chapter  3
21 Pages

‘The College Hero’

The Freshman’s Individual Conformist
ByChristina G. Petersen

A critical reading of The Freshman’s narrative and formal characteristics argues not only for the film’s status as an early entry in the teen or youth film genre but for a reconsideration of one of its central tropes: the liminal body. In protagonist Harold Lamb’s quest to become the most popular man at college, he must negotiate the paradox of becoming an individual by first becoming one of the crowd. However, Harold quickly runs afoul of the campus community when he models his behavior on popular images of college that favor athletics over academics. As this chapter explores, The Freshman not only parodies such representations of campus life by depicting the 1920s college as a fantasy space akin to the cinema, it also encourages a slippage between college and the movies that presents Harold as the spectator’s onscreen surrogate. Through an analysis of the film’s specific formal strategies of mise-en-scène, cinematography, and editing, this chapter argues for The Freshman’s individual struggle for identity as one of conformity for both Harold and the spectator. In its representation of college life as training for social acceptance, The Freshman indoctrinates its audience into the exclusive world of 1920s campus culture, transforming the film’s spectator into one of the middle-class crowd cheering for Harold to win the final touchdown.