I had never seen Accepted until yesterday, but even without seeing it, I knew how it was going to go. It’s basically Camp Nowhere (1994) with older kids. And yet, it’s not: it’s a critique of traditional higher education in America. And it’s got Justin “I’m a Mac” Long in it, who’s in Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) as well as Live Free or Die Hard (2007), which I didn’t like.
The premise is that a guy who didn’t get into college rents an abandoned mental hospital and invents a college, which then attracts other ‘rejects’ by means of its all-too-functional fake website. South Harmon Institute of Technology (SHIT) turns out to be the best thing that happened to any of them: they’re finally ‘accepted’.
The two key words—‘shit’, with its endless potential for humor, and ‘accepted’, which conveys a wistful longing for belonging—together perfectly encapsulate the movie’s spirit. The producers are Tom Shadyac and Michael Bostick, those responsible for the enjoyable Jim Carrey comedies Liar Liar (1997) and Bruce Almighty (2003).
Thoughts on Accepted
A pretentious administrator and a mean frat boy from Harmon, the hallowed neighboring “big sister” institution, manage to shut down the school by summoning the cops (and the students’ parents) and smugly pointing out that the school lacks official accreditation. Meanwhile, the protagonist’s fat best friend, creator of the website and victim of hazing at Harmon, has actually applied for accreditation on behalf of South Harmon. The climax of the movie is the education committee hearing, where the underdogs present an impassioned case for the freedom to learn in their own way—and win.
I feel like I’ve heard the story a million times. The themes in Accepted are like the themes in other “stick it to the man” movies like Footloose (1984), Dead Poets Society (1989) and Pleasantville (1998)—and for that matter, The Little Mermaid (1989) and Brave (2012). Americans love stories about the freedom to choose their own paths. It’s tradition to rebel against tradition.
These themes—especially in the context of education—make no sense in Confucian Asia. Every decision to strike out on your own and follow your passion despite the disapproval of family and society reeks of unthinkable short-sighted selfishness and shameful disrespect.
True, Asia is changing, and true, Disney didn’t completely invent the ridiculously feminist and seemingly post-modern plot of Mulan (1998). It’s actually an ancient legend about a female warrior. (Did you know there’s a 2009 live-action Chinese film about her?) Nevertheless, the cognitive dissonance remains.
Even discounting the cultural influence of living in Asia, my feelings about Accepted are mixed. For one thing, I had no trouble getting into college, so I don’t exactly identify with these misfits. For another thing, I don’t think advising young people to dedicate their lives to pursuits such as jazz trombone is necessarily helpful. But I’m still American enough to find a rather broad definition of education to be, well, acceptable.