Often considered the Animal House of the 1990s, PCU is highly irreverent, hilarious and oddly relevant to this day. As it is a roast on American college culture. Named after fictional college Port Chester University, PCU is about an 18-year old high school graduate visiting it to determine whether or not he wants to attend. When a member of party house “The Pit” becomes his guide, he simply says:
“It’s a whole new ballgame on campus these days, and they call it PC… Politically Correct. And it’s not just politics, it’s everything. It’s what you eat, it’s what you wear, it’s what you say. And if you don’t watch yourself, you can get in a buttload of trouble.”
In America, Political Correctness is somewhat of a sacred cow and PCU captures this essence quite well. If any film were to devour of such a sacred cow, it would certainly be PCU. Offering a humorous take on American subculture, it takes you through a gamut of various in-groups in compelling manner. While still providing insight into the reality that a group of misfits may be the only ones that can unite everyone when division is a common theme of every group.
College As a Running Joke
For those familiar with Animal House, you may have asked yourself, “How does John Belushi manage to stay in college?” But those that have attended college know how a degree doesn’t always translate into a career. This is the bedrock of what makes PCU’s comedy work. In the film, most people are just trying to do their own thing. You don’t see any discussion of building a career or being productive. This is the same source for comedy that works in Animal House on a subconscious level.
There are a ton of aspects to this movie, but one aspect that always gets to me is how most of the students are trying to find themselves. Yet instead, each ends up joining a group and loses their individual identity in the process. As they are forced to conform to the loudest voices of their chosen group. It makes for great comedy and is so subtle most may not catch this detail about the character development.
Counterculture & Misfits
Since the 1960s America has been in a persistent state of cultural upheaval. With each generation taking on a rebellious nature against the status quo. With a majority of students reliant on group identities, there is a small crew of misfits that operate as the counterculture on campus. The members of The Pit don’t follow the rules, they’re offensive, partake in constant pranks and shenanigans, and focus solely on having a good time. This makes them a prime target of the student body.
When they push their habit of pissing off others too far, PCU President Garcia-Thompson drops the hammer on them: either pay $7k in damages or be evicted. With no money and nowhere to go, the dire situation presents two options: get a job, or raise money via a party. As college students mortified of the idea of working a job, the opt to have a party.
This means they need to quickly get a band onstage, alcohol on-site, and advertising to bring in ~2,000 students with money for cover charge. Being a bunch of hapless party animals, plans quickly fall apart and things get out of control.
Dynamics of Power
Since the Port Chester University banned fraternities in the 1960s, fraternity “Balls & Shaft” has remained hidden on campus after losing their house. Working with President Garcia-Thompson, they scheme against The Pit to regain their lost house. Balls & Shaft are hateful and power hungry. And in their quest for power, they team up with the PCU President to get their house back. No matter what it takes.
Since The Pit has made so many enemies, this unexpected union between the PCU President and Balls & Shaft arises from their shared hate. This is despite the fact that they already hate each other, but they hate The Pit so much more. Which is a funny allegory for politics and the people. As political parties generally provide public displays to appear caring yet fail to deliver actual solutions to problems.
What made 60s counterculture so fascinating is how they were able to create a unified message of peace and equal rights for every individual. No matter where you came from, unity was the message. A rare feat culturally, especially given how difficult it is to even unite a hundred people within the same room. The Pit is a 90s variation on the hippy movement. Granted their motives are little different, as they simply want others to come to their senses and just have a good time. Since the pranks can go too far, this message gets completely lost. As each group sees the actions of The Pit as a slight against their own group’s identity.
By a miracle, an extremely famous music group agrees to play at The Pit. Both offering opportunity to save the house and unite the students. Afterall, under the right circumstances we can all friends. And the situation captures this idea perfectly.
The moment George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic show up the students share a single interest to watch the show together. And what a great band to further drive this message home! P Funk themselves are eccentric, from different all walks of life, yet they all seek to make great music for the people.
At the end of the concert, it’s confirmed that the The Pit will still be lost. With one last card up their sleeve, they rely on the students to unite and save them from their fate. By having one major act of defiance against the President Garcia-Thompson, the students can overcome the situation by coming together.
If there ever was anything to take away from PCU, it’s that when we set our differences aside, we can come together as friends and have a good time. For all the humor and jokes, that simple message is the beating heart of this fun film.
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