Written by Chad Echakowitz
I think it is important to start this article off by saying that I really enjoyed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s a classic film with great comedic moments, beautiful shots, and characters you actually care about (something that seems to be lacking more and more in comedy films these days).
Last night, I decided to put on this fantastic film again. I was so excited to enjoy all the moments of hilarity that I have enjoyed time and again. And yes, I did still enjoy it. Who wouldn’t enjoy the wild shenanigans of a teen who really wants to skip school for the ninth time? The problem was, as I was watching Ferris enjoy his day off, all I could think about was how this kid was being totally irresponsible, about how he had no regard for his friends or the consequences of his actions. And then I thought, “Hey, isn’t this how white people have been living this whole time?”
The parallels between Ferris and White Privilege are exact, and here are just a few to prove that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the embodiment of White Privilege.
Ferris Wakes up and Decides to Slack Off
There isn’t anything inherently White Privilege about this. The privilege comes in to play with the fact that Ferris does so without any concern for the consequences. He doesn’t want to go to school. He wants to experience life to its fullest with his best buddy and his gal, knowing full well that he is pushing the limits of his absenteeism. He is graduating in a few months and decides to coast his way through school until then. He lies to his parents and the school for the ninth time about being sick and he doesn’t care that there could be real consequences. Ferris just shrugs off the fact that he could get kicked out, that he could repeat another year of school, or that he might not go to a good College, in order to just hang out.
While the Principal is portrayed as quite an uppity asshole, he is still right. Ferris needs to go to school, and if he is skipping school without having a real reason, he needs to be punished. The Principal doesn’t trust Ferris, and for good reason. He follows all the proper procedures of phoning Ferris’s mother and explaining the reality of the situation, which Ferris's mother ignores. The Principal goes so far as to go to the house to see if Ferris was really sick. He is one of the few heroes in the film who tries to enforce the rules, even if he does so in an uppity asshole sort of way.
Ferris’s intention to slack off without worrying about the consequences directly relates to White Privilege in the fact that historically, white people have never truly worried about the consequences until it is too late. The most recent example of this being the Opioid Crisis and Global Warming. While these are not specifically problems caused just by white people, they are problems that governments – which have been majoritively lead by white people – have let continue. Other examples are The Great Depression, The Bay of Pigs, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Holocaust, WWI, WWII, and, quite obviously, slavery. There are many more, but you get the point.
Ferris Lies to Everyone and People Believe Those Lies
One of the funniest running jokes in Ferris Bueller is where Ferris’s “illness” escalates to the point where the whole of Chicago is trying to help him recover. This is hilarious as it shows how out of control the grapevine can get when rumours are fed in to it. And while this joke is truly wonderful, it is also horrific in its implications. Ferris is not really sick and yet there are fundraisers and advertisements for people to help Ferris recover from his illness which escalated from seeing spots and clammy hands to Ferris needing a new kidney.
The film ends with Ferris returning to bed as his parents get home. What is going to happen tomorrow when Ferris wakes up with a full recovery? Will no one question this miracle? Why are his parents so chill about this when they know the whole city is trying to save Ferris from this deadly illness he has? What will happen to all that money? There are so many questions the film does not answer. And that’s where White Privilege strikes again.
People believe in Ferris’s lie so whole-heartedly, that he actually benefits from it, and yet again, there seems to be no consequences for his actions. White Privilege has shown us that white people can lie time and again, and everyone will believe those lies, and the liar will benefit. A key example of this comes from the pre-Brexit arguments. At the core of the Vote Leave team’s argument was the idea that once the UK left the European Union, it would be able to spend £350 Million a week to fund the NHS. This, as it turns out, was a lie. This wasn’t the only reason why people voted to leave the European Union, but it was a huge factor in influencing some people’s vote. The Vote Leave party benefited immensely from this lie, and now the UK is stuck in a delicious quagmire.
Other examples of this White Privilege include, the Holocaust, Make America Great Again, restrictions of voting rights, unequal pay between genders, and so. Many. More.
