Exploring Conformity and Deviance in “The Breakfast Club”: Societal Norms, Identity, and Relevance


Sociology delves into the intricate interactions of individuals within society, encompassing social structures, norms, and behaviors. “The Breakfast Club” serves as an engaging lens through which to examine the themes of conformity and deviance. This analysis will explore the connection between these themes, their portrayal in the film, and their continued relevance in contemporary society (Cohen, 2019; Foucault, 2018; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). “The Breakfast Club” effectively demonstrates the nuanced interplay between conformity, deviance, and the individual’s quest for self-identity, reflecting the dynamic relationship between societal norms and personal behavior.

Conformity, Deviance, and Societal Dynamics

Conformity and deviance are pivotal sociological concepts that shed light on the complex relationship between individual behavior and the norms set by society (Cohen, 2019; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). Conformity involves the adjustment of an individual’s actions, beliefs, and attitudes to align with prevalent social norms and expectations. It serves as a mechanism for maintaining social cohesion and order within a community. Deviance, on the other hand, refers to actions, beliefs, or behaviors that challenge or diverge from societal norms. These concepts encapsulate the multifaceted dynamics that shape human interactions within the broader context of society.

The exploration of conformity and deviance is essential in understanding the intricate web of societal dynamics. Conformity acts as a binding force, promoting uniformity and predictability among individuals (Cohen, 2019). It is evident in various aspects of daily life, from adhering to dress codes and etiquette to conforming to professional norms in the workplace. This societal mechanism ensures that interactions and expectations are structured, contributing to social stability. On the other hand, deviance introduces an element of unpredictability and challenges established norms (McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). Deviant acts, whether minor or significant, lead to a reevaluation of societal norms, potentially paving the way for social change and evolution.

“The Breakfast Club” vividly illustrates the tension between conformity and deviance among a group of disparate high school students during detention. The characters’ varied backgrounds and social roles mirror the diversity of perspectives within society itself. Bender’s rebellious behavior exemplifies deviance, as he consistently challenges the authority of the school environment (Cohen, 2019). His disregard for rules and defiance of the school’s disciplinary system embody an outright rejection of conformity. In contrast, Brian’s initial compliance with academic pressures embodies conformity. His pursuit of academic excellence in response to parental and societal expectations underscores the influence of conformity in shaping individual decisions (McLeod & Shanahan, 2019).

The characters’ interactions reveal that both conformity and deviance are deeply rooted in personal experiences and societal structures. Bender’s deviance is fueled by his troubled family life, highlighting how external factors can drive individuals to challenge norms (Cohen, 2019). His actions serve as a form of resistance against a harsh reality. Conversely, Brian’s confession about contemplating suicide due to academic pressure showcases the potential psychological toll of excessive conformity (McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). This illustrates how conforming to societal expectations without consideration for individual well-being can lead to dire consequences.

In contemporary society, the interplay between conformity and deviance remains as relevant as ever. Social media platforms magnify the pressure to conform to certain standards, whether in terms of appearance, lifestyle, or beliefs. The curated personas presented on social media platforms are often driven by a desire for acceptance and validation, exemplifying the power of conformity (Cohen, 2019). Conversely, the digital age has facilitated new forms of deviance, such as online activism, which challenges established power structures and societal norms.

The exploration of conformity and deviance provides insights into the intricate dynamics that underpin social interactions. “The Breakfast Club” effectively portrays the tension between these concepts and their impact on individual behavior and identity. As society evolves, the struggle between conformity and deviance continues to shape our understanding of human behavior and the mechanisms that govern societal norms (Cohen, 2019; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019).

Exploration in “The Breakfast Club”

The film “The Breakfast Club” provides a captivating portrayal of the exploration of conformity and deviance among a diverse group of high school students during a Saturday detention. This exploration is deeply intertwined with the characters’ individual backgrounds, experiences, and societal roles, reflecting the intricate interplay between these themes (Cohen, 2019; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019).

Deviance as a Defiant Identity
Bender, the rebellious character in the film, exemplifies deviance through his confrontational attitude and disruptive behavior (Cohen, 2019). His actions are a direct challenge to the authority and expectations imposed by the school environment. From his defiance towards Principal Vernon to his disregard for established rules, Bender becomes the embodiment of deviance. His rebellious acts allow the audience to witness the power of deviance as a tool for expressing discontent with societal norms. Bender’s deviance serves as a mechanism for asserting his individuality and grappling with his troubled past, highlighting the multidimensional nature of deviant behavior.

Conformity as a Mask for Struggle
Brian, the academically driven character, initially represents the embodiment of conformity within the group (McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). His dedication to achieving academic success stems from the societal pressures and parental expectations that weigh heavily on him. Brian’s need to conform to academic standards underscores the broader societal emphasis on achievement and the associated recognition. However, as the story unfolds, the façade of conformity is peeled away to reveal the emotional toll it exacts. Brian’s confession about contemplating suicide due to academic pressure underscores the darker side of conformity, shedding light on the potential mental health consequences of extreme adherence to societal norms.

