I Am On My Way to Iowa City

Because all the cool kids will be at the Iowa City Book Festival. And I’m a cool kid!


(That last all caps sentence was a reference to a recent spasm in science fiction about “cool kids,” which was very silly because people out of high school should not be using high school as a social metaphor on a regular basis, and it gets more embarrassing to use the older you get. A pro tip there.)

(Also, topic for discussion, speaking of high school and cool kids: You know you’re an adult when you watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and think to yourself, “You know what? Ferris really is kind of a prick, isn’t he?” Debate in the comments.)

Anyway, Iowa City! I’ll be there soon. If you’re there, I’ll see you there! If you’re not there, well, we’ll have to try to have fun without you. It will be difficult! But we’ll try.

59 Comments on “I Am On My Way to Iowa City”

  1. So, will you be able stick around for ICON, the annual Iowa Science Fiction Convention, which will be two weeks later in Cedar Rapids? ‘Cuz it seems kind of sad to come to the CR/IC area for a book festival, but not be able to stay for the SF con (I believe the oldest one in Iowa).

  2. Actually, I think it’s when you realize that the movie is actually about Cameron :-)

  3. I’ve always favored the theory that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is really the high school equivalent of Fight Club, with Ferris being Cameron’s Tyler Durden.

  4. Seconding Jim C. Cameron’s the character who actually has an arc. Bueller (Bueller?) is merely a goad, and indeed not always a likable one.

  5. I always thought of ferris as merely a vehicle for … Oh wait, I’m saying the same thing everybody else is saying. Cameron is the real hero with a story. Ferris is a manic pixie boy.

  6. Lots of MFAs and MFA students out there. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, make sure the stall doors lock in the bathrooms, and use antibacterial soap abundantly. Also, count your fingers after shaking hands with anyone. And before talking to police make sure this is not just their day job, and they are not working on novels in their spare time.

    You’ll be fine.


    (Oh, god, he’s going to IOWA CITY. Was Detroit closed?)

  7. Iowa City is a lovely place, especially in October. Even the sidewalks are literate!

  8. As a diehard Cyclone I can only offer you sympathy for having to descend into the Hawkeye Mordor that is Iowa City.

  9. I had another “Wow, I’m getting old!” epiphany when I found myself thinking, “Huh, mom was right. Ferris is a jerk.”

  10. I still find it possible to like Ferris because FFS he was 18 and we’re all pricks at 18.

    Aside from Cameron, the other person with an arc is Jeannie Bueller. Hers is about learning to live her own life and not fixate on the drama vortex surrounding her brother.

  11. Slightly off on a tangent the new online game “Armored Warfare” has a post-disaster dystopian plot line that contemporary high-school kids should relate to.

    This relates to my high school experience in that this element of the game reminds me of the “The Texas-Israeli War of 1999” which I read at that time; Howard Waldrop’s lawyers probably ought to be contacting Obsidian Entertainment.

  12. I always identified with Jeannie but wanted to be like Ferris. Haven’t seen the movie recently so not sure what I’d think of him now! In theory, love the idea of skipping school to go to a museum…

  13. Speaking of being old, the first part of this post has “Through Being Cool” now playing on repeat in my head. Not that having Devo on repeat is a bad thing….

  14. I suspect that I wouldn’t have liked Ferris in real life, but I still enjoy the film :-) Maybe it’s because Ed Rooney is even less likeable…

  15. Yes, Ferris was a prick.
    You also know you’re an adult when you start agreeing with the parents in Disney movies. Case in point, the Little Mermaid
    Ariel: I’m 16 years old! I’m not a child anymore!
    Me in my head: “Jesus, I forgot she’s supposed to be 16. Now I’m pissed at King Triton for backing down in the end. 16!”

  16. We’ll be delighted to have you here again! My daughter (who appears to be Athena’s long-lost twin) said talking to you was a high point in her year, as she aspires to be an author someday. Unfortunately, this weekend is filled with marching band competitions, so we may not get to see you again.

    Have fun anyway!

    I agree about Ferris, but the film is fun anyway. My wife and I speculated recently about what Ferris is like as a 50-something…..

  17. Add my log to the Cameron fire. It’s not just Cameron’s story, though. Several of the characters had arcs which had more growth than Ferris (the Jennifer Gray character, for sure). I disliked Ferris right from the beginning.

    Anyone else think that Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missle F1-11 was just as pervasive and iconic in 80’s movies as Yello’s Oh Yeah?

  18. Wait, someone ripped off a Howard Waldrop plot to make a video game and it wasn’t “All About Strange Monsters Of The Recent Past” or “Night Of The Cooters?” What the hell is wrong with video game plagiarists? I wanna play Slim Pickens fighting a Martian invasion, dammit!

