Americans Like to Root for the Underdog
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Watched October 4th: Star Wars
Watched October 26th: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Stripes
November 29th: Animal House
In the American culture we like to root for the underdog. In the United States being perceived as the underdog, and achieving something against incredible odds, holds a position of honor and respect. Many people see themselves as underdogs; so it is like cheering for yourself when you cheer for the underdog. We all live in the hope that people like us can do anything, if we simply put our minds to it. It is a matter of wanting to increase our class and status. As humans, we like to believe that people who consider themselves superior to the rest of us really are not so great. It feels good for an unlikely hero to come along and knock these high and mighty people off their perch. When underdogs overcome obvious social disadvantages through intelligence and determination people can relate to their struggles. In the movies Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Stripes, Animal House, and Star Wars unlikely underdog heroes come through and save the day. These movies are perfect underdog stories because they have lovable characters you want to root for, insurmountable goals that they somehow manage to achieve and they do it all with an ability to laugh at themselves because no one loves humor and satire through self-examination more than Americans.
Any good underdog story will start with lovable characters you want to root for. From Samantha in Sixteen Candles to Flounder in Animal House it helps when our hero characters are rather ordinary looking. It is hard to root for classically good-looking characters because Americans generally see themselves as average looking. We all want to root for characters that we can identify with, so average looking people accomplishing extraordinary things make us feel like we can do it too. In the movie Sixteen Candles, Molly Ringwald plays Samantha, an average looking girl in love with Jake, the hottest guy at school. If director John Hughes had cast a breathtaking beauty for the part of Samantha it would not be an underdog story, because we all expect the hot cheerleader to go out with the football star automatically. When Jake dumps his beautiful blonde girlfriend to be with Samantha you cannot help but cheer. The scene where Samantha stands on the church steps and you see Jake pointing at her and she looks behind her to see if he is pointing to someone behind her because she cannot believe he would pick her is the perfect symbolism for an underdog winning the day. The director of Animal House, John Landis, chose John Belushi to play Bluto and Stephen Furst to play Flounder in the film. Both of these men are overweight and a bit sloppy looking, but they end up saving the day in the end. Bluto is the perfect example of a college student, vulgar, fat and lazy. When his fraternity is tossed off campus he says one of the best lines in the movie “seven years down the drain”. When Dean Wormer tells Flounder “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life”, you have to laugh because that is exactly what the boys at Delta fraternity are all about. Sometimes the underdogs in American films beat the elite better looking villains in movies by laughing at them and their serious nature. It feels good to knock the smug smile off Dean Wormer’s face. The Everyman nature of our sloppy, fat heroes makes us root for them against the morally bankrupt, heartless authority figures, like the Dean, in Animal House.
Stories with seemingly insurmountable goals are most effective when pulled off by the underdogs. In the movie Stripes, the US Army had John Wenger. In the movie Star Wars the Rebel Alliance had Luke Skywalker. Bill Murray plays John Winger, a reckless undisciplined new Army recruit. Harold Ramis not only played Bill Murray's sidekick but he also directed the film. John Winger saves the US by crossing the Iron Curtain in an armored nuclear secret weapon disguised as a recreational vehicle. Winger manages to do all this while breaking every rule in the book and scoring with hot women along the way, nothing more American than that. Star Wars had a lot less laughs then Stripes but it does have the common underdog aspects. George Lucas directed a very young Mark Hamill, who saves nothing less than the universe from the evil forces of the Empire. Luke did not have to take on the forces of evil alone he had a colorful assortment of brave and flawed heroes to complete his quest. A small, short teenager is the perfect example of an underdog in a film that you want to root for. Although Mark Hamill is more attractive than average, he is perceived as an underdog because of his young age and lack of experience in combat. The scene where he is wearing a storm troopers shell and frees Princess Leia from the prison has Leia exclaiming “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” You have to admire his pluck and determination.
No one loves self-examination through humor and satire more than Americans. In Ferris Bueller's Day Off our hero Ferris, played by Matthew Broderick, takes a sick day so he can spend time with his downtrodden friend Cameron. Ferris knows that Cameron needs a day of lighthearted fun because Cameron's father puts material things, like his car, above his son. John Hughes, the director, shows great depth of knowledge of the teenage mind. He often portrays adults as bumbling fools who love their children, but do not understand them and teenagers as sensitive and intelligent. The underdog in this movie is not the title character Ferris but everyone else around him. Ferris's sister Jeanie and his friend Cameron are the biggest underdogs in this movie. Jeanie realizes by the end of the movie that Ferris is so awesome because he does not take anything too seriously, and she strives to live more like him. Cameron realizes that his father is just a jerk and he can find all the love he needs from his friends like Ferris and Sloan. Ferris wants to help Cameron and tells him “life goes by so fast that if you don't stop and look around, you might miss it”, which sums up the philosophy that Ferris lives by. Our underdog hero Cameron then trashes his dad’s car. Americans like it when the little guy comes out on top.
These six movies were all box office hits in America. It would seem quite evident that Americans like it when the underdog comes out on top. In the six movies America is portrayed as a place where average, kindhearted, determined people can better not only their own situation but the lives of those around them with hard work and determination. These underdog stories tell us that people just like ourselves can do anything. From Luke Skywalker to Ferris Bueller the underdogs can achieve more than the more obviously privileged characters. The downtrodden can overcome disadvantages through intelligence and determination and the elite are never as mighty as they appear. The ability to rise up and excel in difficult circumstances sets us apart. The key ingredients an underdog needs to do something extraordinary are grit and determination. In these unexpected victories we see ourselves in these characters and you cannot help but root for yourself, the American underdog.
My Favorite and Least Favorite Movies
My favorite movie was Sixteen Candles. It is my favorite because there are so many memorable characters. I would argue that the best characters are not the stars of the film at all. Samantha's grandmother steals every scene that she is in. The scene where she puts her hands on Samantha's chest and says “Look! She's finally got her boobies!” was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I also loved her sister's character and her slimeball future husband. The only character funnier than Samantha's grandmother is Long Duk Dong. He was an absolute riot throughout the film. My favorite scene is where grandfather asks where his car is and Long Duk Dong says “Oto-mo-biiile?” Long Duk Dong was played by actor Gedde Watanane. The extended ensemble cast of Sixteen Candles made the film my favorite of the six I watched.
My least favorite film was Stripes. It is ironic that is my least favorite because it is my parents favorite film of all time. I do not believe the jokes are relevant and stand up over time. I enjoy Bill Murray and I loved his most recent movie Saint Vincent but I did not find him funny at all in this movie. I do not understand the subplot of going behind the Iron Curtain either. Perhaps it is because I did not live through the Cold War. I think I enjoy slapstick comedy more. I found Harold Ramis boring in the movie as well. The best parts of the movie are when they make fun of the other recruits who are taking it so seriously. The scenery and cinematography looks fake as well, I never believed for a moment that they were someplace with snow. The snow seemed so flat and fake looking that you could almost see the bright sun of the studio lot you knew they were taping on. Most of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Kentucky. When there is a huge disconnect between what you are seeing and what you are supposed to see I find I cannot get into the plot of the movie, because it feels too fake. My parents have decided against disowning me for hating their favorite movie, my only saving grace is that I enjoyed Sixteen Candles and Animal House.