“College is the best time of your life,” is something people like to say and believe. It’s also something that self-perpetuates itself: you approach college with that special time of your life vigor and demand nothing less. Accordingly, it’s the college comedy film’s obligation to capture this ethos from all angles: those looking forward to college, those in college, and those looking back at college.
Animal House came out on DVD around the time I was applying for colleges. My dad swiftly purchased it for me with the advice of, “You should watch this before you go to college.” I am not unique in this; dads were buying their sons Animal House VHSs for years and will eventually buy them Animal House 3-D blu-rays for years to come. Animal House and other college comedy films can show you what college will be like or, at least, show you what everyone else will think college will be like. They also give you something to look forward to, to study for the SATs for. More specifically they seem to exist to answer one question: Will I get to see boobs in college? And the answer based on every single college comedy is a resounding “Yes!” There are more boobs in these movies than there are blackboards, which is reasonable since the vast majority of college comedies speak much more to the male collegiate ideal than the female. In these movies, women are objects either to be ogled at or won over by the charming protagonist (or if they’re really lucky, they get to be just housewives who stay at home taking blowjob classes). It’s unfortunate; however, these pictures are geared towards the adolescent and the adolescent at heart, and that viewer wants to believe college is the time when they’ll see the most boobs possible.
For those in college it’s less about the aspiration of seeing the boobs, it’s about how will they see boobs. To those inclined, these movies become instructional. For example:
Luckily this hasn’t grown to become common practice. But this has:
Toga Parties date back to the 1950s but Animal House is credited for making them as an essential part of the college experience as sodium-based diets and too infrequently washed bed sheets. Where a disco party nowadays would be thrown with irony and intentional misrepresentation, kids continue to throw Toga Parties in earnest. Still, more than these explicit examples, these college comedies provide a guide to how college should feel. In these movies, college at its best is lived like there is a tomorrow and that tomorrow is going to be filled with not college and a job and drudgery. Vance “Van” Wilder, Jr. can’t leave college because college is the only place where good things, college things can happen and he instructs others, namely Taj, how do follow suit. Similarly, it was Rodney Dangerfield’s job in Back To School to teach his son the right way to be a college student, which mostly involves partying, talking back in class, and doing flippy dives into pools. Even Revenge of the Nerds doesn’t aspire to offer an alternative vision of college but to assert that nerds too can have the same sort of drunken shenanigans as the muscular. For those in college, they can watch movies about college, regardless of how incredibly dated they are, and confirm they’re doing it right.
Then that person graduates and that same movie reminds them that they did it right. The college comedy allows its post-college viewer to remember the time that was. Old School took this a step further and made the film about this nostalgia itself. Beyond its fratty set pieces, the film is about being able to relive the best time of your life. Sure, now they can afford to bring Snoop Dogg to a party but the result isn’t so much different from when they were 20 and Doggystyle was playing over the boombox. This gets to the core of the revisionist history element to most college comedies. Partly, this is because every college comedy is written by someone who went to college and wanted to recreate their experience with a bit more pizazz and partly this is because college comedies can fill in some of the gaps in your partying memory. You might not have chugged a fifth of Jack but you totally know someone who did (so what if he was a fictional character). College comedies prey on the built-in feelings many have towards that time and they use that goodwill as a sort of workaround from having to ground the film emotionally. A generation’s college comedy acts a supplement to a college photo album: “This is what my friends and I looked like and this movie shows how we felt and what we did and how often we saw girls’ boobs.”
And it all works because very generally college is the same for most viewers. There are tons of variables that can go into a college experience but it still is college, the time in your life when you are about 18-22 and live at a school surrounded by only people your age. The cut and dryness of the time period gives these movies an added bit of universality. Everyone has mid-20s and early-30s and etc. but it’s pretty impossible to delineate them as completely. High school is similar to college in this way; however, because they characters are younger, it’s a bit creepy to make them as lewd. College as a clear-cut time period becomes a thing; a thing teenagers can look forward to; a thing college students can inhabit; a thing parents could remember fondly to their kids. All college comedies draw from this and contribute to it. They are ways to experience THE “best time of your life” in perfect-90 minute bundles and see some boobs in the process.