Perhaps in honor of commencement time, there have been a number of college movies airing on television, and I caught snatches of several a few weekends ago. I was really stunned at how gross and perverse they are.
I noticed a few recurrent tropes. The films just take for granted the superfluity of beautiful, curvaceous young women, all dressed in tight clothing and all very hot and nubile. One difference that I could see between the 1984 film, Revenge of the Nerds, and the more recent ones, Accepted (2006) and American Pie Presents Beta House (2007), is that the existence of coed dorms has noticeably increased the level of depravity. In the earlier film, when the sexes were still separate, there was perhaps a tinge of sweetness around the idea of the nerds’ longing to have their place on campus, and to have some access to girls who don’t notice them. The girls were objects to be spied on to be sure, but there is a hint of adoration in the spying. In the later films, the girls have become simple whores, ever ready to offer themselves for anything, as if trained in a French brothel.
This gave me an insight into the unusual and unnatural coarseness now prevalent in films and on television in general. It is possible that it can be traced to the rise of coed dorms. A fair number of people in television and film today no doubt came through our college culture, greatly influencing the tenor of popular entertainment in general, and they have learned that there is nothing that men can’t say or do in front of women. They have lost all respect for the idea of women as arbiters of decency and keepers of the hearth and ipso facto defenders of boundaries. In fact, much popular culture today goes out of its way to mock any kind of decency or restraint. The people involved in producing these things can simply flaunt whatever filth their minds conjure up. It is in fact a form of control over audiences, to shock and embarrass and dispirit them out of any protest.
Aside from the stupefying air of degradation, especially in the two more recent films, I noticed a couple of other things.
The college curriculum today is probably as loose as it can be without descending into absolute chaos. But these movies still want to conjure up some restrictive hegemony against which the free spirits have to fight. The satire turns on itself, however. In Accepted, for example, the supposedly ingenious, free-wheeling courses the students make up for themselves in their self-created college (woodcarving, cooking, design) are already given credit at many real-life schools today. A course called “The Decline and Fall of Chevy Chase” does not actually sound that far-fetched to anyone alert to the campus world today, and “Men, the Weaker Sex” is the theme in countless women’s studies courses, if not actually the title. Indeed, some of the titles of actual courses would make these made-up courses seem tame. But these films have to pretend that colleges are still restrictive, with unyielding academic standards. “All our lives we’ve been told what to learn; now we’re going to ask the customer,” says one character. Are they kidding?
And that is related to another point. The films seemed to have a similar theme, that there is some kind of blond, Nazi-like, WASP ascendency in the United States — narrow, snobbish, intolerant, unworthy, but nevertheless the instantiated power structure that simply is. And then there is a group of outsiders and supposed losers, defined in one way or another, who challenge the “winners” in some way and crush them completely. It seems all these films are motivated by envy and resentment of people who appear to have more and hatred of anything that seems to be above them. They thus purvey a sorry sense of being trapped in secondariness, and this despite the supposed emphasis on self-expression.
There was also a fair amount of contempt for adults. Oh, and except for a very few moments here and there, these films were not really funny. Occasionally a genuinely comic moment would arise, only to be snuffed out by fresh applications of grossness. I may be wrong, since I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I remember Animal House, probably the prototype for all these films, being funnier and more endearing than these specimens, and considerably less offensive.