I just saw Goat. A film about fraternity hazing. The dialogue was spare. The torture, frequent.
I was lucky. I never pledged a fraternity. I remember my freshman roommate coming home from hazing. He said they locked the pledges in a basement room, bags over their heads, listening to a tape of a baby crying all night. I’m sure that was just the start of it all. He slept for a day when it was over.
“Is it really worth it?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “But I guess that’s just how it is. And then we get to do it to the freshman next year. Get our revenge.”
My roommate was a tall, legacy student, who loved gangster rap and held conservative political views at a largely liberal college. He was a perfectly nice guy—he probably still is. But joining he became cool, or at least in, with a particular crowd. The athletes. At a Division III school like mine, the athletes really weren’t all that special, but they still carried the strong force of the legacy of popularity from high school. And you could tell they were having a lot of sex at drunken parties. Which was appealing to an 18-year-old boy like me, if a little scary.
Goat captured that experience well. The younger brother, trying to join his older brother’s frat, finds himself quickly ‘hooking up’ with some ‘random’ girl on a Wednesday night while partying, but he commits the cardinal sin of saying “I think I love you,” as they begin to have sex, which entirely freaks her out.
That drunken malaise is a broken record in Goat, breaking these young men down into subservient beings (aka pledges). It’s what you might imagine, but worse. At least for me, because I know that could have been me. Especially the main character. His hair was down to his shoulders, like mine was in high school. He’s kind and sensitive. But he wants to be one of the guys too. And to be one of the guys, at this school, you needed to be in a frat. As his roommate told him, to paraphrase—“If we don’t get in, we’re nothing. We couldn’t go to any other parties. We couldn’t show our face around campus.” The frat is everything.
And in nearly every scene they drink. They are forced to drink, sometimes beer, usually hard alcohol. Don’t be a pussy. Drink. After a few drinks, not only is good judgment and helpful inhibition gone for the pledges, but for the “brothers” doling out the commands, any notion that they are not a sergeant, or for that matter, a slavemaster, is gone. No one’s worried about injury, or alcohol poisoning, or free will. You signed up for this! Because if you didn’t, you’d be a loser, for life.
I had a friend who moved away after eighth grade with his family. He was a small kid, very smart. And I remember he could do 100 crunches, because he was a wrestler. I didn’t keep in touch with him in high school, but my second week of college I saw his name on a flyer. Some students, who were protesting the presence of frats at our school, had copied an article about a kid who had died during hazing for a frat. They had made him drink until he couldn’t drink anymore. And then they made him drink more.
What in the world could create a culture that would motivate men, boys really, to do this to each other? Why would anyone want to prove their manhood, if it amounted to this shit? There is a sickness to adolescence that some people grow out of buy many don’t. The feeling of chronic insecurity, of learning that life is a competition, and we all have something to prove. In other words, insanity.
When I was watching the film I felt an invisible wave of gratitude pour over me, from the back of my neck, up over my scalp, down on my shoulders, into my chest. Gratitude that I did not have to go through this torture, that I was just okay enough with not being popular, that I didn’t believe I could ever really fit in with frat boys. That I didn’t go to a big party school. That I was still alive and had survived the minefield of insecurity that is adolescence and young adulthood.
So much of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood is about fitting in, but what if we didn’t have to? Then pledging a fraternity, or trying to prove we’re men, or drinking more than we want to…well there is no motivation for such non-sense. I wish I could get in touch with my childhood friend and say, “You’re brilliant, funny, a good person. Do your own thing. Just be yourself.”
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