Ferris Bueller turns 35 — and I still hate him
I had a friend from camp who loved Ferris Bueller and lived by the Tao of his maxim: “Life moves pretty fast if you don’t stop to look around once in a while.” The friend’s name was, funnily enough, Cameron.
Cameron (the person, not the character in the film) made friends easily, had a Hebrew tattoo — for his late grandfather — and eagerly showed “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” a goyishe affair with Jewish actors, every summer when he ran evening activities, scrawling the whole motto on the chalkboard to advertise the screening to campers. I’ve never much cared for the film, which turns 35 today, and it’s probably because I’m more of a Cameron than Cameron ever was.
The movie’s not very funny, encourages arbitrary rebellion (and punishes responsible parties) and has aged exceedingly poorly. It’s certainly not a help that John Hughes cast Jeffrey Jones — a sex offender who years later would plead no contest to soliciting nude photos from a minor — as a principal relentlessly pursuing a high school student. The furtive onset romance of coreligionist costars Jennifer Grey and Matthew Broderick, who played siblings, also always made me uncomfortable, due in no small part to how that relationship came to public attention.
But while I would like to think there was little Jewish thematically about Ferris — who sings a song by former Nazi Navy bandsman Burt Kaempfert on a parade float while wearing a leopard-print vest and playing hooky from school — today I learned something shocking: Ferris himself is Jewish. Kinda.
In Todd Strasser’s 1986 novelization we learn that Bueller is a Member of the Tribe, if one with a pretty sparse spiritual life. This may explain the various laws from the Decalogue (and the State of Illinois) that he violates in his quest for a good time at the expense of his best friend’s health and sanity.
Yes, Cameron, played by Alan Ruck, certainly seems Jewish to many. He is neurotic, ill throughout the entire film and is introduced singing a riff on “Go Down Moses.” There is also the additional schlimazel quality, owing to, and I cannot stress this enough, how Ferris ruins his entire life by leaving him alone to explain to his emotionally abusive father why his Ferrari is lying in a smoldering heap in the woods.
I’m not sure how many people watching reach the conclusion that Ferris is a high-functioning sociopath with a toxic worldview. (They should, given that his sister Jeanie comes around to his “what me worry” philosophy in a police station while kissing Charlie Sheen.)
More people probably remember the incidents of the “Sausage King of Chicago,” Cameron’s staredown with a Seurat at the Art Institute or Ben Stein’s drone of “Bueller… Bueller.” Maybe I’m a drag for not falling under Bueller’s spell, but if the alternative is unquestionably loving a narcissist who exposes his friends to danger, that’s just fine by me.
While Ferris’ behavior is decidedly un-menschy, in the film he reads, according to TV Tropes, as “ambiguously Jewish” due to the casting of Broderick and Grey. I’m not sold on this premise, but if it helped any pale, dark-eyed Jewish boys seem cool, as one myself, I suppose we owe Hughes thanks.
But I will never forgive him for doing Cameron dirty like that.