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From Rat Pack to Brat Pack to Zoella...each generation has its heroes

PUBLISHED: 11:22 07 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:19 08 April 2019

St Elmo's Fire (1985). Photo: Columbia Pictures/IMDB

St Elmo's Fire (1985). Photo: Columbia Pictures/IMDB

Columbia Pictures/IMDB

The Brat Pack were 'The' movie phenomena of the early 80s. They were a group of young talented actors who found themselves drawn into the orbit of National Lampoon writer and film-maker John Hughes.

Cary Grant and Shirley Temple embrace the youth revolution in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, Hollywood's first acknowledgment of the teenager Photo: OdeonCary Grant and Shirley Temple embrace the youth revolution in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, Hollywood's first acknowledgment of the teenager Photo: Odeon

The term Brat Pack was coined by journalist David Blum in New York magazine and the term stuck, probably because of its aural similarity to Sinatra’s Rat Pack. The first so-called Brat Pack films – Sixteen Candles, Oxford Blues, Breakfast Club and St Elmo’s Fire – were a box office success and Hollywood, always wanting to replicate success, made sure that this bankable collection of talent worked together as frequently as possible.

Although there was much debate as to who was in the Brat Pack, there was a general consensus that a Brat Pack movie was any coming of age film which starred three or more Brat Pack members, particularly, if it was written, produced or directed by John Hughes.

Brat Pack movies captured the imagination of the public of the time because they were a collection of well-known, good-looking young people negotiating on screen, the treacherous waters of growing up in a fast-moving, often confusing world.

They captured the imagination of the teenagers of the mid-80s but this is nothing new. Showbiz has always thrived on providing cult films for niche audiences and teenagers have always loved being separate from the rest of society. Always misunderstood, frequently earnest in their beliefs and dedicated to over-throwing the existing world order, teenagers have always enjoyed a special place in the world of showbusiness. They have provided the catalyst for new and exciting work in the arts since well before the term teenager first entered the language in the early 1950s.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior founder members of the Rat Pack worked on screen as well as on the concert stageFrank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior founder members of the Rat Pack worked on screen as well as on the concert stage

Before the movies became an important cultural space for young adults, music was always a safe space for those wanting to secure their own identity. In the 1920s jazz and fashion created The Flapper and the era of The Bright Young Things while in the early 1940s young fans of the big band swing music popularised by upcoming stars like Frank Sinatra were called Bobby Soxers – so-called because they danced in high school gyms in their rolled-down socks so they didn’t scuff or scratch the floor.

They became such a part of popular culture, much like The Brat Pack, that Hollywood even included them in a movie – 1947’s The Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer which paired the suave but middle-aged Cary Grant opposite the 18 year old Shirley Temple.

It was clear that Bobby Soxers were the precursor to fully-fledged teenagers when in the early 1950s Teeny Boppers was added to the societal mix. These were too young to be proper Bobby Soxers – aged from 12 to 15 – and unlike the teenagers emerging at exactly the same time exclusively female.

While the new breed of rebellious teen listened to Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran and watched James Dean, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift on the big screen Teeny Boppers were discovering the joys of pop music. These were the fans who would champion the quieter sounds of Buddy Holly and The Everley Brothers and would outlive the rock’n’rollers and move into the 1960s embracing smoother artists like Bobby Darin and Helen Shapiro.

The Breakfast Club (1985). Photo: Universal Pictures/IMDBThe Breakfast Club (1985). Photo: Universal Pictures/IMDB

The term teenager swiftly became a description and a term of disapproval on the front pages of a variety of hysterical newspapers in the 1950s as rock’n’roll exploded onto the global airwaves and the term teenager was frequently accompanied by the term delinquent.

The raucous sound of Jailhouse Rock, Tutti Frutti and Summertime Blues was echoed on the cinema screen by the rise of belligerent anti-heroes played by James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, Marlon Brando in The Wild One and On The Waterfront and moody Montgomery Clift in I Confess and A Place In The Sun.

The establishment in both the UK and the US felt that the world’s youth was entirely disaffected and, with the Cold War heating up, civilisation was on the brink of collapse. They sought refuge in their own cultural cliques and Sinatra no longer a youthful ‘rebel’ himself provided the focus yet again with The Rat Pack, a group of sharp-edged performers which included Dean Martin, Bing Crosby Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford who, like the rock’n’rollers, brought their persona to the cinema screen as well as the concert platform.

But, the Rat Pack, despite all their bad boy charisma, were never a youth culture. The Rat Pack appealed to the very mums and dads who were tut-tutting their children’s love of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, then performers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin.

YouTube vlogger Zoe Sugg aka Zoella is one of the most influential You Tubers of the 21st centuryYouTube vlogger Zoe Sugg aka Zoella is one of the most influential You Tubers of the 21st century

Over the years youthful rebellion has taken many forms from Flower Power, the hippy counter culture of the late 1960s with its love eastern religions and mind-altering drugs, to the spiky-haired, glue-sniffing anarchic punk movement of the late 1970s. It continues today with current youth culture coalescing around You Tube channels and video games rather than bands. Cinema still has a part to play but the last big cinema sensation surrounded the Twilight saga which launched in 2008 and mirrored the Brat Pack phenomenon and fizzled out when the young stars committed the cardinal sin of out-growing youth movies.

Groups like The Brat Pack will continue as long as teenagers exist seeking a cultural identity for their generation. You Tubers like Joe Sugg and sister Zoella may be the mainstream stars of this generation but part of the appeal is that this new cyber generation likes to keep its idols to itself.

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