John Hughes was never much of a director, but I really like the contrast between the opening and closing of The Breakfast Club for the way it gets at the way in which zoning plays such an important part in possible mobility. The film begins with everyone arriving at the school, and the school looms over the two achievement-oriented students, Brian and Andrew.

Bender and Alison, by contrast, arrive in an image that marks them as much less concerned with class mobility and more with the politics of their class position:

Finally, at least in terms of my argument, school occupies much less of Claire’s, shall we say, horizon. For Claire, Standish old (read: inherited) money will assure her continued comfort.

Why do Andrew and Brian need school for mobility? The ending returns to the school parking lot to hint at a reason: Zoning. Brian gets in the car and the school remains in the background – its stairs no less. No heteronormative couple will smooth his class mobility; Brian must depend on mobility through education. The shared car here is the key marker of how much Brian’s family has sacrificed to live in a “good district.”

When Andrew and Alison say goodbye, the school does less looming than in its previous appearance. The apartment complex in the centre right of the image takes up a far greater proportion of the screen. There’s a gulf between them – Andrew’s has aspirations to join Alison’s comfortable upper-mid life. But if the scholarship doesn’t pan out, Anderw just might find membership in the upper-middle class. (As an aside, the film’s big howler is that Andrew’s worried about being a “discipline case” and thereby losing his full ride. I briefly attended University of Iowa, where wrestling meets sold out Carver Hawkeye Arena. Dan Gable would have given a guy who won the Illinois state championship for his weight division as a sophomore a scholarship. No piddly solitary Saturday detention would ruin Andrew’s chances.)

The Bender-Claire framing is even more relentless. In place of the BMW of Overwhelming Financial Potency from the film’s beginning, the Bender-Claire farewell similarly places the apartment complex at its centre, with the glitz of the BMW pushed off to the corner. Why the sudden prominence of the apartment complex instead of the car? Breakfast Club is unabashedly utopian, and I’d argue that Hughes locates that utopian potential in places like apartments – the corners of affordable housing that make it possible for the working class and lower middle class to take advantage of schools in affluent areas. In limited numbers. That’s why multi-family residential zones (apartment complexes and the older kind of duplexes) are so important – and in such relatively scarce supply – in American suburbia.

In the future I’ll have a similar argument to make about a much more geographically specific (Shermer is Northbrook, but it’s also not) example of zoning’s importance in suburban education, The Slums of Beverly Hills.