dancer in San Diego, California. The dominant pop culture personality was Madonna, of course, and there was a definite entrenchment for those around me in the post-disco androgynous glamour that was new wave. That was not all that was going on, though. AIDS, Chernobyl, Whitney Houston's debut album, and the Challenger explosion all made news. For our purposes, Matthew Broderick has just come off of a few notable films, but he was not yet a huge star.

Adorable, isn't he?
That all changed with Ferris Bueller. Written and directed by the prolific John Hughes, it was a film that was intended for Broderick from the beginning, and one viewing of it will show you why. Matthew played the character as an innocent, kind and generous, yet possessing an edge; he is a free-spirited and clever teen who ends up liberating all who cross his path. Even the school principal, Mr. Rooney, is transformed, though at the end of the film we are not yet sure if it is for the better.

Cameron, played by Alan Ruck
Unlike many teen comedies where the grown-ups are all dolts, the adults in Ferris Bueller are more complex (though still dolts)--they are essentially different versions of what can happens over time when a teen allows their spark to be dulled. In the film, this conflict is illustrated brilliantly by Cameron, Ferris' best friend, who has become a depressive hypochondriac as a result of years of conforming to his parents' expectations. Cameron's story is a sweetly sad counterpart to Ferris' free spirit, and yet the stories compliment each other and give the film emotional depth.

I remember to this day when I first saw the film. I was in a foul mood at the time; I think I was dating someone I was not sure I wanted to date and the last thing I wanted to do was go to a film with him. Still, I had committed to the meeting, so in I went. As I watched the movie, Matthew's portrayal and the story had a magical effect on me--they restored hope. I needed to see that film, and when I emerged from the darkened theater I saw the day, and my date, from a different perspective. I was joyful. It is that kind of a film.

Hughes captured a unique time in the 80's. Teens were just starting to develop into modern hip versions of young adults, wearing clothes that were ridiculously intentional and self-assured, yet dripping with the ironic effortlessness. They were not just kids anymore--they were beautiful young adults who were already putting their stamp on the outdated fussy world of adults. Think about it, most of the parents of teens in the 80's were born in the late 40's, growing up themselves in the late 50's. The 80's was a whole different culture from theirs. Ferris Bueller was a new kind of teenager on the screen. He was the young man every guy wanted to be and every girl wanted to be with (and some guys wanted to be with, including yours truly); he was the friend everybody wanted to be best friends with, and the son every parent wanted to have. You could not imagine him having gone through an awkward stage.

To me, he represented potential, young and confident, taking in life by gulps, unafraid. He showed me the cost of giving in to fear. Matthew Broderick was a part of that time for me as well as being a catalyst for change; and he will forever be best known for this role in a film that continues to be referenced in popular culture.

So how can he be 54?

Unlike the challenge I have in gaining perspective on Broderick's aging, I have pretty much accepted that I am in my 50's. The difference is that I have been living with myself for the past 30 years since Ferris Bueller came out, so in that time I have had a day to day experience of getting older. Matthew has occupied less space in my attention span, so when he turns up in a picture, walking his kids in Manhattan in a rumpled sweater, I have a bit of a flip-out. How could he have grey hair??

When I see him in his current state, it has the effect of distorting the picture I have constructed of my past. In other words, it is a glaring reminder that things change. While that may seem a given regarding the price of gas and L.A. rents, it is less simply accepted regarding the past of our youth. We don't want those memories to be fucked with, do we? They mean something to us, and are instrumental in how we think of ourselves in the present day. When characters from long ago show up changed in the present, it reminds us of our own changing selves, our own aging selves, and the irrefutability of time passed. When I see Matthew Broderick celebrating his 54th birthday, I am strikingly reminded that I too have aged 30 years since 1986--perhaps day by day, but 30 years nonetheless. The past is over, and so is my youth. Fuck!

But even more challenging than accepting the changes wrought by age is the acknowledgment that things are changing over. Matthew Broderick is no longer a top movie star. Today his equivalent does not even exist in my mind, all the male stars under 30 kind of blend together for me--famous more for their beauty than for any particular characteristic. But don't think of me as a rocking chair grouch, I realize that Matthew in his day represented change as well--he was not Frank Sinatra or Mickey Rooney!

But this is my point entirely--that things change over, just as they always have. The reason why it is hitting so hard right now is because, like Matthew, I am on the retreating end of this current shift, or so I think. This shift has been imposed for the simple reason that we are not young anymore. I don't mean to imply that we don't have relevance--we do--just not so much in popular culture. Disposable culture. Chew them up, spit them out.

Louie C.K.
Louis CK, one of my favorite comedians and actors, did an episode about this in his show Louie (Season 5, Episode 3), in which he found himself being blatantly disregarded by a 20-something shop owner who saw no value in encouraging his patronage. When he told her that she should care about his experience in the store and should want him to shop, she says back to him,
"We're the future, and you don't belong in it. You have this deep down feeling that you don't matter anymore." 
He agrees with her. The saving grace of the show is that I know that Louie wrote this for himself as a way to comment on the changeover effect. In essence, he is commenting on the fact that, for those of us born before 1970, it is not our world anymore. It is changing over, but we are still here. This means that I worry about what it is changing over into (which will be addressed in a future essay).  Am I concerned about a culture that undervalues aging simply because I am aging, or are my concerns legitimate in the culture?

The essay SHOULD stop here, but you know me, I have just a little more to discuss that is related to this topic, so I beg your indulgence for just a bit more...

I ask myself why this matters. It is not as though I should be surprised that aging has happened--I knew I would be this age in this year way back when I was 20. No, there is something else, and I suspect it has to do with the significance of youth. Youth is a quality associated with being young, but that is too limiting a boundary. Don't be deceived into thinking of youth as reliant on age--its true essence stands independently, and it acts as a driver rather than a rider. But what does it drive??

What is it about being young--what is the reverence for? The answer could be twofold, perhaps, if you look at it from the inside out. First, there is the appeal of youthful beauty: smooth skin, clear eyes, strong body, thick hair, etc. But for me at this point this list is not enough to draw any more than passing interest--it lacks the depth I need to engage and sustain interest. The second quality that gives relevance to youth is far more seductive to me, and that is potential, and it is this quality that has inspired this essay. Potential wanes as one ages, though you might argue that it merely decreases in some areas and increases in others, but I refer specifically to the potential for living. When I was young, I had so much more living to do, and that afternoon viewing of Ferris Bueller reminded me of that in full cinematic color. I walked out of that theater reconnected to my youthful potential, and I challenge you to present a more inviting experience for a young person.

Seeing Matthew Broderick as a frumpy, graying 54 year old man is like a thump on the head, much like the film was 30 years ago, except this time the thump is an unwelcome reminder that my potential, while still potent, is running low. I had my chance to make the world, and I suppose I did as much as the next guy--but now that power is shifting as the changeover continues. And I am just not sure how I feel about this.

What I AM sure of is that I am not okay with Matthew Broderick turning 54. Of that I am sure. So I will remember him as Ferris Bueller, and use that memory to connect to the origin of my own remaining potential. After all, Ferris Bueller has not aged a bit.

Ferris Bueller, forever young and full of potential

Me, with remaining potential