Nothing can prepare you more for the dark and disturbing existence we call everyday life than college, right? Long days in the classroom studiously taking notes followed by long nights reviewing the material until you can nearly recite it by heart. Almost every distraction is taken away, coed dorms so the opposite sex isn't around, family miles away so your focus can be honed and refined only on your education. What a load of bullshit.
For a very long time colleges stood as an institution that only the upper echelon could attend, almost locking away a tier of knowledge from lower classes of society. But time marched on and things change, as they always do. Soon the generations entering college weren't taken to the old ways of doing things and college attendance got, somewhat, cheaper and accessible. All this started to change when the culture did post-WW2, but none of this was truly palpable until Vietnam.
With the draft in full effect many families didn't want their children to serve and one way to avoid the draft was to be enrolled in college. Families priorities quickly changed and so did the culture. College's always encouraged a different way of thinking but now they really were getting it. Movies didn't fully reflect the complex changes being felt but they did expose a growing trend you could only know about inside a dorm room.
In 1970 the magazine National Lampoon was first published and was quickly known as a satire piece with some of the stories contained within based the writer's actual college experiences. After years the magazine put a movie together based on the collective pieces of these misadventures called Animal House. Animal House follows two frats: a group of misfits and booze hounds in Delta Tau and Omega Theta Pi filled with straitlaced, sexually repressed, and ego focused young men. Delta house, after years of partying and generally disregard for the rules has become the focus of the Dean for removal with the help of the tools in Omega house.
The film loses itself quickly after setting up this plot, following the down to earth members of Delta as they party, spy on woman changing, party, accidentally kill horses, party, cheat on their tests, and party. Their answer to every problem is to throw a bigger and better party and when all seems lost they just...well...party. The movies reflected a time in the 1960's when the allure of drinking, experimenting with drugs, and spending all your day chasing after girls was much better than serving in war. It was a feeling felt on campus' all over the United States during the 60's and 70's as college campus after college campus was host to anti-war protests and civil rights rallies. Animal House doesn't give voice to that specific sentiment but it did represent a time when culture and times were changing.
After the 70's and into the 80's the gap between the old, completely education focused, institution and a college that was as much about a cultural experience began to grow. In 1986 came the Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School in which Dangerfield plays Thornton Melon, a man who never went to college but applied himself and became a wealthy and successful businessman. Melon's son, Jason, is halfway through his freshman year and not really finding his place among the fraternities or the diving team. To fulfill his father's wish and to help his son Melon decides to enroll in college with his son so they both can graduate college together.
Back to School exams more than Dangerfield's one liners and fake diving scenes. The troubles of Jason unable to make friends, besides his best friend Robert Downey Jr., and just feeling listless in college reveals a growing gap between traditional college and the realities. In one scene Melon continually calls out the business professor for skipping over some of the true-to-life realities in business including bribing government officials and dealing with unions. The professor doesn't like Melon's outbursts and fights him on every issue.
This growing divide between the average non-fraternity inducted college student and what is expected of him or her continues to grow and grow. In 2006 the film Accepted addresses this issue directly when the main character and his friends don't make into their local college. Bartleby "B" Gaines, played by Justin Long, is now forced with the idea of letting down his family and being one of only a few of his friends unable to further his education. Gaines sets up his own college, faking letterheads, websites, classrooms, dorms, kitchens, all in hopes of continually covering his tracks. Soon though, through a mistake, his website has accepted hundreds of applicants all of whom were like Gaines and he is forced to slap together an education plan to avoid letting anyone down.
Accepted explores the thoughts on anyone's mind as they attend college and discover it isn't what they thought it would be. Instead of an open door education we find an almost business like atmosphere where you're expected to get your degree, pay your money, and leave in four or five years. Accepted shows that the learning in college can't be quantified to what you are exposed to in a classroom but also can be found at a party or in a roommate.
Then we go back in time, to 2002, and back with National Lampoon with Van Wilder. Wilder, played by Ryan Reynolds, who has been attending college well more than the traditional four years and has become a legend. Wilder has been the one student everyone wants to be but deep down he is afraid to leave college. To leave a world where every meal is provided, no rent to pay, and your schedule can begin at 3pm everyday is hard. He runs into a more common problem everyone has, reality.
More and more college has become a place of longstanding, and outdated, traditions as well as a place where new cultures and ideas are discovered and explored. It can often be confusing as students enter a new chapter of life and run into problems they never expected. Luckily, like with movies, there is usually a happy ending.