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Animal House at 40: Why the 'National Lampoon' of White Male Tribalism Is Still Relevant in the Trump Era

July 28, 2018 in Blogs

By Randy Laist, Salon

The infinite cynicism with which “Animal House” pronounces the failures of post-war America remains unparalleled

When “Animal House” was released 40 years ago on July 28, 1978, the low-budget, guerilla-style tale of campus anarchy struck a nerve with audiences, becoming the highest-grossing comedy in Hollywood history and exerting a powerful influence on the culture. While it is remembered mostly for its comedy, “Animal House” is also a political satire in the tradition of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and “The Simpsons,” and its raucous, episodic narrative pokes a finger in the eye of America’s self-image.

Animal House’s most visible and immediate influence was the development of an entire sub-genre of raunchy coming-of-age movies, from first-generation imitators such as “Porky’s,” “Police Academy” and “Revenge of the Nerds” to second-generation iterations such as “American Pie,” “Old School” and “Van Wilder.” All of these movies reliably echo situations and characters from “Animal House,” but, more fundamentally, they tend to emulate the party ethos at the heart of “Animal House.”

Off-screen, the film's iconic images of riotous party-going have provided a model of social behavior for generations of young men. Although “Animal House” did not invent campus party culture, it helped to codify it and to elevate it into a way of life. The real-world campus epidemic of binge drinking and rape culture is one indicator of the movie’s social impact.

The running meta-gag at the heart of “Animal House” is that, although the members of Delta house are all so different — the lady’s man Otter, the failed romantic Boone, the politician Hoover, the human black hole Bluto Blutarsky — they are all united by a single philosophy that the basic purpose of human life is to indulge as frequently and as single-mindedly as possible in the most immediate gratification presently available. The characters who share this consensus are the movie’s in-crowd, the ones who “get it,” and the movie’s villains are the characters who sublimate their biological urges into sadomasochistic regimes of order, like the elite Omega fraternity, or into the maintenance of their own power, like Dean Wormer, or into the militaristic discipline of Niedermeyer’s ROTC …read more


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