A few days ago I was having dinner with my wife and she brought up one of her favorite movies.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Breakfast Club")

Mr. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL (Actor): (as Brian Johnson) Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had a sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are.

GREENE: That's the last scene from "The Breakfast Club" - five students after detention getting the last word in an essay to their principal.

My wife had been thinking about the film since its director, John Hughes, passed away last week. She really identified with those students - their fight for respect and recognition, that attitude of I will define who I am.

In many ways, the loss of John Hughes, coming after Michael Jackson's death, has given children of the '80s this chance to reflect on our decade, and I feel a new sense of pride gelling in us. Back then, growing up in the '80s brought a certain indignity, this feeling of don't you wish you were born 10 or 20 years earlier and were shaped by real cultural richness - rock and roll, war, protests?

Our time was deemed unremarkable. Yet if the '80s were just a throwaway decade, why did the entire world mourn and dust off old albums when Michael Jackson was gone? As a man - far from perfect. As a musician - okay, a product of the '60s, but he was king of our '80s.

(Soundbite of song, "Man in the Mirror")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Musician): (Singing) If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change…

GREENE: And Michael had something right there. The '80s were no longer a time to change the world. That was done by the generations before us. So to find an identity, to feel important, we had to look inward. I know that may sound selfish, but it really was an opportunity. Free from pressure to join a movement or start a protest, we could dream big for ourselves and figure out what small part we wanted to play when the next transformative moment arrived.

And so I understand why my wife felt that connection to "The Breakfast Club." We, the children of the '80s, have always struggled to understand our place in the larger story.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Breakfast Club")

Mr. HALL: (as Brian Johnson) You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…

Mr. EMILIO ESTEVEZ (Actor): (as Andrew Clark) …and an athlete…

Ms. ALLY SHEEDY (Actor): (as Allison Reynolds) …and a basket case…

Ms. MOLLY RINGWALD (Actor): (as Claire Standish) …a princes…

Mr. JUDD NELSON (Actor): (as John Bender) …and a criminal.

Mr. HALL: (as Brian Johnson) Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't You")

Mr. JIM KERR (Lead Singer, Simple Minds): (Singing) Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't you forget about me. As you walk on by…

GREENE: You are listening to NPR News.

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