Arts & Culture

Where are Hughes Jews?

As soon as I heard that Vanity Fair had published a feature on John Hughes’ later work, the stuff he did out of the director’s chair, I ran to the nearest bookstore.  While I’d guess that you may snicker at … Read More

By / February 24, 2010

As soon as I heard that Vanity Fair had published a feature on John Hughes’ later work, the stuff he did out of the director’s chair, I ran to the nearest bookstore.  While I’d guess that you may snicker at the idea of placing John Hughes alongside names like Bergman, Truffaut, or Godard, I’d be willing to throw down and say he is easily one of the finest directors and screenwriters of the last 30 years.  Hughes is an auteur in his own right. As a teenager growing up in and around the neighborhoods that Hughes used as the setting for many of his classic films, I feel more than just a base level kinship with the trials and tribulations of his characters; there’s that surge of hometown pride I get when watching Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Home Alone.  Watching almost any of these movies, I’m always likely to see a familiar spot from my youth. But there is one thing that I’ve always wondered when watching any of Hughes’ films: where are all the Jews? If anybody has ever lived or visited towns like Evanston, Skokie, Buffalo Grove, or Highland Park–all neighborhoods Hughes used as locations for Hughes fictional "Shermer, Il."– you’d quickly realize the North Shore is an incredibly Jewish place.  While it’s usually noted that the fifth largest American Jewish population is located in Chicago, I’d be willing to bet many of the people documented as part of ‘Chicago’ really live in the surrounding suburbs.  If I’m right, and that’s the case, why are there no Ferris Buellerbaum’s, Jake Ryanstein’s, or Duckie Cohen’s in any of Hughes’ films?  In fact, during the Hughes "golden age", the only speaking character who isn’t totally WASPy is the foreign exchange student with a Korean name (Long Duk Dong), played by a Japanese American actor.  Even reading the recently published writing work Hughes did after he broke away from Hollywood, you’ll find no mention of Jewish characters anywhere. But it doesn’t stop with Hughes: surveying the landscape of 80’s Teenage filmland USA, you are unlikely to find a Semite anywhere, and maybe that’s why Judd Apotow–who held Hughes in the high esteem–stacked his comedies with Jews like Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Jonah Hill. I’m aware that members of the "Brat Pack" were Jewish, and that maybe Hughes just had some all-American, Norman Rockwell fixation, which I guess could explain why his characters all had WASPy names like Blane McDonough and Kevin McCallister, but it is truly striking to go over the names of the characters in all of his films and not see a Jewish one among them.