Friday, July 18, 2008


“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took liberties with our female guests. We did. (Otter winks at Dean Wormer, who returns a pinched look of confusion, unaware that his wife has spent the night with this slickster, but half aware of what the sharp jab in his ego from Otter’s wink means.) But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg, isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we’re not going to suit here and listen to you bad-mouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!”

-- Eric “Otter” Stratton, leading the boys on yet another stupid, futile gesture (and Tim Matheson’s finest moment) in National Lampoon’s Animal House

The members of Delta Tau Chi have been hauled up before the Pan-Hellenic Disciplinary Council, on which sits Greg Marmallard, Omega nasty, Douglas Neidermeyer, sergeant-at-arms (and chief Omega nasty) and even perpetually chipper and buoyant Babs Jansen, cheerfully taking steno notes as if her bouffant were filled with helium. Charges have been filed against the Deltas, including “two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.” The Deltas know that further flaunting of procedure and rules, further defiance of the mandates coming down around their heads issued by Dean Wormer, will result their suspension and likely expulsion from school. And yet Animal House is a movie over which hangs the pall of Vietnam and the draft, so there is so real heft to the Deltas’ rejection of the values of Faber College, or rather their insistence on their own pointedly mindless indulgences.

Animal House is a movie widely recognized for its qualities as an enduring laugh machine, but its political bent has been far less recognized and explored in the 30 years since the movie’s release. Steven Hart hits on this angle in relating his own personal experience with the film in his essay ”Animal Magnetism”, and back in 2003 Fredrich on the 2 Blowhards blog approached the subject head-on in a post entitled "The Politics of Animal House". Both the post and the comments that follow open up the movie to a perspective I’d wager might have been lost on some of the generations embracing the film successive to those who were the same age as the movie’s early ‘60s college students. For Fredrich, Otter’s speech, which many take to be just another example of the character’s slippery cleverness and charm, the main reason why the Deltas look upon him as their leader, amounts to “a serious political utterance,” one which establishes the theme of the movie’s radical positioning of the notion of the American pursuit of happiness as a social statement, a working out of the ideals of drunken revelry as a position on society as viable as any of the more obvious, “fundamentally frivolous” political expressions of the mid-‘70s, as they devolved from the ideals of the ‘60s, that the writer experienced during his own college days.

What do you think? Is Fredrich on to something? Can we take its association with the more politically oriented National Lampoon of the ‘70s (when, as Hart says, “the words National and Lampoon above a title were an enticement instead of a warning”) as evidence that there is something afloat in this perspective? Or is Animal House best viewed as the greatest toga party of all time and left at that?

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