“Animal House, Caddyshack and Fast Times at Ridgemont High….”
In Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony countering his 1982 high school rape allegation, he said that the high school yearbook editor tried to project the image that the school was “Animal House, Caddyshack, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Any teen who lived in the ’80s can back up that those films were wildly important to Gen X. In the ’80s, a day wouldn’t pass without hearing at least one boy quoting one of these films. By the way, no one was quoting the upstanding citizens of the film — they most quotable quotes came from the numbnuts of the groups. “Hey bud, let’s party!” from Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), “Whoa, did someone step on a duck?” from Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield), and “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily” from Bluto (John Belushi), just for starters.
The goal of ’80s Movie Guide is to address how the media and pop culture influence the opinions we hold, the choices we make, and how we see the world. Movies are immersive experiences and thus, more than any other medium, have the ability to subconsciously inform the viewer on how to conduct themselves. Teens and children are always looking down the road – if you’re 7, how do 10-year-olds act? If you’re 10, what do the cool 13-year-olds do? If you’re 13, what are 17-year-olds doing and how can I be sure I’m in the right group to do that? If you’re 17, how should I behave when I’m 20?
That’s why ’80s movies are so, so damaging to an entire generation. We are not saying Kavanaugh did or didn’t violate any women, but we are saying that the stories coming from women about the 1980s are entirely accurate. Moreover, when you examine ’80s movies, you see where a world might exist where both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, are both telling the truth. Let’s do a brief overview, focusing on Animal House.
Animal House put the “teen sex comedy” genre into motion with a film described as “the wildly obscene antics of a college frat house.” Some of those antics include Bluto (John Belushi) climbing up a ladder to be a peeping tom gawking at a room full of girls getting undressed. He moves his ladder to get a better look at one woman. After staring at her for quite a bit, he falls off his ladder – how funny! Oh, boys will be boys!
Delta Tau Chi faces a probation hearing, charged with “individual acts of perversion so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits us listing them here.” Fraternity leader Eric “Otter” Stratten offers this defense: “The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took a few liberties with our female party guests. We did. (Wink.) But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals!”
Otter is the hero of the film, the cool guy. Here are some examples of his behavior (all played for laughs):
- He pretends to be engaged to a girl who recently died to play on the sympathies of her sorority sisters into having sex with him and his friends.
- He has sex with the drunk wife of the university’s dean, proving there’s no greater revenge than screwing your enemy’s woman – he impressed her at the grocery store with a line about the size of his cucumber.
- He proves that theory again when he “scores” with the girlfriend of a rival by harassing her with lines like, “Can I massage your thighs while you eat?”
Additionally, it promotes racism. It shows drinking and driving. A college professor introduces his students to drugs. Four young men abandon women and leave them with no way to escape in a situation set up as dangerous. It’s implied a sweet young man knowingly has sex with a 13-year-old. Lout Bluto throws a young woman into a stolen car against her will caveman style … the next scene shows her arms around him while he drives, the graphic telling us they got married and Bluto became a Senator.
Oh, and there’s this – Larry “Pinto” Kroger debates whether or not he should have sex with a drunk, unconscious girl. Ultimately, he makes the right decision, but it does validate the thinking that he has a “right” to have sex with a drunk, unconscious girl. Pinto is a virgin, portrayed as not as masculine as his friends, which is why the movie implies he can only “get” a sexually forward 8th grader who has consumed so much alcohol she almost needed to have her stomach pumped. The scene isn’t appalling because Larry makes the right choice, the scene is appalling because it tells young viewers that if you don’t take advantage of a passed out girl, you’re soft, a pussy, a “homo”:
Animal House does have equal opportunity disrespect – authority, blacks, and pledges are all disrespected alongside women. Remember, though, this is the film that sets the entire genre into motion.
With Animal House, college campuses changed everywhere…and with that, so did high schools (because kids reach upward). Debauchery in whatever form became cool. The movies that followed took the cue from Animal House.
