“You f——d’ it up.” That’s what the late Harold Ramis, co-author of Animal House, said to the film’s director, John Landis. After seeing Landis’s “rough cut” of the movie, Ramis was convinced he would have a dud on his resume. Ramis wasn’t the only one close to or distant from the film who thought its prospects anything but impressive.
When asked to play a supporting role in Animal House, Donald Sutherland told his agent that he couldn’t accept the $20,000 offer. “I just want the money. I don’t want any points in the movie.” You see, Sutherland was offered 2 percent of the movie’s gross in addition to $20,000. He wasn’t having it. Ultimately his agent got him $35,000 and no gross points. Sutherland’s thinking was that he didn’t want 2 percent of nothing. He wasn’t the only skeptical actor.
Chevy Chase was much in demand at the time that Animal House was being cast. The producers offered him the role of Otter (eventually played very well by Tim Matheson), only for Chase to turn it down in favor of the lead in Foul Play. Haven’t heard of it? You’re not alone.
The search for a director of the script that no one believed in was even more difficult. Brand names like John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy), Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces), Mike Nichols (The Graduate), and George Roy Hill (The Sting) all passed on the project. Of course, there’s speculation that the directors mentioned couldn’t possibly have passed on what their agents never even made them aware of.
Back to Ramis, that he could so thoroughly insult the work of John Landis speaks to how much the producers eventually settled on a total unknown to make the film. Ramis could never have spoken to the directors who passed in the way he did to Landis.
The happy news, as most readers are surely aware, is that Ramis was as wrong about Animal House’s prospects as seemingly all of the film industry was. Put another way, the experts inside Hollywood who are and were paid very well based on their ability to divine the likes of the public completely missed on Animal House.
Indeed, the film that most everyone wanted nothing to do with was released to great acclaim. The late film critic Roger Ebert wrote that it was “the funniest movie comedy since Mel Brooks made The Producers.” Moviegoers seemed to agree. For eight straight weeks Animal House was #1 at the box office on the way to a $140 million gross. For an extra $15,000, Sutherland passed on $2.8 million.
It’s all a reminder that in the real world of commerce, the future is much more than opaque. This truth has been haughtily ignored by FTC Chairman Lina Khan, and her supercilious conceit about the future should be the basis of congressional inquiry.
Convinced that “big” is bad, Khan has arrogated to herself the task of using her office’s heft to block mergers of the big, and similarly to block acquisitions of the relatively small by the big. All based on the presumption of knowledge about the future that Khan most certainly does not have. Animal House’s notoriety could be used by members of Congress to vivify just how much Khan has crossed the line, and in a way that voters will understand.
That the film succeeded against all odds and expectations is what calls for prudence on the part of Khan, where presently there isn’t any. Take for instance her thankfully failed attempt to restrain Meta from acquiring a metaverse fitness service, Within. Khan justified her intervention based on her belief that a failure to block the acquisition would mean that “Meta would be one step closer to its goal of owning the entire ‘Metaverse.’” Please stop and contemplate the arrogance of such a statement.
Figure that Meta has spent tens of billions in search of a future that may be defined by the “metaverse,” but may not be. Which is the point. As evidenced by Meta’s own valuation that is in the hundreds of billions, the smart money back in the mid-2000s plainly didn’t see Facebook as a future player in what became the “social media” space, and the evidence supporting such a claim is and was what became of Facebook (now Meta). Hundred billion+ and trillion+ valuations don’t happen because tomorrow is obvious, but precisely because it’s not. Khan’s actions signal that she’s not allowing these truths to inform her actions.
Considering all of the above through the prism of Meta, its shares are well down from past highs. This isn’t a knock on Meta, which is valiantly searching for the future, but it is a market signal that investors with actual skin in the game aren’t nearly as certain as Khan is that Meta has happened on what the future will look like.
The simple truth is that if actual investors had a realistic clue about what will captivate users of technology in the future, markets would be fully priced. Except that they’re not, and they’re not because tomorrow is an all new world. Yet Khan is presently picking and choosing what she will allow to take place and what she won’t based on the errant view that she knows.
Except that Khan doesn’t know. And because Khan doesn’t know, it’s time that she experience greater congressional oversight to make sure that her certitude doesn’t sap economic activity.
Crucial here is that it’s not just Khan who doesn’t know. Animal House reminds us yet again that few know. That they don’t explains why businesses in all sectors pursue all sorts of ventures in the hope of discovering what’s ahead.
Back in the 1970s, this kind of intrepid experimentation resulted in Animal House, a movie that remains relevant and beloved to this day. What no one wanted turned out to be box office gold. Let’s please alert Lina Khan to this truth, while also asking her to address it before lawmakers. What might give her a few laughs could also teach her something about how wrongheaded her war on big is.