It's worth noting that both O'Rourke and Hughes at one point penned jokes or dialogue for Rodney Dangerfield, whose high-society-skewering, upwardly mobile alter egos—think Caddyshack, Back to School, and Easy Money, which O'Rourke co-scripted—were the perfect embodiments of the Republican Party Reptile ethos. It's true that Hughes remained mute on his partisanship just as he was being hailed as the reigning auteur of angst, but a 1988 Premiere profile brushed up against his convictions by calling him the "sort of guy Norman Rockwell might have been if he'd lived in Hollywood." This was an apt comparison, and not just because that same profile tells us that Molly Ringwald owes her career to Girl at Mirror. It should have come as no surprise, then, that a faint smirk of family-values-friendly subversion stamped itself on all of late Hughes, which is to say his even more establishment period as a filmmaker. From The Great Outdoors (in-laws sure are difficult) to Home Alone (towheaded McMansion latchkey kid foils robbery, saves Christmas) to Dennis the Menace (overall-wearing scamp of the manicured lawns sling-shoots his way straight into your heart)—these were comedies for the Dan Quayle in all of us.
Gen Xnostalgia is as interesting for what it remembers as for what it chooses to ignore. Every so often, you'll turn on TBS and be forced to take inventory of the popular culture of your youth. Trading Places delivered its comeuppance with a switcheroo act of commodities fraud; * the true nemesis of Ghost Busters wasn't Gozer but the EPA; Stripes is all about making a kind of screwball peace with the military-industrial complex … Sure enough, there's Harold Ramis—another Lampoon alum, who directed Hughes' screenplay for Vacation—reflecting on the Chicago Seven hearings in a recent interview with the Believer: "They ran up and down the street, smashing car windows and stuff. My first reaction was, 'Yeah, right on!' But then I thought, 'Wait, I'm parked out there.' " The polite term for this gentle rightward shift when it happens to artists and intellectuals is embourgeoisement. What a shame the philosopher of puberty never warned kids about that.