‘It’s not going to be an orgy’ (A defense of ‘Animal House’)

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O P I N I O N

Not That Profound


grazianoI was a high school student in the early 1990s when my father introduced me to “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

At the time, I hated school and had little interest in attending college, and perhaps my dad was dangling a carrot by showing me the movie, trying to drum up some interest in higher education.

It worked.

In many ways, director John Landis’s “Animal House” parodies — as satire tends to do — the young, straight male worldview, ridiculing its immaturities and toxic tendencies.

But I was 16 years old and didn’t yet possess the critical faculty—or interest—to unpack the biting satire, nor were terms such as “rape culture” and “toxic masculinity” widely wielded at the time.

Instead, I buckled over laughing at John Belushi’s slapstick as his character John “Bluto” Blutarsky navigated the lunch line then started a food fight. I found myself yearning for the type of male bonding and brotherhood Delta Tau Chi seemed to offer.

After watching “Animal House,” I vowed to go to college and pledge a frat.

And that’s what I did.

In 1994, I was initiated as a brother in Sigma Phi Epsilon at Plymouth State. And I quickly discovered that the screenwriters Harold Ramis, Chris Miller and Douglas Kenney—the story is based on Miller’s experiences in a fraternity at Dartmouth College—were largely on-point.

I found that the archetypical characters in the film existed in my own fraternity. There was a Bluto, and an Otter, and a Boon—who arguably could’ve been me—and a Flounder and a Pinto and a D-Day.

Our fraternity even hosted an annual toga party each fall in the fetid basement of our house on Webster Street, a building that should’ve been condemned long before the fraternity moved into it.

I recently re-watched “Animal House” for the first time in more than a decade, and it’s clear the film hasn’t aged all that well in our current culture where everyone is hyper-sensitive to “triggers” and seemingly humorless when it comes to cracking jokes about sensitive topics.

animal house
Cast of “Animal House.”

The film contains scenes of hazing, where pledges are smacked with paddles and soaked with beer and goaded into performing dangerous pranks. Are these scenes accurate? It wasn’t necessarily my experience, but I’ve heard some stories.

The movie also includes scenes that give a pass to the boys’ bad behaviors—peeping on women while they pillow-fight, for example. Most of the female characters in the film are presented as two-dimensional gate-keepers, standing between the boys and the ultimate object of their desires that lies between the females’s thighs.

And the movie also exploits balances of power—professors sleeping with students and young men engaging in statutory relationships. But anyone with a moral compass realizes this behavior is repulsive—and criminal—and not meant to be internalized.

But at what point do the modern, politically-correct sensibilities dull the collective sense of humor? Does a modern audience not understand the purpose of a “lampoon”?

“Animal House” was not some dim-witted satire when it was released in 1978. In fact, satire has historically been its most poignant when it pushes the boundaries of good taste[1].

My gravest concern with the modern complaints about the film is that we’re capitulating to soft-shelled critics who are fearful of any content that makes them uncomfortable and incapable of processing things that might offend them.

“Animal House” remains a great comedy, even if it hasn’t aged well. The fact that I can still watch the film as a 48-year-old husband and father, and laugh at the same scenes that I did when I was a 16-year-old idiot—for different reasons, in some cases—says something to me.

Maybe if we all relaxed and allowed ourselves to laugh, we could all find some solace from the suffocating oppression of political correctness.

But, right now, it seems we’re more interested in food fights.

______

[1] Take the television shows “South Park” or “The Family Guy.” Both shows have toed the lines of decency, sometime to startling effects. For an example, watch these clips from “South Park.”


NG

You can contact Nathan Graziano at ngrazio5@yahoo.com

About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com