Abe Beame only parties on Grove St.
We consider National Lampoon’s Animal House a classic for its big performances and for practically inventing the modern campus comedy. But what’s often overlooked about the 1972 satire is that it contains one of the more devastating commentaries on race you’ll find in any movie — let alone a raucous screwball joke machine.
The heroes of Animal House are the Deltas, a misfit fraternity that is something of a joke on campus for their counterculture lack of decorum. They get drunk, are lax with proper courting etiquette, loud and uncouth. They flaunt these “failings” and the tension in the film is between the Deltas, the upstanding Omegas, and the Dean who wants their frat thrown off campus. It’s a classic “Us vs. Them” scenario.
Their rebellion includes Otis Day & The Knights, the aforementioned band who plays their toga party. The band was created for the sake of the movie, and the chosen aesthetic is important. The group is the epitome of cool, loud and energetic. They’re a logical choice for the Deltas, standing in opposition to their uptight white institution. The song “Shout” was written by the Isley Brothers. The group represents the race rock of the 50s: Doo-wop mingling with rock and R&B.
This video was taken Saturday at the University of Oklahoma. If you haven’t watched it yet, it pretty much confirms everything you’ve ever suspected about the white frat boy mentality — that many people, myself included, have bore witness to as students at large state schools with robust Greek systems. The video has gone viral and caused a national scandal. Put aside the anger at the brazen, celebratory ignorance for a moment.
What you’re watching only looks like it was torn from the subconscious of Harmony Korine. It’s an actual video published last year of Waka Flocka Flame playing a party in the woods for the University of Oklahoma chapter of SAE. Here’s Flocka on CNN, expressing his dismay at the behavior many of the same kids he performed for displayed in last weekend’s video.
During the Toga Party scene in Animal House, Boon, one of the leads played by Peter Riegert, is off to the side of the stage jamming along with Otis, calling out the band and under the impression he’s down with them. Later in the film, Boon and company bring dates to a black bar off the beaten path, where Otis Day & The Knights are playing. From the outset, it’s clear the white crew is not welcome. To drive the message home, Boon calls to Otis from the bar as he waits for drinks, getting an icy stare down in response.
In the film, the Deltas are our heroes. They are liberal radicals in a repressive and conservative society. We are meant to identify with and root for them. Otis, via Harold Ramis and John Landis, plays a brilliant and subversive role in the easy “Good vs. Evil” narrative the film sets up. The Deltas bring The Knights in because the band represents their idea of cool. They are thumbing their nose at Faber University and waving a freak flag for the like minded co-eds on campus to revel beneath. What Boon doesn’t realize, but Otis does, is that the band is playing a transactional role at their Frat Party. This is a job, and they aren’t friends.
Flocka seemingly wasn’t able to make the same distinction. He believed shot gunning beers with a bunch of bros made him one. He was paid help. While he was there, the brothers appreciated and probably even enjoyed hanging out with him, but the pervasive racism of their institution would prevent them from ever considering him a brother of theirs. He lent them status, much like Otis, they were able to tell their friends about their privileged exploits with a celebrity. But the very idea that their party and their song stand in opposition to one another isn’t being processed — the irony is lost. Flocka perhaps didn’t fully realize how deeply ingrained their racial blinders are.
The mentalities of the fictional Deltas and the unfortunately very real brothers of SAE couldn’t be more different, but the roles played by Flocka and Otis Day are very much the same. Both Otis and Waka Flocka Flame are victims of a racism that relegates the other to the status of symbol. This is how racism survives in post-racial America. At best it’s an erroneous stereotype; at worst, it’s an outright refusal to see past generalities and acknowledge another’s humanity.