  19. I hit the same epiphany with Star Wars: New Hope, when I realized that Luke was just a whiny teenager that shouldn’t be allowed out on his own…

  20. Ok, Ferris may be an idiot, but his message still resonates with this ‘grown-up’.

    ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’

    His methods are suspect but his premise is sound.

  21. I didn’t like Ferris when the movie came out, and I was a teen then; I never watched the whole thing because he was so unlikable. Maybe I can watch it now, thirty years later, and enjoy it, knowing I’m NOT supposed to be rooting for that jerk…?

  22. I just can’t get past Cameron’s Red Wings jersey, myself, considering how hated the Wings are in Chicago.

  23. Welcome to Iowa City! The only liberal haven in Iowa save Des Moines. Make sure to be on the lookout for Ashton K. and Mila as they tend to frequent our co-ops, hand in hand.

    I still use the clammy hands routine when I want out of something. Even though I don’t know what it’s supposed to signify.

  24. Ferris Bueller is a sociopath who gets away with it by being charming. So in that regard kind of reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter or my cats, but with different dietary habits.

  25. Actually FB’sDO is the fantasy life of Cameron. He is a desperately lonely kid with an abusive father. He has created an obviouly impossible caricature of what he wishes his life to be. Nothing in the movie is believable in any other light. In the end he destroys the car to force the final confrontation. Its really a tragic film of mental illness and abuse.

  26. Alas the Coralville library doesn’t have ducks in residence this year.

    That is the sole attraction of the Iowa City area that I have explored in my numerous business trips out that way, and it’s already out date.

  27. As far as “cool kids”. There is a very good place for it. Modern political reporters all want to be in the Cool Kid Club. Have inside secrets whispered in their ears that they can repeat in print on air and/ on line. Get to sit with real stars at the WHCD. They need to support and defend the cool kids common wisdom or they will get cut dead. The Cool Kids Club, media division is a big reason for the current political dysfunction.

  28. DANG! I see Martin was in with the only take on the movie that makes it palatable.
    Great minds, right?

  29. It’s the Universal Glory Days Principle: after about four years, anyone who still frames things in the context of high school is more than a bit pathetic. This is as true for Super Bitter Nerdboy as it is for Did I Mention I Played The Winning Sportsball Guy.

    I don’t remember disliking or liking Ferris, but I will roll my eyes at anyone who is pro-Rooney. For one, dude’s job does not depend on Ferris’s attendance–kid had a note from his parents, so–and for another? Ferris is in his senior spring. High school is over; everyone’s college admissions have been decided; from April through June, you do the minimum work necessary not to completely flunk, that’s it, and any teacher who’s not fresh off the turnip truck knows it. Nobody in that class is learning *anything*, whether they actually come to school that day or not.

    And if we are using high school as a social metaphor, I’d like to call dibs on Watts from Some Kind of Wonderful before anyone else claims that archetype.

  30. I almost didn’t graduate HS due to too many unexcused absences so Ferris kind of resonates. When the vice principal called my mom in to tell her I might have to repeat senior year, she asked them “do you REALLY want her back?” They decided to grant credits for jobs worked over the summers to get me out a semester early in the end!

    But yeah, Ferris is a charming, narcissistic sociopath and I dated lots just like him way back when…

  31. Eh, I’m another one of those who didn’t like Ferris even in high school at the time, and find him doubly insufferable now. Breakfast Club all the way. ^_-

    And hey, ease up on Iowa City, huh? I live in Kansas City, went through a period where I had to drive to Chicago on a regular basis, and Iowa City was always a favorite stop along the way. Loved the used bookstores, though sadly last time I stopped a couple of my favorites had closed. :(

    (Cedar Rapids, now… an anime convention I once attended moved from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids, and that was a major step down. The omnipresent smell of the Purina factory near the hotel/convention center didn’t help… Neat thing: The series of second-story enclosed walkways connecting many of the downtown buildings. Not-so-neat-thing: Seeing how many of those buildings and offices were vacant as a group of us toured the system.)

  32. I’m sorry, but the true hero of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder which finally has an adventure in Chicago only to die tragically after its first taste of freedom.

  33. @ Erica: The Little Mermaid annoyed me no end even when I was a teenager, when I watched it way too many times because my sister, ten years my junior, loved it. I couldn’t get over the message of rebellious irresponsible teenager disobeys her parent, runs away and nearly gets herself killed, makes her parent sacrifice himself to bail her out, and as a reward marries her first crush when she’s presumably still 16.

    It was about ten years later that I realized that the message was supposed to be about racial prejudice. It just got completely obscured by all that teenagery.

