Can American college students learn that drunk and stupid is no way to go through life?
You’ve heard reports of recent assaults, abuse and seediness associated with Greek Life on college campuses across America, right?
You’ve learned about the secret posting of photographs of unconscious women by members of a frat at Penn State, and how the members of this fraternity kept the photographs in a private file accessible only to members of the house itself - oh, and its alums, so the old guys wouldn’t feel left out.
(The women in the photos weren’t told their lewd pictures were posted, however, so they probably felt a little left out.)
You’ve always been aware of the degrading hazing rituals and virulent homophobia that’s been associated historically with many fraternities.
Of course it’s not only men who break rules. Insider sources report that sororities are now doing a lot worse than mixing Lilly Pulitzer with L.L. Bean.
Yet can you hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals? If you do, are you then blaming the whole fraternity system?
You’ve heard this too, haven’t you?
Indeed, you might have heard it so often that you can recite the lines that come next: “And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? ... Isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society?”
Ah, “Animal House,” a paean to the year 1962, described by one of the film’s writers, Chris Miller, as the “twilight of fun time in college.”
The first line of this column is also adapted from “Animal House.”
Ah, the celebration of toga parties, road trips to women’s colleges and Donald Sutherland’s inimitable portrayal of the failed-novelist-turned-English-professor who sleeps with his students.
Ah, John Belushi’s call to action against the administration. Described as “psychopathic but absolutely right” by a fraternity brother, Belushi’s character Bluto declares, “Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!”
(Yes, I judge people by whether they realize they’re supposed to find that line funny.)
“Animal House” was released in 1978.
Ah, 1978, the year I finished at the very same college from which Miller graduated. To say there was large fraternity presence is to underestimate the knee-deep Greek-life culture in which Dartmouth College was steeped in the 1970s.
When I arrived on campus in the fall of 1975, one of the first things I saw were banners blaring “Co-Hogs Go Home.”
I had no idea what that meant.
I did not come from a family that knew enough about summering on Block Island to make mollusk jokes with misogynist overtones. I came from a family that didn’t use any season as verb. My family “wintered” where we “summered” and we didn’t “fall,” because who’d pick us up? (OK, it’s true that the word “spring” was used as verb, but it was employed only in the past tense as in: “Joey was sprung from Dannemora on Tuesday. Go buy cutlets.”)
Anyway, back in Hanover, N.H., other banners saying “Better Dead Than Co-ed” were hanging from houses on a street referred to as “Frat Row.” Those I understood: I was in the third class of women admitted to the college as matriculated students.
In that respect, “Animal House’s” Faber College was actually more advanced than the Ivy League school I attended insofar as it was fully coeducational.
The Interfraternity Council, a national organization, insists: “We are committed to ensuring that fraternities continue to operate as organizations that make college communities better for all students.”
Many college administrators, including Dartmouth’s president Philip Hanlon, who’s a member of Dartmouth’s class of ‘77, are hoping to change the Greek system without dismantling it entirely. This might be possible, but - like the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb - it has to want to change.
Hanlon was a member of the same fraternity as Chris Miller, so perhaps there is recognition that the whole fraternity system is an indictment of our educational institutions and perhaps of America itself.
Pretending everything is fine on college campuses - or in any American community - when it isn’t is no way to go through life.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her www.ginabarreca.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.