Animal House popped up on one of the streamers a few weeks ago—just checked, it was Netflix—and I started it rolling for no reason other than a quick nostalgia fix. I think I first watched that movie in Canberra when I was working for defence and sharing with a couple of other blokes, one of whom nowadays might not be a million miles removed from the office of the Secretary of the Department of Defence.
We were all newly stranded in Canberra, first year out of uni, and most Saturday nights we'd get a few beers on board and rent some video tapes.
That's how long ago this was.
No DVDs, just tapes.
I knew about Animal House of course. It'd been out for a years but was already a pop cultural touchstone. We watched it and probably watched it again before returning the tape. I rewatched it many times afterwards and retained fond if slightly hazy memories decades later.
It was kind of odd going back.
It was still funny in parts, but the humour felt more elegiac — funny because I recalled that it had been funny once upon a time. There was a sort of naive quality to it, which was only partly a function of setting the story in 1962 before the violent atomisation of the later Sixties. There was also something new. Real awkwardness. Not so much with the white monocultural cast. That was historically on point, although I doubt any film maker would get away with it now.
Rather, the sexual politics of Animal House feel... a little uncomfortable. There are no outright rape jokes, unlike a period 'classic' such as the original Ocean's Eleven, for instance.
But jeez, there's some problematic content, as the kids might say... If the kids are into policing the boundaries of acceptable discourse.
The racial inequities of the time, especially the clueless liberalism of the monied elites, are actually well neatly caught in the byplay between the Delta's and Otis Day and the Knights.
But in the #MeToo era its the film's gender biases that strike a loud, discordant note. Two moments in particular; chapter president Robert Hoover's winking joke at 'taking a few liberties with their dates', and Eric Stratton's gross seduction of the hottie from Emily Dickinson College. There are more, and the movie is doubtless a pale reflection of a much darker reality... but I was struck by how differently it played now than when I first watched it all the back in the 1980s.