The year after Animal House, the PG-movie Meatballs was released. Starring another “Saturday Night Live” star, Bill Murray, Meatballs is about a summer camp who keeps losing the camp competition to the nearby rich kids camp. The story focuses on the lives of the campers and the camp counselors and has the typical kind of leering lechery one expects from an early ’80s film. It may not have been intended as a movie for kids, but since it covers the difficulties of kids at camp, it was accepted as a kids movie. In other words, many, many children watched it and the movie’s catchphrase — “it just doesn’t matter” — became something kids chanted amongst each other on playgrounds. A troubling scene exists that seemed to raise no eyebrows at the time. Murray’s character Tripper aggressively tries to convince fellow counselor Roxanne to sleep with him. She repeatedly tells him no, to get off of her, that she will scream, and he doesn’t stop until their boss walks back into the room. Today, we recognize that as attempted rape. In 1979, that was just a guy “taking a swing.” By the way, Roxanne continues to interact with Tripper. She doesn’t call the police. She doesn’t report it, even to her boss. Take a look:
Perhaps that’s what led to Little Darlings (1980), starring two of America’s young darlings, Kristy MacNicol and Tatum O’Neal, as two 15-year-olds competing to lose their virginity first at summer camp.
Meanwhile, the guys behind Animal House made Caddyshack (1980)and disrespectful cinema really starts to take hold. Caddyshack features a golf groupie named Lacey Underwood (Cindy Morgan) who sleeps with everyone. Fun fact: Cindy Morgan, who played Lacey Underwood, did not want to do the nudity. Writer-director Harold Ramis was okay with making the change, however, uber-producer Jon Peters (one of the most powerful producers then and in Hollywood history) told her if she didn’t go topless, he’d make sure she never worked in Hollywood again. Now, when you search “Cindy Morgan” and “Caddyshack,” porn sites come up with her topless scenes with comments sections full of pervy messages.
Then, in Nov. 1981, Porky’s emerged. And that changed everything. Disrespectful is one element, but the boys will do anything to get laid concept really took off. The teen sex comedy was officially BORN. And, with success, it began devolving. We got…
- The Last American Virgin (1981) – get girls drunk to have sex with them…and they don’t deserve your respect because girls love being mistreated.
- Zapped! (1982) – beloved TV stars Scott Baio and Willie Ames get telekinetic powers and use it to make girls clothes fly off!
- The Tom Cruise-starrer Losin’ It (1983)- go to Mexico and buy a drug that will make girls want to have sex, it’s the All-American thing to do!
- The Tom Cruise-starrer Risky Business (1983) – in the money is power ’80s, a teen becomes a pimp and turns his family home into a whore house, what a savvy businessman!
- Revenge of the Nerds (1983) – having sex with the girl of your rival is the best revenge, even if you have to trick her (ps – she LOVES being raped)!
- Class (1983) – whoops, I’m a teen who just slept with my best friend’s mom!
- Blame It on Rio (1984) – whoops, I’m an aging man who slept with my best friend’s teen daughter whom I’m vacationing with but she totally wanted it!
- Bachelor Party (1984) – made teens wonder why there would be a goat at a wild party and set the expectation that bachelor parties should be out-of-control hedonism from thereon out.
- Sixteen Candles (1984…and YES, IT IS A TEEN SEX COMEDY) that ends in rape but she loved it…etc., etc.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) is, in many ways, the antidote to those films. Written by Cameron Crowe and directed by Amy Heckerling, a woman (*gasp*!), it shows how difficult it is to be a teen and how much kids PRETEND they’re having sex so they appear cool, but in truth, are unprepared for it. Great message, but that’s not what young viewers took away from the film. They remember Brad’s fantasy scene that shows Phoebe Cates removing her bikini top. They also inaccurately remember that girls just want to get laid and guys are there to accommodate, by any means. In fact, here’s what teens remember:
Jennifer Jason Leigh explains how the MPAA unwittingly forced the movie to make changes that perhaps would have altered the movie’s takeaway message.
So, whether or not Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, only they know. But, the scenario that a boy and his friend thought it was funny to take advantage of a woman sexually? Pop culture and the era supported teen boys to think such behavior was acceptable. It’s entirely likely if they did what Ford alleges, Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge wouldn’t have lost a wink of sleep over it or even remember it later because, after all, boys will be boys. The culture suggested there was nothing wrong with that type of behavior. They were expected to “take a swing” – and why not? Of course, she’ll like it.
Luckily, times have changed. Let’s keep it that way.