Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Alphas, Betas and Omegas...

My parents would never allow me to watch video nasties when I was a child, so when I hit 16 I used my new relative freedom to get my hands on every single banned thing I could in an act of "negative obedience". Most of them were absolute rubbish, but I always had a soft spot for those films about serial killers stalking sororities. For British people the concept of sororities and fraternities is alien and difficult to understand - all those Greek letters, the rushing, hazing, pledging, Hell Week etc. What does it all mean? To make a sweeping generalisation, British people are either unsociable (we don't like other people) and/or unsocialised (we have poor social skills) so we don't do the whole "joining in" thing very well. I'm sure I have mentioned this elsewhere before, but social skills seem to be inbuilt into the American education system in a way that they are just not in the UK. For example, while Americans have Show & Tell (designed to hone presentation skills from an early age), Prom Queens (obstensibly a popularity contest) and Year Books (an exercise in friend-counting), we have nothing! No wonder all the Americans I know are so confident, making me feel extra-bumbling and incoherent when thrust into their company.

Fortunately, a book called "Pledged" puts paid to the idea that sororities are good things, by being quite critical of them. The book is half-novel, half ethnographic study, following four girls at a "fictional" sorority as they struggle to make it through a shed-load of eating disorders, date rapes, sado-masochistic hazing rituals and complicated power-politicing where hair-sheen and tooth whiteness determines your place in the pecking order. Although the book is not as shocking as it thinks it is (teenage girls get drunk, fight over boys and have sex! who knew!) and it is often difficult keeping track over who has being date-raped by whom, it is still a rollicking read. I have since been inspired to investigate actual real-life sororities and fraternities (or their websites at least) to see if there are any hints of the sorts of things that go on in Pledged. (Click on the pics to see them bigger.)

Here's a picture from the Alpha Kappa Chapter of Delta Lambda Phi (the gay fraternity) at the Southern Methodist University.

I know! Not what I was expecting either. When you think of gay frat action it's normally toned lovelies paddling each other's bottoms in 2Xist underwear. Still, I get the impression that four of the guys in this picture are deeply in (unrequited) love with the other guy. I'll leave you to work it out. (Actually they all look lovely and it makes me wish there were gay fraternities in the UK now - at least I'd never run out of people to do jigsaws and play Scrabble with).

At least the straight boys fit expectations. This is from Kappa Delta Rho at the University of Delaware. Nice red-blooded boys every one of them - Budweiser, inanity. Let's move on...

Finally, here's a sorority picture from Alpha Phi Beta at Illinois.

I think the blonde girl (who I'll call Tiffany) is the real Alpha here. Note that slight exposition of belly button, the perky breasts, the long blonde hair and the perfect smile. The one on the right (Ellen) wants to be in the "in crowd", but by the end of the night she'll have had all of the fatty parts of her body circled in permanent marker ink as a way of motivating "self-improvement" (they actually do this apparently - it's all in the book).

I want to start my own Sorority! Anyone want to join?

1 comment:

Nixon said...

Ok, I'm buying it! Incidentally, have you ever seen Raw Deal: A Question of Consent? If not you might want to check it out.