Why 'Animal House' culture is problematic

See why the nostalgic comedies of the '70s and '80s have unexpectedly come into focus in light of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Posted: Sep 27, 2018 7:18 PM
Updated: Sep 27, 2018 7:37 PM

"Animal House's" recent 40th anniversary was an occasion for nostalgia, but also a referendum on the problematic aspects of the sex-and-drug comedies of that era when viewed through a modern prism. As USA Today asked in one analytical piece, "In the era of #MeToo, is it still OK to laugh at 'Animal House'?"

That period has come into focus again, unexpectedly, in the confirmation hearings regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault while a high-school student -- and in a separate act of misconduct by a college classmate -- during the early 1980s. (Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations.)

Movies, obviously, hold up a bent mirror to society, and are often funny precisely because they exaggerate attitudes and situations. But the popular culture of the period does reflect shifting standards, and tolerance for a kind of humor -- not only about sex, but also issues such as race -- that was much different, when young guys were reading the National Lampoon and flocking to see equally risqué fare like "Kentucky Fried Movie" and "The Groove Tube."

Of course, movies about teenage boys losing their virginity as a rite of passage both predates those years and lingered long after it. "The Summer of '42," a comedy-drama released in 1971, focused heavily on a pair of boys determined to have sex during World War II (before taking a more serious turn), while the "American Pie" series -- which dealt with the same general theme much more broadly -- kicked off in 1999.

In between, there were movies like "Animal House," in which, among other things, a college freshman plays out the pros and cons of having sex with a drunk-to-the-point-of-unconscious girl; and popular comedies like "Porky's" (with its voyeuristic shower scene), "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Sixteen Candles."

In the last film, one of a string of hit comedies directed by John Hughes, a teenage nerd impresses his friends by presenting a pair of a classmate's panties.

The extent to which women were fully realized characters in these movies -- as opposed to just being the objects of fixation and fantasy -- tended to vary, but in most instances these stories unfolded largely from a male perspective. A prime example would be "Weird Science" -- another Hughes film, from 1985 -- in which a couple of dweeby kids literally create an idealized woman (played by model Kelly LeBrock) in a lab.

Television exhibited a similar naughty streak during these years, with sitcoms like "Bosom Buddies" and "Three's Company," where young men ogling women -- while pretending to be women and gay, respectively -- was baked into the premise.

The tenuous relationship here to the Kavanaugh story is simply to consider the way the cultural environment has evolved, perhaps especially in the last few years. Re-watching movies years later has surely compelled some middle-aged parents to squirm uncomfortably when introducing their kids to old pastimes that haven't necessarily aged well.

There is and was, clearly, a vast gap between the entertainment that people consume and the way they actually behave. That said, there were also Reagan-era toga parties and drinking games inspired by what people saw on the screen, where characters being drunk or stoned was often a source of hilarity.

The issue of looking backward isn't strictly academic, coming as it does amid a wave of movie and TV revivals, drawing upon the equity in nostalgia. Yet for those who like to view the '70s and '80s as a simpler time, it's a reminder that not everything from those years translates into a modern setting, in what was, in key respects, a less enlightened one.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 24190

Reported Deaths: 1036
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin8181606
Ramsey2863122
Stearns201413
Nobles15125
Anoka136370
Dakota126354
Washington61731
Olmsted60810
Kandiyohi4901
Rice4522
Clay42426
Scott4082
Todd3130
Wright3051
Mower3031
Sherburne2372
Carver2062
Benton1753
Steele1590
Blue Earth1380
Martin1295
St. Louis11814
Freeborn1150
Pine890
Nicollet8610
Unassigned8610
Winona7915
Carlton730
Watonwan710
Cottonwood700
Crow Wing682
Goodhue663
Otter Tail640
Chisago611
Polk612
Itasca5410
Dodge520
Chippewa491
Lyon490
Morrison450
Meeker450
Le Sueur441
Douglas410
Becker390
Jackson390
Murray390
McLeod340
Isanti320
Waseca260
Rock220
Mille Lacs191
Faribault180
Swift180
Wabasha180
Fillmore171
Pennington170
Sibley160
Brown152
Beltrami140
Cass132
Norman130
Pipestone120
Kanabec111
Wilkin113
Marshall100
Pope90
Wadena90
Aitkin80
Koochiching70
Yellow Medicine60
Mahnomen61
Lincoln50
Renville50
Big Stone40
Grant40
Red Lake40
Redwood40
Clearwater30
Hubbard30
Traverse30
Lac qui Parle30
Roseau30
Houston20
Lake10
Kittson10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 19217

Reported Deaths: 531
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4160125
Woodbury274034
Black Hawk173944
Linn94976
Dallas89220
Marshall89216
Buena Vista7350
Johnson6149
Wapello5589
Muscatine55641
Crawford5142
Tama40227
Scott35810
Dubuque34518
Louisa34311
Jasper26116
Pottawattamie2578
Sioux2190
Washington1888
Wright1670
Plymouth1292
Warren1260
Allamakee1204
Story1091
Mahaska9310
Poweshiek908
Henry711
Bremer696
Des Moines621
Clinton611
Boone610
Taylor540
Clarke530
Guthrie503
Cedar461
Benton411
Webster391
Monroe385
Shelby370
Jones360
Hamilton350
Clayton343
Iowa330
Buchanan330
Osceola330
Marion320
Cerro Gordo281
Cherokee280
Madison282
Fayette270
Lee250
Winneshiek240
Monona240
Jefferson230
Harrison220
Davis210
Lyon210
Dickinson200
Grundy200
Mills190
Floyd191
Sac180
Humboldt170
Lucas170
Hardin160
Hancock160
Delaware150
Keokuk150
Clay150
Appanoose153
Butler151
Emmet140
Ida140
Page130
Greene130
Franklin130
Cass120
Howard120
Audubon121
Jackson120
Winnebago110
Pocahontas110
Chickasaw100
Carroll90
Van Buren90
Adair90
Kossuth90
Union70
Adams70
Montgomery70
Palo Alto60
Unassigned60
Fremont40
Mitchell40
Ringgold40
Worth30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur10
Rochester
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 65°
Mason City
Few Clouds
68° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 68°
Albert Lea
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 70°
Austin
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 70°
Charles City
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
Sunnier skies for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Rochester People's Rally

Image

Religious leaders call for justice for George Floyd

Image

Rochester downtown under curfew Saturday night

Image

Sean Weather 5/30

Image

Governor Walz GivesUpdate

Image

Gov. Walz Addresses Minnesotans in Overnight Press Conference

Image

Riots, Fires continue in Minneapolis

Image

Protesters in Downtown Rochester

Image

Mower County Fair will go on as planned

Image

Minneapolis Gas Stations Shut Down

Community Events