Knowledge through Art: What today’s Students Can Learn from Animal House

Barry Lenson

Knowledge through Art: What today’s Students Can Learn from Animal House

Students Can Learn from Animal House  Animal House, the movie that made its debut way back in 1978, is a period piece. If you watch the film today, you will discover that a lot of what takes place in it would be seen as objectionable today. A lot of events in the film were objectionable when it was made. Excessive drinking is presented as just good fun. Sexism is rampant. Racism is pretty much okay too.

Yet Animal House was a major influence on many college films that followed, including The House Bunny and Back to School.  That’s because it touches on some pretty basic realities about American colleges, many of which are still visible today . . .

  • Class divisions are still ingrained in American college life. Students like Doug Niedermeyer, Mandy and their upscale cohorts still exist on many American college campuses. They are entitled, wealthy kids – sometimes, the children of well-connected alumni – who enjoy all the privileges. And somehow they’re still on the scene, even though nearly 35 years have passed since Animal House was made.
  • Fraternities and sororities still serve as protected enclaves for racism, sexism, student-on-student violence, and other behavior that should not be condoned on campus. Now, I am not saying that all Greek institutions are evil or should be shut down. I am saying, however, that sexual and other attacks regularly take place at many fraternities across the United States and that very little has been done to correct the problem. The same is true for racism, which is ingrained in the recruitment policies at some fraternities and sororities. The fraternity world of Animal House has not gone away.
  • Meal-plan food is still terrible on many campuses. Granted, this is not a big societal problem. But if you watch the famous food fight scene from Animal House, you will see that not much has changed in college cafeterias, except for the disappearance of plastic trays.
  • A rift still exists between the administration at many colleges and their students. Bluto and his Animal House friends were placed on “Double Secret Probation” by Dean Wormer, without being told. Sure, that’s a comic exaggeration. Yet the fact remains that many college students distrust college administrators, and vice versa.

In a future post, we’ll take a look at Legally Blonde, another modern classic about campus life. Until then, keep tuned and keep studying.


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