The Breakfast Club tells the story of five teenagers who find themselves spending a Saturday together because they have been given detention. Each of the five comes from a different background, and each feels that they have nothing in common with the other. However, social penetration theory shows that by speaking, harassing or flirting with each other, the five can slowly remove the layers that each person has managed to cultivate, they can share stories and information about each other. In this way, each of the five can let the others into his world enabling them to gain a better understanding of the person’s beliefs and thoughts. In the same way, symbolic interaction helps the audience to get a better understanding of the meanings that the five students attach to the interactions they have with each other. For instance, Andrew’s jacket creates the impression that since he plays for the school sports team, he is a member of an exclusive group that people such as Bender cannot gain access to.
Breakfast Club is a story of five students who find themselves in school on a Saturday serving detention. Each of the students, Bender, Claire, Brian, Andy and Allison, knows about the other even though they do not belong to the same groups or cliques. They are expected to spend seven hours together, and as time goes on, they begin getting to know one another using techniques such as harassing each other, talking and simply looking. They slowly come to realize that they have similarities with each other than they previously thought.
Social penetration theory can be a helpful tool in examining the film. It describes the slow, gradual movements that aim in creating a relationship that is deeper and intimate. Each of the people involved begins to develop the sense that they can disclose their real selves to the other person leading to more intimacy as well as a perception of belonging between the two individuals (Braithwaite & Schrodt, 2014). As a way to ensure that the relationship continues to be maintained and that it grows, the people make a choice regarding how much personal information they share with the other. Social penetration theory is characterized by an onion metaphor which describes an individual’s personality structure showing it as similar to the layers that an onion has (Lane, 2016). As the layers of a person’s character are revealed, one can get a clearer image of the individual’s beliefs, feelings as well as attitudes not only about themselves but also about others and their environment. For instance, in Breakfast Club, Bender begins to reveal these distinct layers with each of the others by using a mixture of taunting, teasing, and laughing at the person and flirtation. In one instance when Bender is rude to Claire and taunts her about the fact that she is popular, Claire starts to break down to some extent confessing that she does not enjoy being popular neither does she like any of her friends. In this way, the audience is being led to the deeper part of her personality (Hughes & Tanen, 1985).
Self-disclosure refers to the willingness to share information that a person believes personal to him such as feelings or secrets. Self-disclosure is another way in which to get to the core of a person and get a clear image of the individual’s concept of himself (Lane, 2016). For instance, when Brian is asked why he got the detention and he provides the explanation. He is not only giving the others a chance to know him but is also revealing an aspect that is personal thereby providing the opportunity for them to create closeness to him. In spite of the fact that Brian has to deal with an enormous amount of emotional blackmail, he still went ahead and shared his feeling with the group. In this way, he was able to protect himself from being targeted by Bender (Hughes & Tanen, 1985).
Another theory that emerges from the film is that of symbolic interactionism which is based on three core arguments. The first argues that human beings often act on particular things driven by the meanings they derive from these aspects. Moreover, the significance of these things for the person is gotten from the different social interactions he or she has with other people. The third argument is that these particular meanings are handled and go through changes through a process that is interpretive (Rock, 2016). There are several instances when Bender and John change what they believed about each other. One occurs when Andrew does not tell on John to Mr. Vernon when he removes the pin from the door. In another case, John forces Mr. Vernon to chase after him in the hallway to ensure the rest had the chance to make their way to the library without being caught. Another instance is seen when the students are writing their essay at the end of the film. Brian sets out within the essay that each of the five is an outcast and unusual in some way. In spite of Principal Vernon’s arguments about what they should write in their essay, the five refuse to consider themselves as a single group instead coming together believing this is what makes them stronger (Hughes & Tanen, 1985).
This theory also points out that the perception an adolescent has regarding a particular crowd heavily depends on the particular group that the adolescent is a party of. Individuals who find themselves within a particular group or the in the crowd have a more positive image than those who do are outside of the group (Rock, 2016). For example, the jacket that Andrew wears clearly sets him apart regarding being in an exclusive group since he is a member of the school’s sports team. This leads him to be the subject of harassment from Bender, who dressed in a pair of ripped jeans and a denim jacket creates the perception of being a troublemaker (Hughes & Tanen, 1985).
As a whole, The Breakfast Club provides a demonstration of the theories of social penetration as well as symbolic interactionism. It shows how each of the five students comes to the realization that they are not as different from each other as they had originally thought. Interacting with each other helps them to get a better understanding of the other’s personality and in the end, leads them to be more accepting of the differences that characterize them than they would have been at the beginning of their detention.