Are fraternities like drop bears?
Are fraternities the American version of drop bears? Do they really exist or are they a concept cooked up by slick marketing teams to make American university life seem somehow sexier and more dangerous than schooling in the rest of the world? Do thousands of American college students submit to torture willingly to earn admission into glorified binge drinking clubs? And if this is a real thing that happens in America, why doesn’t it happen in the rest of the world?
Growing up in Australia in the late 90s and early 200s, you watch a lot of American movies. During puberty one of the most important parts of your curriculum is the American teen movie. A subgenre of the American teen movies is the American college movie. And in every college movie is the crazy fraternity with the insane hazing rituals. My introduction to the concept of fraternities was the Will Ferrell movie Old School. I think I saw Old School when I was about 17. Old School is most famous for a scene where the pledges (guys who want to join the fraternity) tie cinderblocks to their dicks and drop them off a 2nd storey building. This dick drop scene is an example of hazing. Anyone who wants to join Will Ferrell’s fraternity in Old School has to endure weeks of hazing. This hazing ranges from running around naked to drinking contests to the aforementioned dick drop. We’re told that people will want to get into a fraternity so bad that they will risk genital mutilation.
This all seemed implausible to me, but I was willing to give Will Ferrell the benefit of the doubt. If my time at university had one tenth of the insanity then the tuition would surely be well spent. Now you could say that it was stupid of me to base my expectations of fraternities on a Will Ferrell movie. But like any impressionable teenager I absorbed these tales of the madness of university life and arrived at Sydney University in Australia extremely hyped for some dangerous and potentially homo-erotic hazing opportunities.
There were no frats in sight. Nobody I knew was in a fraternity or a sorority. Nobody I knew had ever been to a frat party. There were tales that a fraternity existed somewhere on campus, but these were vague and always second hand. These fraternities had gotten up to shenanigans in the past but these days they were docile, irrelevant to the lives of most students.
So my suspicion that fraternities were either dead or never real seemed to be confirmed. Okay, I thought maybe they were real in the 70s but that any fraternity that existed today would be a pale imitation, mostly centered around playing Xbox and drinking beer. I was totally convinced that any hazing would be no more than a symbolic slap on the bum. How could it be more than that in the 21st century? Ain’t nobody got the time for serious hazing these days. According to a book I read once (bowling alone) membership to all sorts of clubs has been in decline since the 1950s. For everything from bowling teams to charities to political parties it has been getting harder and harder to find willing members. Surely if getting into a fraternity still involved serious hazing all the 19 year olds would just stay home and play beer pong and Call of Duty in the comfort of their own house.
And even if we accept the idea that American teenagers would willingly submit to hazing when they could be watching DJ Kaled snapchat stories instead, I found the second part of the fraternity proposition even harder to accept. In the movies after someone survives the hazing they gain swagger and status instantaneously.
- Do some dangerous/homoerotic shit that probably involves your dick
- Eat something really gross that probably involves somebody else’s dick
- Survive some sort of (dick related) endurance torture
- Complete these trials and advance from a pledge to a fully fledged fraternity brother.
- Become instantly cooler:
- respected by the other dudes on campus. If a fight seemed likely to break out between two throbbing alpha males you would be able to immediately deploy your fraternity honor and resolve the situation peacefully.
- become more desirable to women. Any college girl who was looking to hook up with someone would instantly consider the prospect of drunkenly making out with you 5 times more exciting than it was before.
None of this makes any sense to me. Especially the increased coolness part. Now no one has ever accused me of being an expert on coolness, but I feel like everything I know about fraternities is the opposite of what makes people cool in Australia. Having only ever observed coolness from a distance I can’t really say for sure.
But all of this is more or less true, is what I’m told. Which makes me think that fraternities must be the American version of drop bears. Every American I’ve talked to who went to a school that focused on ‘greek’ life has tales of brutal hazing and glorious parties of legend. Fraternities are real and real cool- if you’re into that sort of thing. They still torture you and psychologically break you down. But not as bad as before- except in the South where it might be worse than it’s ever been. Also Asian American fraternities will haze the shit out of you. You’re still going to be cooler in a frat than out of one. Frat’s control the parties and he who controls the parties controls the galaxy. The cooler the frat the more colossal the parties. The cooler the frat, the more intense the hazing. And a lot of my friends agree that being hazed is a reasonable price to pay for entry into a frat. Here are the stories they told me, reproduced in good faith.
“One of my friends was at a frat party and she hooked up with this guy who she thought was in the frat. Later she found out that he wasn’t part of the frat and got really upset. At that time in her life she was only really into hooking up with frat brothers.”
“One of my friends was part of an Asian-American frat. Asian frats aren’t regulated by the overall frat body so the hazing is pretty wild. He ended up in hospital because they made him work out on a leg press machine for hours without drinking any water.”
“Fraternities are much more serious in the south. Most of the hazing in the north these days is more military school style stuff. To break you down and rebuild you. They don’t really do that gross stuff any more.”
“One time the frat president of the coolest frat was into me and that was really awesome.”
“My ex-boyfriend can’t eat cumin anymore. The main aspect of his hazing was sleep deprivation. They would monitor the pledges all night to ensure that they only got a couple of hours sleep. They would also send someone into all of his classes to make sure he didn’t get any sleep in class. In addition to this, he was only allowed to eat food that the frat provided. All they gave him were hot dogs covered in cumin. That was all he ate for a week. As a result, he can’t eat anything with cumin in it anymore.”
Makes me sad to have gone to university in Australia.