Nolte: The Gloriously Inappropriate and Problematic ‘Animal House’

animal-house-cast-pic
Universal Pictures

My favorite part of Animal House, by which I mean the part that makes me laugh myself nearly to death, is watching Bluto (John Belushi) — backed by the strains of the great Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World — stuff his face as he makes his way through a cafeteria food line.

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology…

The scene famously ends with a chaotic food fight after Bluto impersonates a zit.

Belushi, like Lou Costello, Harpo Marx, and Redd Foxx, was one of those once-in-a-generation talents where everything he did ranged from  lovably amusing to laugh-out-loud hilarious. A change of expression, the lift of an eyebrow, a shrug of the shoulders, and you were on the floor. After nearly 50 years on the air, John Belushi is still the greatest talent to emerge from Saturday Night Live. In the best sense of the word, he was every inch a clown.

My favorite moment in Animal House, the moment that confirms that what I’m watching is truly American, comes near the end…

At this point, our heroes in the Delta Tau Chi (aka Animal House) have all been expelled by Dean Wormer (a wonderful John Vernon). They now have nothing to lose and desperately want revenge, especially against their mortal enemies: the stuffy, preppy, and conformist snitches in the Omega Theta Pi house.

It just so happens that the next day is homecoming, so the Deltas come to the wise decision that this “situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.” And so, they spend the evening building a parade float — a giant pink and white cake emblazoned with the words EAT ME.

The Omegas, of course, have their own float, a stuffy, preppy and proper one with a giant papier-mâché head of President Kennedy (the movie is set in 1962) and two clutched hands — one black, one white — emblazoned with the word TOGETHERNESS.

And then it happens… The giant EAT ME float smashes into the TOGETHERNESS float, ripping apart the black and white hands.

The moment is gloriously inappropriate, gloriously “problematic,” gloriously American, and there is no way in hell, under any circumstance, Animal House could get made today…

  • Confederate flags – check.
  • Racial humor – check.
  • Distrust of authority – check.
  • Disgust towards institutions – check.
  • Objectification of the female form – check.
  • Gratuitous nudity – check.
  • The male gaze – check.
  • Gay jokes – check.
  • Animal abuse – check.
  • Use of the word “retard.” – check.

I’m in love with a retard.
Is he bigger than me?

And that’s just off the top of my head.

While Animal House has always been one of my all-time favorite movies, last night I watched it again for the first time during the Woke Nazi era and enjoyed it more than ever. The tight-assed Hitler Youth currently rampaging through our culture have added something divine to movies like Animal House — the taste of the forbidden. And it tastes so good…

Keep in mind that Animal House isn’t opposed to “togetherness.” That’s not the message of the moment described above. The message is an attack on the hypocrisy and phoniness of a snotty establishment that preaches “togetherness” while practicing the worst kind of class snobbery. (Sound familiar?)

Of course, even in its own time, Animal House was already irreverent and sticking a finger in the eye of the conformist establishment. But at the time, in 1978, our culture was still free to be anti-establishment, to shock, to offend; and our artists were on our side… They were the good guys. They were Delta House. Today our artists are Omega House — the stuffy, preppy, and proper snitches, the fascist hall monitors demanding joyless conformity and censorship.

I’ll give you a real-life example…

One of Animal House’s most iconic scenes is when our heroes burst into an all-black roadhouse and are met with only glares, threats, and switchblades from the black patrons.

Do you mind if we dance with your date?

Fearing blacks would literally riot over the scene, the suits at Universal wanted it removed. Director John Landis fought to keep it. Finally, Richard Pryor was brought in to take a look and said, “Keep it. It’s funny.” And at all the test screenings, blacks laughed just as hard as whites.

Yes, the scene is filled with black stereotypes. But — and this is important — it’s also filled with white stereotypes. What makes the scene work (and beyond brilliant) is that it has the courage to knock our heroes off their pedestals. By this time, we’ve been with these guys for more than an hour, and the whole time they’ve been glib, cool, and impossible to catch off guard. But as soon as they find themselves among a group of people who are much cooler, they become the awkward nerds, the tone-deaf stooges; their glibness fails them and they’re forced to run screaming out of the place — an act so cowardly, they leave behind their dates.

All that ingenious (and hilarious) nuance would be completely lost if that scene were to show up in a modern-day movie. The film would be trashed as racist, blacklisted, and savaged by a mindless mob brandishing a million hot takes and CNNLOL hate campaigns. But the truth, for those who still care about the truth, is that this is exactly the kind of humor that dissolves differences. Nothing is healthier, nothing brings us  closer together than a group of people from different backgrounds sitting in a dark theater laughing at themselves.

At the end of the day, Animal House is a very moral movie that teaches the crucially important lesson about the importance of individualism, of being your own man, going your own way, of not selling out just to fit in. Even those who try to fit in with the wild and messy Delta House crowd are taught a lesson. After Flounder (Stephen Furst) fails to stick up for himself and his brother’s car is destroyed, Otter (Tim Matheson) memorably informs him, “You fucked up. You trusted us!”

Mostly, though, Animal House is a vital and crucially important lesson in distrusting institutions and authority, as well as standing up to and against conformist bullies. What’s more American than that?

At the time, Animal House was described as a slobs versus snobs movie. Today, you could just as easily describe it as a deplorables versus social justice warriors movie.

When Bluto smashes a pretentious hippie’s guitar, he speaks for all of us.

One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten, though, is just how good the movie is. Animal House spawned a decade of these types of comedies, and some of them are very good, but on the basic level of pure movie-making, the grand-daddy of them all is perfectly directed, shot, acted, structured, and scored. Everything from the casting to the cinematography to the performances are impeccable.

And now we can thank the Woke Nazis for making what was already a perfect movie even better.

Daring to sit down and watch Animal House today, or better yet, screening it for your (age-appropriate) children, grandchildren, and younger siblings… In this fascist era of blacklists and censorship, these are revolutionary acts.

 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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