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Here is a scene from ABC Family's newest show, "Greek."
It is freshman orientation, and two roommates -- Dale and Rusty -- sip Red Bulls and mingle with their new classmates at a party full of engineering dorks. As two shoebox-sized robots fight to the death in the center of the room, Rusty becomes frustrated and suggests to Dale that they leave for a frat party. Dale, a Christian-rock-listening Bible-toter, turns to Rusty and asks, "Who would choose to hang out with a bunch of drunkards whose goal in life is to fornicate with as many vapid sorority girls as possible?" Well, Dale, we at Dartmouth would, I guess.
Like most things here at Dartmouth, we think our Greek system is better than everyone else's. And we're probably right. It is pretty clear that Dartmouth has played a significant role in defining the quintessential Greek experience for the rest of America. Maybe we owe this claim to the movie "Animal House" alone, which was a product of Chris Miller '63's experiences at Dartmouth, or maybe our Greek houses are just more excellent (whatever that means) than the field.
When the enterprising producers at ABC Family dreamed up this summer's newest show, "Greek," they probably had 15-year-old girls in mind -- not real fraternity members. I, however, let my curiosity get the best of me and two of my friends, brothers in my fraternity. I was eager to see how the "social minefield that is the Greek system" -- ABC Family's language, not mine -- could be boiled down into an hour-long, family-friendly dramedy.
For a show that airs on the same channel as reruns of "Boy Meets World," "Sister, Sister" and "Full House," it was not all that bad. I laughed when a Zeta Beta girl's jism-stained shirt landed on Rusty's head. I blushed when Rusty botched his first body shot ("I never had tequila before!"). I wept softly when Rusty finally got a bid at Kappa Tau. Watching "Greek" provided me with the opportunity to get caught up in some disgustingly fetishized vision of life at college and simultaneously reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of Greek culture at Dartmouth where that level of drama is virtually absent.
We manage the impressive balancing act of not taking ourselves too seriously while, in true Dartmouth fashion, maintaining the authority to judge everyone else for not measuring up to our unique absurdity. We avoid the typical antics that have become affiliated with the American Greek experience in exchange for even more ludicrously immature and entertaining debauchery.
Dartmouth's fraternities and sororities are a breed of their own and maybe even a (slightly grotesque) improvement to more mainstream Greek systems, like the one at Cyprus-Rhodes University, the setting for "Greek."
First of all, a great many of our fraternities have broken off from their national chapters and now operate as privately owned, one-of-a-kind, rogue organizations that make their own rules and define their own identities. Alpha Delta, Alpha Chi Alpha, Bones Gate, Phi Delta Alpha, Epsilon Kappa Theta, Chi Gamma Epsilon, Sigma Delta and Chi Heorot were all once responsible to a larger bureaucracy but now govern themselves.
In lieu of national dues, we have five-figure slush accounts. Some of the hazing that goes on here might be sadistic and weird, but it does not compare to the stories we hear from our friends at other schools. My house does not even have Greek letters.
Since freshman year, I have found that the more seriously any fraternity or sorority takes itself, the more people on campus will feel comfortable calling its members douche bags.
Luckily enough, we are not allowed to rush until sophomore year, a rule that allows us to experience the Greek system as outsiders -- which ostensibly gives us a critical eye for the Greek system, reduces the propensity for Greek houses to become suffocatingly insular by encouraging us to build a wide circle of friends and spurs us to be well informed when we finally do sink a bid.
And if nothing else, our Greek system keeps us entertained. What would winter -- or, for that matter, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights -- in Hanover be like without the Greek system? If we ever get bored watching our friends navigate "the social minefield that is the Greek system," then we can take a breather and watch Rusty Cartwright get hazed, drink beer out of Solo cups and conquer his dorkiness. But if we want to laugh at him, we will first have to have a sense of humor about ourselves.