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Crass Mob Mentality Traced to Counterculture Comedy

Washington Post columnist Ty Burr believes the current American political climate is characterized by a sense of crass rule-breaking and flagrant boorishness. Such repugnant behavior was once regarded as an unfortunate side effect of political polarization. Now it is not only well within the mainstream but considered necessary to rally one’s political base. And Burr traces the genesis of this degeneration not to a particular political scandal, but to the release of a movie.

Burr wrote in a recent Post editorial: “Notions of entertainment and personal behavior were turned on their heads. Where audiences had once valued class, they now reveled in the joyously crass.”

Burr is, of course, referring to Animal House, the 1978 collegiate comedy depicting a fictional frat house. Starring John Belushi, Donald Sutherland and a host of other famous names, it elevated the previously unknown National Lampoon magazine into a hitmaking brand for film comedies.

Burr says he saw a preview screening of the film at Dartmouth College, where screenwriter Chris Miller was in attendance. Miller was a Dartmouth alum, and had based his film on the real-life antics of his fraternity, Alpha Delta. Burr writes:

That night, you could feel the collective mood swing like a compass needle toward a new north. The movie fed into and articulated a growing frustration with an overbearing political correctness, the fear that you couldn’t say what you wanted to without stepping on someone’s toes. Which, of course, made a lot of people want to step on someone’s — anyone’s — toes.

Burr says after the film’s end, he quickly saw its prevailing attitude reflected in the raucous student response to it:

Still burned onto my retinas is the image of screenwriter Miller being carried down Fraternity Row on the shoulders of a mob of cheering students, their faces flushed with happiness. What were they celebrating? Nothing less than the permission to indulge their privileges without guilt or responsibility.

Possible Preaching Angle:

All of us are influenced by the media that we consume and the truth--or lack thereof--within it. Let us be discerning in both our consumption and our production, of the messages we receive, counter, and amplify, so that God's character is revealed through our conduct.

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