Lisa Wade's brief history of the evolution of college culture. Food fight! From Time.
When Animal House was released in 1978, the alcohol industry saw an opportunity and aggressively ramped up marketing on campus. They started advertising in school newspapers, erecting massive inflatable beer cans at sporting events, promoting drink specials at nearby bars and clubs, and hiring students as representatives of their brands to give beer away for free. They spent millions in the 1980s to convince students that “it’s naturally part of college life to drink.”
Between the vision of college life promulgated by the alcohol industry and the founding of Kappa Alpha more than 150 years before, college life had steadily transformed. Nothing emerged to stop or slow the march toward more and more fun, until 1984. That year the U.S. government initiated an effort to reduce highway deaths, informing states that it would cut their transportation budget allocation if they didn’t raise the legal drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one. By 1987, all states had complied and campuses were held accountable for policing underage drinking in residence halls.
Still, collegiate life was far too drenched in drink to be derailed by such a little thing. College drinking didn’t slow down during Prohibition, and it didn’t slow down in the 1980s. The new drinking age succeeded only in driving much of the drinking off-campus. Today, if students want to party—and they do—they’re probably going to do it in rented houses, bars and clubs, sorority functions at local businesses, stadium parking lots, or fraternities.