  34. My wife and I were dating and we high school students when FBDO came out originally. After the movie she told me she thought Ferris was kind of an ass. I really didn’t get where she was coming from. And yet here we are, married 23 years.

  35. By the time FBDO came out, I was already married and carrying my own rent and monthly car payment and wishing I could so much as LOOK AT a Ferrari.

    So yeah. No sympathy for him from the get-go. Lock that kid up, make his parents pay for it all. Unless he’s merely a figment of imagination of his buddy in which case… same thing?

  36. I was already married with my own rent and car payment when FBDO came out. Dreaming of even being able to LOOK at a Ferrari.

    No sympathy here. Lock him up and make his parents pay damages.

  37. At this point in time I would have thought it was a case of you know your a grown up if you’ve seen fbdof. (And yes he is a self centered knob with his head up his ass).

  38. Have fun in Ioway (as in the picture). Wish you were coming to Bouchercon in Raleigh next weekend.

    And yes, Ferris was always an insufferable prick, even 29 years ago. (And while he may have been 18, Borderick was not – he was in his mid-twenties.)

    To me it has always been unwatchable.

  39. ah Sigue Sigue Sputnik, how I missed you! must watch ferris again. as I have a 12 year old now. But still ferris = anarchy/chaos and is a good counterpoint to the regimentation of school. I think that as we get farther away from the school days we forget how much freedom we have now.

  40. isabelcooper, in re Watts and Some Kind of Wonderful (hereafter, SKoW), I feel compelled to point out that in the midst of the Hugo/Puppies/etc./etc. madness last spring, I posted on metafilter a breathtakingly profound analysis comparing that whole brouhaha to SKoW. In it, I think I convincingly proved that Mr Correia’s entire narrative of that struggle closely replicated, in a tragi-comic way, the basic plot of SKoW. He was Eric Stoltz, ‘regular’ SF fandom (as opposed to snobby elite literary types) was Watts, and all of Eric Stoltz’s delinquent friends, who were really cooler and better than the rich snobs, were the Pups. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    Check it out here: http://www.metafilter.com/148587/2015-Hugo-Nominees-Announced#5998126, (posted at 5:14 on April 10) for further elucidation. The only thing I got wrong was the identity of the Lea Thompson character, which was corrected by the next commenter. And, of course, the fact that the Hugo story ended differently than SKoW, but then how often does life replicate true art?

  41. @Jack Lint, I cried when the car was kicked off the jack went through the wall & crashed. I… I think I’m tearing up again.

  42. There are different ways to interpret Ferris Bueller. Just as there are different ways to interpret this particular scene in the movie:

    Sloane: Do you think Cameron is going to be ok?
    Ferris: Oh yeah, yeah sure, for the first time in his life… he’s going to be just fine.
    Sloane: You knew what you were doing when you woke this morning didn’t you?

    I think Ferris did pretty much everything he did that day *specifically* to help Cameron. Why did Cameron need help? Because Cameron will fall in love with the first women he has sex with, and she’ll treat him like shit. And as far as I can tell, that was exactly the trajectory that Cameron was on.

    Cameron has an arc in the movie, Cameron develops as a character in the movie, because of (and only because of) Ferris.

    There are other ways to look at this, I agree, but this is how I look at it.

    In my opinion, Ferris isn’t an asshole. He is the modern day trickster spirit, the coyote. From wikipedia:

    “In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphisation which exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour. … Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as a “boundary-crosser”.[2] The Trickster crosses both physical and often breaks societal rules. Tricksters “…violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.”[3] Often, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery. Tricksters can be cunning or foolish or both. The Trickster openly questions and mocks authority. They are usually male characters, and are fond of breaking rules, boasting, and playing tricks on both humans and gods.”

    I see absolutely nothing random or capricious about Ferris’s actions. Everything is planned out from the beginning to playfully disrupt Cameron’s normal life (and dreadful future) and reestablish a new future. Of course the story arc isn’t about Ferris. The trickster archtype doesn’t develop a story arc, they are a force upon the protagonist to change them for the better. The reason the focus of the movie is on Ferris is because, come on, if the focus had been on Cameron from start to finish? It would have been dreadful.

    And last but not least, the one time where Cameron is facing actual repercussions from their shenanigans, when Cameron kicks the car out the back of the garage, Ferris volunteers to take the bullet for Cameron. Again, some may see Ferris’ offer as insincere in that moment. But I think it was legitimate. And, the fact that Cameron had changed for the better, and was able to face his father, was the yardstick for his development. If he wasn’t strong enough to take it, I think Ferris would have taken the rap for it in Cameron’s stead.

    The thing about tricksters is that the hero almost always hates their methods, but then they come to appreciate the results.

