Resistance is futile: You will all become one with the sisterhood

August 31, 2002

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Much to my own surprise, I find myself admitting that I watch (it's not enough that I watch it in the first place) MTV's latest reality high-concept series, "Sorority Life" (Mondays, 10:30/9:30c). I just can't help myself. I've watched it four weeks in a row now, ever since I let myself get sucked into a marathon late one Sunday night.

Why do I watch this show? Part of it is the fact that I must have a half-hour somewhere where I watch and laugh at superficial tripe; the rest of it is probably the fact the show just pisses me off so much — in a way that is strangely fulfilling. Rarely do I have so much fun being pissed off by a TV show, while instantly concluding I am superior to everyone that's on the screen. I find myself yelling insults and profanity at the TV set, often extending my middle finger at the people talking to the camera. It's like an interactive experience. The show may be superficial trash, but at least it incites an emotional reaction.

The show plays like a comedy/melodrama/documentary about the crushing of the individual spirit and the embracing of pettiness. The camera crews follow around mainly four college girls — Jordan, Mara, Candace, and Amanda — who are pledging a sorority at the University of California, Davis. They live in an off-campus pledge house that is separate from the sorority house. During this pledging process they are under close scrutiny by the sorority sisters, who ultimately will decide if they will be allowed into the sorority house.

I've never been a fan of the campus Greek system. My alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has a huge Greek system (and is purportedly the campus where the system itself was founded), but I would set foot in a house only if I had been promised free beer from someone in the house I happened to know. Fraternities seemed mostly like a place to get drunk and/or meet women. Sororities seemed like a chance to meet people from fraternities. I know there was certainly more to it than that, and I'm sure good people were involved in it, but what's the necessity of an organized brotherhood/sisterhood whose image heavily embraces college clich├ęs? One can do all the social stuff without all the needless baggage.

Someone will surely read this and tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. Fine, you're right, but I frankly don't care. And I'm certain "Sorority Life" is anything but journalistically accurate (despite the fact I know college-age women who say that it's halfway realistic). That is not my point. My point is, if it's even one-tenth accurate, I can't understand why anyone would want to be a part of such a ridiculous "sisterhood." Based on the show, those who join are likely to be stripped of all individual thought in favor of being turned into an automaton that believes in the virtue of the sisterhood. Some sisters have bought into a shallowly depicted concept of "unity"; often it's insofar that unity means being able to exert influence over the people below them.

The arbitrary rules enforced on the pledges is like an insult to the very concept of adulthood. (Granted, some of the girls featured on "Sorority Life" barely have the capacity of adult thinking, but that's beside the point.) No guys are allowed in the house after 11 p.m., and even before 11 guys may only be in the "common areas." (Don't take them back to your room, because heaven forbid what you might or might not do with a luxury known as PRIVACY.) Is joining a sorority the equivalent of being demoted to the third grade? Seems that way to me.

I was particularly angrily amused at the notion that what these pledge girls do on their own time — their OWN TIME — is subject to the never-ending scrutiny by these oh-so-superior sisters who would presume to tell a college girl how much she should or should not drink and how tamely she should or should not dance. Even more infuriating is to watch how the rumor and innuendo is channeled up the Tattletale Network to the sorority officers, who must then step in and "express concerns" over behavior that doesn't "reflect well on Sigma." Kill me now; from the sisters' reactions you'd think the pledges were doing a public strip-tease for money while announcing to the world that WE ARE SIGMA!

Then there's the petty drama-queen factor, like when Jordan and Mara switch hotels during a formal event because they think the hotel provided by the sorority is too "ghetto." (1) If they think that hotel is really that bad, they're in need of a serious reality check. (2) The overreaction by the sister who booked the hotel — who, of course, takes it oh-so-personally — blows the whole thing up into a Serious Incident that would be laughable if it weren't so petty. Check that; it's laughable regardless. And when Jordan and Mara duck out of the formal dance early to do something else with their dates, the sisterhood is, in my opinion, appalled beyond all reason. "That's not unity," gripes one sister. No, unity is apparently getting everyone — particularly those you might have some power over — to enjoy the activities exactly as you've scheduled them and to put on a happy smile in the face of the inane (I laughed at a "bonding" event where the sorority had the pledges and the sisters get together and move big boulders around in the middle of the night).

The sorority's vice president, Becca, is a person who often inspires nausea. She's the ultimate super-nice bureaucrat who will tiptoe around all issues as to not offend you but still delivers the most obviously insulting message that is basically saying: Behave the way we want you to behave or else the sisterhood will vote you out of here like "Survivor." Becca must be majoring in Sentence Construction In The Passive Voice: "Certain behaviors have been brought to our attention...", "People have said that...", "Some concerns have been expressed about you that...", and so on. This is apparently the best way to protect the identities of those in the Tattletale Network: Since we needn't name names, then these problems only exist in the abstract, according to some whose evidence is purely their own word, often as conveyed to them by others. HA! In reality, "problems" are magnified by apparent grudges and negative spin on allegations.

Of course, this isn't "real," since having cameras following everyone around instantly changes the nature of human psychology. But it's real enough to make me wonder if these people can hear how truly petty they sound on TV.

I don't know how this series ends, but I hope it ends with at least one, and preferably all, of the featured pledges standing up, shouting "F*** YOU!" and walking out the door. That would be satisfying entertainment.

Why in the world be in college if you can't be yourself? There's plenty of time in life to be someone else's drone — it's called corporate America.

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