Knowledge through Art: What The House Bunny Teaches Us about American Higher Education

Barry Lenson

Knowledge through Art: What The House Bunny Teaches Us about American Higher Education

What The House Bunny Teaches Us about American Higher Education  The House Bunny, a movie about college life, hit theaters back in 2008. Nobody accused it of being a masterpiece at the time. In fact, some people dismissed it as a redo of the earlier classic, Legally Blonde (2001), a film made by the same producers. That was not entirely fair, because The House Bunny was really its own animal. For one thing, the film starred the magnificently talented Anna Faris, who has been a mainstay of Scary Movie and its sequels.

The House Bunny tells the story of Shelly (played by Faris), a Playboy bunny who gets kicked out of the Playboy Mansion because she has hit age 27. She wanders onto a campus, where she becomes the house mother of Zeta, a sorority where all the members are social outcasts. Predictably, Shelly transforms the women of Zeta into beautiful bombshells. And just as predictably, Shelly’s success gets her in hot water with the college’s administration.

As I noted above, nobody accused The House Bunny of being a profound work of art. With Faris parading around in little pink spangly outfits and winning social acceptance for her sorority women by making them appeal to men, it sure doesn’t serve up a feminist manifesto.  But the movie teaches us some lessons about many American colleges that are still relevant today . . .

  • Colleges practice age discrimination. When Shelly gets thrown out of the Playboy mansion because she is 27, she is already too old to apply to college in the traditional view of many American four-year schools. In centrist American educational thinking – the kind that still applies at traditional colleges and universities – “the college years” take place between ages 18 and 22 and anything else is abnormal.  Thanks to online learning and other options, that limited view is beginning to fade.
  • Colleges cling to outdated institutions and practices. When Shelly stumbles on Fraternity Row on campus, she looks at the frat and sorority houses and notes that they “Look just like little Playboy mansions.”  She’s right. The entire Greek system, like Playboy magazine, is a throwback.  And we know that frat houses, like the Playboy Mansion, are not exactly strongholds of enlightened regard for women’s rights.
  • Women can only gain acceptance on many campuses by being sexy and/or pretty. When Shelly can only improve life for the Zeta women by making them into sexy stereotypes, her story actually does convey a feminist message and subtext. On some American college campuses, women still cannot gain widespread acceptance by excelling in math, science, or general scholarship.

In future posts, we’ll be learning more lessons from films of art like Back To School. Stay tuned.

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