    Now, if Ferris had been a jock archetype, a future frat boy, someone only concerned with himself, he would have done exactly what we see in most of the movie, and he would have abused and misused Cameron exactly the way Ferris did. The movie would have been almost exactly identical to the one we know. EXCEPT. If Ferris was abusing and misusing Cameron entirely for his own benefit and not for Cameron, then the story arc for that would invariably have ended with the abusee standing up to his abuser and kicking them to the curb. That’s that standard story arc for an asshole bully and their victim. The victim eventually gets the courage to tell the bully off and/or punch him in the mouth.

    Cameron doesn’t tell Ferris off or kick him to the curb. Ergo, Ferris is not a bully archtype. Because if he was, the scene with the car flying out the back of the garage would have ended with Cameron having the courage to punch bully Ferris in the nose and having the strength to face his father and accept responsibility for the car. That didn’t happen. Ergo, Ferris is not a bully, but a trickster.

    Same with his sister. She ends up having her small story arc, character development, coming into her own self, finding her power. And in the end, does she stand up to the bully brother and give him a sound thrashing? No. She stands up to Rooney and makes out with Martin Sheen. Ergo, the story is not a story about people standing up to a bully, but someone gently, and not-so-gently guiding some people to their own personal development.

    Ferris is the trickster. Cameron and Jeanie are the recipients of the trickster gifts.

    Ferris knew exactly what he was doing when he woke up that morning. The entire day was for Cameron’s benefit. (Sure, there was some win/win going on there, but Tricksters almost never have to sacrifice to give their gift to someone.)

  43. Enjoy Iowa City for me. I grew up there, and wax nostalic for it from time to time. Prairie Lights and the Public Library are still there, even if Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company has fallen…

  44. I had the same thought (re: Ferris) when I re-read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as an adult. Gee, Holden is really super annoying! This thought absolutely shocked me because that book was my jam as a teenager. I then concluded that I had grown up which was a little sad.

  45. Dear John,

    I seem to have missed the “cool kids/SF” kerfuffle, whatever it was.

    I imagine that means I am not one of the Cool Kids.

    My little heart, she is broke. Now I will go hide.

    …but before I do…


    Dear Alan,

    HATE The Music Man. A bloated, nonsensical travesty based upon a silly and enjoyable musical. Stupid movie. Stupid.

    And I am Not Cool, so I have learned.

    It is a black day, indeed.

    pax / Ctein

  46. @A. Sebastian: While it’s probably not so true of the entire town of Grinnell, I think the college is still a liberal haven.

    I always found it amazing that Alan Ruck was 29 or 30 when he played Cameron.

  47. @Greg Good discussion of FB as Trickster. However, the image of Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) making out with MARTIN Sheen (instead of Charlie) has now been permanently etched on my brain, for which I shall never forgive you.

  48. Excellent argument. I actually think Ferris is kind of a dick, but when you look at him in terms of the archetype, it’s easier to forgive his behavior. Still, I’d hate to think where he would be today, probably working 5 hours a week in some high-powered job while he spends the rest of his time out golfing while resentful colleague cover his ass.

  49. I believe that Ferris Bueller is like Holden Caulfield – and for a particular age group in a particular time. I tried teaching Catcher in the Rye to an Honors English class in college and the students were uniform in their dislike of him as a character. My youngest son read the book as a junior in high school and kind of liked him. So there’s probably a very specific window of time where Holden is an inspiration rather than a disappointment. I can’t re-read the novel anymore – I can’t see Holden as I remember him anymore.

  50. I am not sure why so many people are getting upset about what was in all likelihood meant to be a fluff piece designed to appeal to a wide audience thus making lots of easy money.

    The character of Ferris was likely designed to be charming, fun, and the exciting rebel who does what he wants AND gets away with it which is just what most people secretly want to be. He can be pushy and a bit of a jerk, but he never suffers any negative consequences for it so he goes on living the dream life. Everyone in the movie loves him except for the Principal and his sister and both of those characters are portrayed as being jealous of Ferris which is what I imagine many, if not most, people want.

    Yes, I liked the movie when it first came out (and I was a child), but I also like it now for much the same reasons (e.g. that the movie is a silly fantasy where the characters get to ignore (some of) society’s rules and have nonstop fun). Perhaps the sign for me that I’ve grown up is that I have accepted that the movie is only a fantasy.

  51. I’m reminded of finally getting around to seeing the movie Hair (in my early 20s), which (given my age group) had a reputation of being this great Counter Culture paean, but really turned out to be a study of a narcisistic douche who went off and got himself killed for no good reason. I dunno, maybe it was the “no good reason” part that was the point of the whole thing….

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