Ferris Messes with Other People’s Lives and Feels No Remorse
Cameron Fry clearly has some pretty big family issues. His dad and mum are always fighting, his dad loves his material goods more than he loves Cameron, and he might even beat him, depending on how you read the context. Ferris is supposed to be Cameron’s best friend. He should care about him and want to be there for him. One could argue that by getting him out of bed and giving him “the best day of his life”, Ferris did care for Cameron. But one could also argue that Ferris ruined Cameron’s whole damn life.
Cameron accidentally kills his dad’s car after a beautiful monologue about how he is finally going to take a stand (seriously, how good is that part of the film? Alan Ruck is awesome). Ferris says he’ll take the blame for it because it was his fault (which it was) and Cameron replies that he will take the blame, that it’s alright, and that he needs to do this. Ferris, winner of the Best Friend of the Year award, 1986, doesn’t even put up a fight and just goes on his merry way to live his happy life.
We never see Cameron again. There is no consequence for Ferris’s actions. But hey, they all had a great day so that’s fine.
I don’t feel like I have to explain how messing with other people’s lives for one’s own benefit is a characteristic of White Privilege. It should be clear to everyone how white people have benefited from oppressing and destroying the lives of others. So I will just leave it at that.
Ferris Justifies his Actions even though they are Wrong
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This is truly a beautiful saying from the great Ferris Bueller. It is at the forefront of why he takes his day off. But he also gives some other justifications, even though he knows what he’s doing is wrong. He tells the viewer that he got a computer for his birthday, so he makes the most of it by hacking in to the school system and editing official documents for his benefit, which could have been avoided had his parents just given him a car. He skips school because it’s a beautiful day, and he even tries to justify his behaviour by blaming it on Cameron: “Cameron, this is my ninth sick day. If I get caught, I don’t graduate. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for you.”
In truth, no matter what justification Ferris gives, he just didn’t want to go to school: “… if we had played by the rules right now we’d be in gym...” He knew what he did was wrong but he needed to find some justification in order to make it right, even blaming it on Cameron and playing the best friend card: "If you're not over here in fifteen minutes, you can find a new best friend".
This kind of justification is a common characteristic of White Privilege. It is the making of something wrong in to something right in order to keep doing it. Even though I touched on this before, the example comes around again. Unequal pay between men and women has been justified for years on the basis that women will have to leave their jobs to have babies and so it is okay to pay them less. Women aren’t as capable or as strong as men, so it’s okay to pay them less. Women don’t have the characteristics of good leadership, so it’s okay not to promote them. Again, I’m not arguing that this is solely a white problem but when the majority of the Forbes top 100 biggest companies are owned by white people, it makes it a White Privilege issue.
Ferris Manipulates others, even those who see through his Bullshit
From the very first moments of the film, Ferris’s sister, Jeanie, sees through his lies. She tries to go about her day but ends up getting so mad that she makes it her mission to expose Ferris as the liar that he is. She embarks on her own shenanigan-filled ride and, right at the end of the film, even though she has been through hell to expose Ferris, she decides to have his back against the Principal. Ferris, yet again, gets off scot-free.
Jeanie’s justification for trying to expose Ferris is that it is not fair that he can get away with bunking school, while if she did the same thing, she would get caught. After telling this to a drugged up Charlie Sheen (so I guess, just a modern day Charlie Sheen?) he retorts with a poignant, “Then the problem is you.” This also factors in to the White Privilege parallel, as we shall see now.
White Privilege speaks of the ability to oppress and manipulate others for self gain while also systemically creating the idea that doing so is okay. Even those who see through it are subjected to such manipulation because it is systemic. It has become an unconscious part of everyday life and so it seems normal. Then when someone calls out the injustice, some people say that the person exposing the issue is the problem because they’re disrupting the status quo. All of this is clearly represented in the scene between Jeanie and Charlie Sheen’s character. Except for the making out. That’s just funny.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a great film. It’s hilarious, it’s well written, and it’s real. It touches on issues without even trying to be too deep. It inspires the idea that we should all live to the fullest otherwise life will just pass us by. But we must remember that living our best lives at the expense of others is not living at all.
This article isn’t about making white people feel guilty for their White Privilege. I do not believe that white people should feel guilty for that. What white people should do, including myself, is to use that White Privilege to not solely advance ourselves, but help bring advantages to everyone. White people are systemically in a position to make real change and they should use those tools to do so, for the betterment of everyone.
You’re still here? Go home. It’s over. Go.