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Real Life Mischief

20 Feb

All this talk about mischievous college students in the media made me wonder what real life pranks have come close to meeting the legendary status of Animal House‘s horse in the Dean’s office prank. Luckily, Time Magazine and the Huffington Post put together a pretty comprehensive list.

Here are my top 3:

1. 100,000 fans at the 1961 a Rose Bowl game between the University of Washington Huskies and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers were packed by CalTech’s “Fiendish Fourteen”. Washington cheerleaders had planned a a display of the word “Huskies” and the mascot in the crowd through the use of flip cards, but instead at halftime when fans turned their colored flip-cards “Caltech” was spelled out for millions of fans to witness in the stands and on TV.

The “Fiendish Fourteen” later revealed that one of them had posed as a reporter to get a detailed account of the cheerleader’s flip-card system. They later snuck into the Washington cheerleaders’ hotel rooms and switched the instruction sheets resulting in a prank that stunned television announcers, fans, and the band—who actually stopped playing after the big reveal. In 2004, the stunt was taken as inspiration at the Harvard-Yale game, where Yale students handed out placards that later spelled out the message: “We Suck.”

2. Some computer experts believe that MIT pranksters created the world’s first computer virus. Students in 1970 had their work brought to a halt when the word “cookie” flashed across their computer screens. Unless the user immediately typed in the word “cookie” the screen would speed up continuing to display “Cookie, cookie, give me a cookie” over and over again. Eventually after a couple of minutes of panic for students who thought they had lost all of their work, the screen would flash, “I didn’t want a cookie anyway,” and disappear. However, if students had typed in cookie before that the computer would flash and the invasion would discontinue.

3. According to the Huffington Post, in 1930 two editors from the Cornell Daily Sun, the Cornell student newspaper, wrote letters to Republican leaders around the country requesting them to honor Hugo N. Frye, Cornell’s “little-known patriot” who was “deprived of the fame that should have been his fro his part in the Republican Party in New York State.” Of course there was a catch: he didn’t exist. Many politicians responded—including Charles Curtis, vice president during the Hoover administration. Curtis sent his apologies for not being about to attend the remembrance ceremony. He wrote, “I congratulate the Republicans on paying respect to the memory of Hugo N. Frye, and I wish you a most successful occasion.

I was pretty unconvinced that students put that much thought into pranking outside of the fictitious world of colleges in film, but if these lists have proved me wrong.

These are all horse in the Dean’s office pranks in their own way. Do you know of any legendary college pranks?

Lovable Drunks

6 Feb

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
-Dean Wormer

Pull up any top 10 list of best college movies and National Lampoon’s Animal House is likely to top the list. The tale of a group of misfit guys in the Delta Tau Chi fraternity was the first movie produced by the National Lampoon, the popular humor magazine on college campuses in the mid-1970s. The writers of the magazine were recent college graduates themselves, which probably explained the renegade tone that popularized the publication. Together, Doug Kenney (a Harvard grad), Chris Miller (from Dartmouth College), and Harold Ramis (Washington University), wrote the college movie of all college movies.

Along with director John Landis, they created a film that combined sex, alcohol, vulgarity, rebellion, profanity, and slapstick into a hilariously revolutionary package. Set in the 1960s, the Deltas entertained as they tried to evade the wrath of Faber College’s Dean Wormer who has them on “double secret probation” because of their less than stellar grades and numerous behavioral violations. They fight back as Dean Wormer and the Omegas attempt to kick them off of campus; they fight with toga parties and besieging a parade.

The question then is—how accurate is it?

The Deltas thrive on partying above all else, as is fortified by the opening scene of their infamous toga party where a keg is tossed out the window, further damaging their dilapidated house.  Inspired by their own fraternity experiences, Kenney, Miller, and Ramis penned characters like John “Bluto” Blutarsky who have become idols of past, present, and future fraternity brothers everywhere.

“Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.” -Bluto

While I re-watched the movie to write up this post, my friend sat next to me eagerly pointing out whom each character in the film embodied in his own fraternity and I found myself nodding in agreement. This widely successful low-budget movie has inspired a slew of clones, in film and in real life, which is no surprise. Whether it is putting a horse in their Dean’s office, showing up at a club to suddenly find themselves a minority, or at a probation hearing—the Deltas always look like they’re having fun and what college student doesn’t want to have fun?

Photo credit: Michael Naclerio/The Chronicle

But recently, Duke students have been catching a lot of slack for having too much fun.

Now, as an independent, I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on Duke’s Greek life, but as a journalist I have come across some striking similarities to Animal House and Duke. You, may or may not, recall news of the cancellation of Duke “tailgate” after a minor was found passed out in a Port-a-Potty, which caused widespread outrage. Not for the safety of the child, but the end of tailgate.

Jamie, a commenter on The Chronicle’s website wrote, “Our commitment to Tailgate during that contemporary “athletic program” is not the slightest bit embarrassing, it is a testament to the perseverance of our school spirit…and our mutual appreciation of beer and “Shout.”

You may remember a certain performance of “Shout” by Otis Day and the Knights in which Faber College students went wild.

“Duke, this will blow up in your faces,” said tailgatelives, another commenter. “Do you have any idea what portion of your students love tailgate? All it takes is for one news truck to get wind of this that it won’t be sequestered in the Blue Zone and—guess what—now you have another PR crisis. Just what you need. How out of touch are you all?”

Sound familiarly like Bluto’s defiant speech against the administration?

In the end, however, the Animal House guys are still viewed as lovable drunks and rebels and Duke unfortunately hasn’t had the same luck. Why is that the case?

The Birth of CineCollege

31 Jan

The antics of young college students seem to have become one of the favorite subjects of Hollywood filmmakers. The films seek to entertain with images of alcohol-fueled parties full of horny, archetypal college students. Animal House, the quintessential college movie spurred a long line of college movies that have since perpetuated this stereotypical image of college life. But, are these portrayals reflective of reality?

Usually, the answer to this question would not be too difficult for me to come to. It seems logical to deduce that because movies are meant to keep you engaged, that the college life on screen is a hyperbole of the real world. After all, it wouldn’t be terribly entertaining to watch a student studying in a dorm room or in a lecture hall, right? So, it makes sense that these crazed images of college students are a result of what fills the most seats or sells the most DVDs. However, with the recent viralization of a certain Duke alumna’s “thesis” the world and media gripped tightly onto a shred of the real college life.

Karen Owen chronicled her sexual escapades with various Duke athletes and then ranked their performance in a Powerpoint, which she modeled as a senior honors thesis—“An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics”. She only sent the presentation to a few close friends, but before long the thesis was spreading all over the Internet. The now infamous Owen seems like she could have fit right into the plot of any college movie. Many media outlets certainly began questioning what was going on after class at Duke University, putting it on the map yet again after the Lacrosse scandal.

This brings me to the creation of this blog. The portrayal of college students in the media, specifically in film, has become a subject of great interest to me. Sure, often the characters within the typical college movie fall into distinct, often predictable categories, but if there is anything that I took from the whole Karen Owen debacle is that the issue is much more complex than I originally thought.

I will go through typical college flicks, old and new, and dissect how and why students are portrayed committing such debauchery. Why is the media so compelled by these images? Where did the inspiration for these characters come from? How are colleges and their inhabitants depicted differently as time transpires? And most importantly, to me, how does Duke fit into all of this?

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