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I have never looked forward to the release of a movie more than Animal House. That was back in 1978, and I had long since left fraternity life behind for the much more structured world of adulthood. The fond memories of my three-year binge of nihilism, however, were still strong in me. I wanted to see how the Big Screen would present that dark culture to the movie-going public.

What made the event especially interesting was my familiarity with the script. Several of the episodes in the movie had appeared years before in the National Lampoon, and before that I had heard them as part of the rich oral tradition of the AD bar — or witnessed them myself. AD (for Alpha Delta Phi) was my fraternity at Dartmouth — and the model for Animal House.

Chris Miller ’63 (called Pinto by some) wrote those stories in the Lampoon and later became a co-screenwriter for the movie. (If you look online, that’s him, third from the right in the cast photo. He and his two fellow screenwriters also appeared as Delta Tau Chi brothers in the movie.) I think one of the reasons Animal House was never matched by any of the frat house comedies that followed it was its quasi-realism. The sickness, the black humor, the tales of creative repulsiveness were based on real events. For the most part, that is, relatively speaking, when adjusted for Hollywood input.

The scene from the movie that has become most associated with college debauchery, however, never happened. There were no toga parties at AD and never would have been, according to some of the older, grumpier keepers of the AD flame (myself included). What costumes there were tended to be impromptu affairs, and they were mostly meant to appall people, not as fun-loving hi jinx. But the toga metaphor persists, and it has spawned similar events all over the country, including at Dartmouth itself. Life imitating art, you might say. A lot of what actually happened at AD, I expect, might not find such favor in popular culture.

In many ways, what went on there was nothing special. Groups of young men have been abusing alcohol since the dawn of civilization, and they have been doing stupid, disgusting things that whole time. I have no doubt that many of those stories would easily trump anything done by a bunch of fine, young Ivy Leaguers with bright futures. Still, we had our fling at nihilism, and it was good.

I won’t apologize for our real-life cast of characters, either. There were some genuine wild men in AD. None exactly like John Belushi’s creation, but they had that same level of fertile, funny dementia. Chris once told me that he built his characters for the movie from pieces of the real brothers of AD. The personae we saw onscreen, then, were cut-and-pastes of the real thing, and to that degree they were real.

I visited Dartmouth a couple of weeks ago for the first time in forty-five years. I have nothing surprising to report; the house has changed, Dartmouth has changed, I have changed. All that is to be expected. There is some news from Hanover, though. While I was there, the Daily D broke the story that the College had hit AD with a suspension (read “double secret probation”). The house, it seems, had hosted an unpermitted party (I told you things had changed). The punishment: no booze of any kind in the house until next September. I am not sure that the current brothers are pursuing their own brand of nihilism, but if they are, this is a serious issue; alcohol, particularly beer, would play a central role in their quest.

I wish them well. As fine, young men with bright futures, they will need that experience as a bulwark against the stultifying tedium of the world they will soon enter.
Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz