The Internet loves nothing more than positing ridiculous fan theories about our favorite movies. Usually, these fan theories boil down to someone is actually dead and/or in a coma from a certain moment onward, and the rest of the movie is just a dream. With the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, however, there is a fan theory that I find deeply disturbing.
This fan theory basically states that Ed Rooney is actually the secret hero of the film. In this theory, Ferris is a sociopath-in-training, luring his friends to The Dark Side with no qualms about destroying their lives. He lies without remorse, steals, uses people, and seems to have little to no actual emotion about anything that happens. Ed Rooney, on the other hand, is the put-upon school administrator who is the only person who sees Bueller as he really is. He’s just a man trying to do his job, trying to save his students from the bad influence of a future serial killer.
Ferris Bueller, as a character, doesn’t hold up as well today as he did in the 80s. That’s undeniable. He comes off less as charming through modern eyes, and seems more like a spoiled, privileged brat. However, these character flaws do NOT make Ed Rooney the hero. Ed Rooney is in no way, shape, or form a good educator. He is not trying to do his job. Ed Rooney is a bad person, a bad educator, and a villain in every sense of the word.
“He’s just doing his job,” is the central argument of this fan theory. That would be all well and good, if anything he does is actually part of his job. Checking up on students who called out sick? Maybe. Speaking condescendingly to that student’s parent and heavily implying they are negligent and out of touch? Absolutely not. Besides, if he was so concerned with Ferris’s attendance, why did he wait until the ninth absent to call? Why not call on the eighth? Or the seventh? Or the sixth? The answer is simple: He didn’t call because he doesn’t actually care. He’s not out to help a student, he’s out to nail a kid he hates.
From the very first moment, the hatred Ed Rooney has towards Ferris is palpable. He can’t even say his name without spitting it like a viper. Disdain drips from every syllable. That is not the attitude of a good educator. His goal is not to help Ferris, as he makes clear time and time again. His eyes gleam with the thought of “bringing down Ferris Bueller”. His goal is to ruin his life, not to hold him accountable. Again, if the goal was accountability, where was the call to the parents on the eight previous absences? Rooney wants Ferris to fail, not just at school but at life. He wants him to get held back, to not get into college, to not have any success. This is not the attitude a man who is “just doing his job” should have. This is the attitude of a true villain.
When Rooney thinks the young man is on the phone pretending to be Sloane’s father, he says horribly inappropriate things to him, not because he doesn’t realize he’s speaking to a student but because he believes he is speaking to a teenager. There is no justification for ever speaking to a student like that. That is not an educator trying to do his job, that is an educator who has lost sight of any sense of purpose.
Additionally, Rooney shows little to no concern for any other student in his school outside of Ferris Bueller. When he personally witnesses Sloane kissing her “father” (actually Ferris) in a way that heavily suggests an incestuous relationship, his response is complete and utter indifference. “So that’s how it is in her family,” he shrugs and walks away, back to his life. He does not follow any of the standard abuse reporting procedures that every educator are required to follow, as mandated reporters. Rather than wasting his entire day tracking down a student whose parents have already given him an excuse for being absent, he should have been calling Child Protective Services. Educators can lose their jobs, their licenses, and potentially even serve jail sentences for ignoring signs of suspected abuse. That is part of your job, Ed Rooney. Do your job, sir.
If you’re still not convinces Ed Rooney isn’t the real hero of this film, also consider how many laws he actively breaks just to trap this one kid in one lie. Is Ferris Bueller the only student who has ever skipped school? Of course not. Has Ed Rooney gone after all of these students with equal fervor? Nothing in the movie indicates he has. He is focusing all of his ire on this one kid. Targeting a single student for extreme punishment is not “part of your job” as an educator. Letting personal feelings into your discipline practices is not “part of the job”. Breaking and entering, assault, and animal cruelty are not part of your job.
In short, if you don’t like Ferris Bueller as a character, that’s fine, but do not over-compensate by assigning positive attributes to Ed Rooney that don’t exist. Nothing about his character is reflective of an educator concerned with what is best for his students, or with being a good educator and doing his job at all.