'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
‘SEVEN YEARS OF COLLEGE DOWN THE DRAIN’
This year is the 25th anniversary of the movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” one of the all-time classic gross-out comedies, starring the late John Belushi. I was very surprised to learn it’s been a full quarter-century since the movie was released. I’m also surprised by a couple of other things: (1) that I remember anything at all about the film because in 1978 I completely ignored Dean Wormer’s warning, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son,” and (2) I’m amazed I didn’t join the Used-to-be-Alive-Club, as Belushi did less than four years later.
In the fall of 1978, I was beginning my third year living in a fraternity house. When “Animal House” hit the theaters, we thought someone had put hidden cameras in our building. The action on the screen was exactly what we did every night—except I think we drank a little more often.
The movie added many new phrases to America’s cultural lexicon, including, “Toga! Toga!” “Food fight!” “Road trip!” and “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily,” (quickly followed by someone else saying, “Better listen to him, Flounder. He’s pre-med”).
Twenty-five years later, some people still sprinkle their conversations with classic “Animal House” lines. Many of these people are now respectable businessmen and professionals (and possibly also surprised they didn’t drink themselves to death way back when). Years ago I observed a department manager giving a pep talk to a team of customer service operators. When they didn’t respond as enthusiastically as he wished, he suddenly blurted out in his best Neidermeyer voice, “You’re all worthless and weak! Now drop and give me twenty!”
Since most of the employees were women in their 50s, and no doubt never saw the movie, they had no clue what he was talking about. (They didn’t drop and do push-ups either.) But from my eavesdropping vantage point a few cubicles away, I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants.
Where I work now, whenever an especially hard-to-please customer calls with yet another complaint, as soon as the phone is hung up, you can often hear an exasperated, “Thank you, sir. May I please have another?” And when a customer has trouble paying his bills, we decide not to extend any more credit by saying, “As of now they’re on Double Secret Probation.”
It’s been over 20 years since I last saw the movie, and although I’ve never laughed as hard in my life (at least during the first dozen viewings), many changes have occurred in my life during that time. For example, I quit drinking, I stopped being an atheist, I got married, and I became the father of two lovely daughters, both of whom are now teenagers.
When I think about “Animal House” now, I still sort of laugh, but mostly I cringe at how truly raunchy it was. The movie glorified substance abuse, mocked all authority, and was racially offensive (“Mind if we dance wif yo’ dates?”). Most of all, the film’s portrayal of women as nothing more than sexual playthings reminds me that the Cad’s Curse can be very painful: If you don’t respect women when you’re a young man, you are destined to have beautiful daughters. It’s no easy task spending my middle-aged years protecting my girls from guys like me.
Now that my oldest daughter is away at college and living in a dorm right down the street from Fraternity Row, I’m more concerned than ever. Maybe I shouldn’t have allowed her to enroll in a school known for wild parties. Maybe we should have spent a little more time investigating that convent option.
When I saw my daughter recently, I expressed my concern and once again suggested she move back home and attend the local community college. She smiled sweetly, looked me right in the eye, and said, “Flounder, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes. You [screwed] up—you trusted us! Hey, make the best of it!”
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