Shared Experiences and Bonding
As the characters interact and share their stories, their diverse backgrounds gradually become a means of connection and empathy. Their discussions unveil the common threads of pain, loneliness, and pressure they all experience, irrespective of their initial cliques (Cohen, 2019). The shared experiences and newfound understanding break down the superficial labels they initially embodied. This transformation exemplifies the potential of human connection to transcend both conformity and deviance. The characters’ bonding experience in the film becomes a testament to the power of genuine understanding that can arise when individuals move beyond societal expectations.

Personal Growth and Redefining Identity
“The Breakfast Club” showcases how the exploration of conformity and deviance leads to personal growth and the redefinition of individual identities. As the characters open up about their struggles and motivations, they confront the consequences of their conformist and deviant behaviors (Cohen, 2019). Bender’s vulnerability about his abusive household exposes the complexities behind his defiance, transforming him from a mere troublemaker into a more complex individual. Brian’s confession reveals the psychological toll of excessive conformity and the price one can pay for adhering to societal expectations. These revelations collectively contribute to the characters’ personal transformations, emphasizing the potential for self-discovery through challenging and transcending traditional norms.

“The Breakfast Club,” the exploration of conformity and deviance delves deep into the complexities of human behavior within the framework of societal norms (Cohen, 2019; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). The characters’ journeys from rebellion to vulnerability and from conformity to self-discovery provide valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of human identity. As they bond over shared experiences, the characters’ transformation reflects the transformative power of genuine connections, demonstrating that conformity and deviance are not merely black-and-white concepts but intricate facets of the human experience.

Contemporary Significance

The themes of conformity and deviance depicted in “The Breakfast Club” hold profound relevance in today’s rapidly evolving society, particularly in the context of the digital age and its impact on individual behavior and societal norms (Cohen, 2019; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019).

Conformity in the Age of Social Media
In the digital era, the pressure to conform to societal ideals has taken on new dimensions due to the prevalence of social media platforms (Cohen, 2019). Social media presents an environment where individuals are constantly exposed to curated images of others’ lives, promoting unrealistic beauty standards, lifestyles, and achievements. This virtual landscape amplifies the desire for acceptance and validation, fostering conformity to fit the mold of what is deemed socially desirable. The film’s portrayal of Brian’s initial conformity to academic pressures resonates with the contemporary pressure to create a facade of an ideal life online, despite the personal struggles that may lie beneath.

Digital Activism as a Form of Deviance
The digital age has also given rise to new forms of deviance, often facilitated by online platforms. Online activism, for instance, challenges established norms and power structures, sparking conversations about social justice, equality, and cultural change (Cohen, 2019). The power of social media to mobilize and connect individuals who deviate from mainstream ideologies is evident in movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. These movements showcase the potential of deviance to drive positive societal change and challenge deeply entrenched norms, similar to the impact of Bender’s defiance in the film.

Redefining Gender Roles and Stereotypes
“The Breakfast Club” highlights the importance of breaking down stereotypes and moving beyond preconceived notions (Cohen, 2019). In today’s world, the fight for gender equality and the redefinition of traditional gender roles continue to challenge societal norms. The film’s portrayal of characters transcending their initial cliques underscores the significance of genuine understanding and the rejection of limiting labels. Contemporary discussions about gender identity and expression mirror the characters’ journey in the film, illustrating the potential for societal progress when individuals defy expectations.

Promoting Inclusivity and Empathy
As society navigates issues of diversity and inclusion, the film’s central message of transcending stereotypes remains pivotal (Cohen, 2019). The intersectionality of identity, race, and socio-economic factors is increasingly acknowledged, leading to discussions about privilege and systemic inequalities. The characters’ transformation from superficial cliques to genuine connections serves as a model for fostering empathy and unity. The film encourages viewers to look beyond the surface and recognize the complexity of individual experiences, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive society.

“The Breakfast Club” continues to resonate in today’s society due to the enduring themes of conformity and deviance, which have taken on new dimensions in the digital age (Cohen, 2019; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019). The pressure to conform to social media ideals, the emergence of online activism, and the ongoing redefinition of gender roles all reflect the contemporary relevance of these themes. The film’s call to break down stereotypes and cultivate genuine connections remains a pertinent lesson as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of societal norms and individual expression.


“The Breakfast Club” offers a sociological exploration of conformity and deviance’s interplay with individual identity. The characters’ journeys within the context of societal norms and personal experiences reflect the complex dynamics of human behavior. The film’s message underscores the importance of reconciling conformity with embracing one’s uniqueness. In an era marked by the influence of conformity and evolving modes of deviance, the insights from “The Breakfast Club” remain relevant as we navigate the delicate balance between societal expectations and individual expression (Cohen, 2019; Foucault, 2018; McLeod & Shanahan, 2019).


Cohen, S. (2019). Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2018). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage Books.

McLeod, J. D., & Shanahan, M. J. (2019). Poverty, Parenting, and Children’s Mental Health. American Sociological Review, 84(2), 261-286.