Sep 5, 2012

Animal House

Today the anarchic campus comedy Animal House (1978) seems impossibly homophobic: there are discussions of "closet cases"; characters call each other "fruit" (for wearing a beanie), "homo" (for refusing to sexually assault an unconscious girl), and "faggot" (for falling down).  Apparently they find nothing more disgusting than a gay person.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Two of the writers, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, came directly from the staff of National Lampoon, a magazine well known for its homophobic humor, and four actors were solicited from Saturday Night Live, the most homophobic program on television during the period (only John Belushi agreed).

What joy could gay teenagers in the 1970s possibly find in watching homophobes seduce every woman in sight?  

1. There is a TON of beefcake.  The Delta House fratboys are toga-clad, toned, taunt, and tanned almost constantly.  Boon (Peter Riegert) has a stunning shirtless scene.  The rival frat, including Kevin Bacon, have an underwear-clad hazing ritual that is not to be missed.

2. Both Peter Riegert and Tom Hulce, who played Pinto, are reputedly gay.

3. In spite of the endless scenes of bedding and gazing at girls, Animal House is about buddy-bonding.  Two of the fratboys, nerdish Hoover (James Widdoes), and leather-clad anarchic D-Day (Bruce McGill), never display heterosexual interest at all.  The others treat the quest for heterosexual sex as a game, something to talk about later, during their important lives with their friends.  Only Boon has a girlfriend, Katy (Karen Allen), who is constantly reprimanding him for ignoring her in favor of his male friends.

In the grammar of the teen anarchy film, same-sex relationships must end when the rowdy frat boys graduate and accede to their heterosexual destiny, marrying and fathering children. Here, however, the concluding “where are they now” series of freeze shots mostly  skips heterosexual performance – in favor of discussions of their careers: Hoover is a district attorney, Bluto a senator, Flounder a sensitivity trainer, and Otter a gynecologist, transferring his interest in the female form from the personal to the professional, out of the bedroom and into the clinic. In the end heterosexual “destiny” fails to claim them.

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