In-between spaces by Kathrine Jensen CC BY-NC-SA
Anyone who reads my infrequent blog post will have noticed that I go on about liminality and liminal spaces. I am always considering what might be a good example of a liminal space and at some point this month, it struck me that the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club is an excellent example. For me liminal space can include physical space, digital space, any interactive or conversational space or a combination of these. Crucially, it is a space that allows us to step outside ‘normal’ roles/activities/structures and represent an opportunity to explore, reflect, negotiate and the potential for transformation and change.
As the wikipedia entry on Liminality says:
‘During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt’
For anyone who hasn’t seen The Breakfast Club the plot is loosely that a group of five students are in detention in the school library [!] on a Saturday and is asked by the teacher to produce an essay on ‘who you think you are’. The students are from different cliques and at the beginning of the movie are presented as five stereotypes:
- Claire – the popular rich girl
- Andrew – the sports jock
- Brian – the geek
- Allison – the outsider
- John – the delinquent
As the day progresses they begin to come together as a group and they emerge as individuals and break out of their stereotypes. This happens through conversation, physical confrontation, sharing the content of their wallets/bags, comparing their packed lunches (or lack of), breaking the rules together when they leave the library and importantly sharing their stories about why they are in detention. Vernon, the teacher, who stands in for clueless adults, also functions as a way to bind the group together in joint resistance.
So here is some of the ways I think The Breakfast Club is an interesting tool to think about what happens in liminal spaces:
- The space itself is not neutral but it does put them all in the same position to some extent – Claire and Andrew are still portrayed as privileged in a number of ways, but they are subject to the same conditions as the others.
- Through talking about their lives, they all end up reflecting on/questioning their place/role in the societal structures they are expected to fit into.
- They use the space to question their actions and motives and to what extent these reflect who they are, who others expect them to be and/or who they want to be.
- The characters experience a sense of freedom in the space [or that is how I interpret the scenes where they play music, dance, etc.] even if they acknowledge this could be temporary.
- It is portrayed as a space for negotiation [of identity and more] and a place of transition where we can see ‘becoming’ happening.
- It is clear that being in a liminal space is both an experience that leaves them vulnerable, scared and exposes them but at the same time it can also empower them to explore their identity and break out of expected behaviours.
At the end of the movie, the characters recognise that the time [and space] they have had together has allowed them to see each other/themselves differently and break away from the rigid hierarchical interactions. But what happens when this time-out comes to an end? They ask themselves: will they still be friends – if they are now. Will they say hello to each other? What ridicule and social pressure from their established cliques (if they are part of one) will they risk? They acknowledge that some of them have more to loose than other, in terms of prestige and position.
They are asking whether the dissolution of the social hierarchies can be sustained outside of the space they find themselves in. I think the movie ends on a hopeful note; that what the students have experienced in the liminal space means that they have changed and will not blindly continue in the same way as before. I would argue this is illustrated by the match making where our intial expectations of who might end up as couples are reversed as the Sports jock ends up with the Outsider and the Delinquent ends up with the Popular girl [significantly Claire gives John one of her diamond earrings at the end of the movie – I always thought this was a very symbolic ‘distribution of wealth’ gesture].
I have more thoughts about the fact that the space is a library, the things that are in the library space and how they students use the space but that is for another post perhaps.