April 13, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Headache

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It was just another typical late-night in Duffield. I was with my typical set of study buddies, working on a typical problem set. Well actually, they were working on a problem set. I was running my mouth and distracting people, which is also fairly typical. Then came the frat boys.

They came in three-piece suits, wearing hats and neon Ray-Bans to obfuscate their humanity. They carried with them a large poster labeled “Dork-O-Meter” where an arrow could be moved from “Dork” to “Dork-Squared” to “e^(Dork)” all the way to “Dork^(Infinity).” They paused in front of tables to snap photographs with the engineers.

Most laughed or rolled their eyes. But one stressed out kid was seriously offended.

He stood up, puffed out his chest and spoke in a deep voice “Are you serious?! I’m from Oakland. I could cut you!” The frat boys smirked, but began backing away as the boy advanced towards them. “Fucking AEM majors! Don’t you have anything better to do?” He followed them all the way to the doors where they left. He probably would have continued pursuing them, but there were problem sets to be finished.

You probably have heard similar stories. One friend told me of an incident in the Kinkeldey room of Uris Library. Kinkeldey is known for its pin-drop silence. It is the Jerusalem of studious grade-whores from throughout the University. So imagine the violent reaction these folks had one day when a frat boy walked in and began holding a loud conversation on his cell phone.

Two weeks ago I implored the Greeks to make themselves useful by disposing of the gorge fences in some clever, prankish manner. I thought to myself “Who else has the time, organizational infrastructure and taste for danger that this task involves? What is the Greek system for, if not stuff like this?”

I should have known better. You see, such a politically charged, risky prank is not at all what the Greek system is about. To understand why, ask yourself: “What kind of person, after arriving at college and forming a diverse set of dorm friends, picks up and moves to a house full of like-minded individuals to be told what to wear, when  to eat and who to network with?”

Actually, the question I’m more likely to ask is “Why do all these juiced-up gym rats want to live together and paddle each other?” But that’s a whole different story…

Pledging activities could be so beneficial to the University at large. Imagine if a bear cub in a hockey jersey was set loose on the Arts Quad one day, or if someone turned the top of Sibley dome into a giant keg. Maybe if these houses had a few more “dorks” involved, cool stuff like this would happen. Famous pranks of college lore tend to feature the nerdiest schools imaginable: One morning Los Angeles awoke to find the Hollywood sign transformed into “Caltech.” MIT students reassembled a cop car atop their dome. If these poor sophomores need to be hazed and have their GPAs trashed, couldn’t they be employed doing funny stuff like that in the process? Instead we hear tales of swallowed goldfish and alcohol poisoning.

One of my closest friends recently met an alumnus in New York and made the mistake of asking him if he’d been in a fraternity. “No,” he responded flatly. “I had a personality when I got to Cornell.”

But many people don’t. So they join houses, partake in homoerotic pledging activities and then spend three years attending mixers with like-minded sorority girls and calculating their uninspired ascension into Corporate America.

All this would be bearable, if Greeks could at least display their douche in style. Where are the elegant, old fashioned sports cars? The brandy? The cigars? Today you walk into a frat house and the carved mahogany has been painted over several times. The expensive furniture is either dilapidated or replaced. And the stench of Keystone overpowers the last lingering hints of glamour from a bygone era of honor and dignity. Frat boys then were still douche bags, to be sure. But at least they were classy. I’d choose Mr. Toad over Johnny Bravo any day.

Now the whole system has been saturated with tones of yuppie suburbia and Ralph Lauren. When Junior speeds down East Avenue these days, threatening the lives of crossing pedestrians, it’s not in a tiny convertible but an enormous SUV. This not-so-tasteful display of wealth says: “I’m looking forward to middle management and a McMansion in Westchester!” more than “Look at me, I’m rich and flashy!” No longer do frat boys delight in sweater vests, hand made shoes and slicked back hair. Now it’s tight-fitting, popped-collar polos and Livestrong bracelets. The finesse has been lost. The creativity squandered.

Why all this mediocrity within the doucheoisie? Maybe it’s just a Cornell thing. Maybe all the truly spectacular douchebags have been snatched up by Harvard and Princeton. Perhaps the old money is committed to Yale, while the new money jets off to Stanford. Let’s face it, if you’re going to be a legacy/development admit, studying vanilla subjects and drinking shitty beer, you might as well do it right. Cornell is not doing it right. Daddy’s paycheck must be slightly sub-par if Harvard isn’t opening its gates for you.

My advice to Greeks? Stop failing miserably at your job. Throw away the tacky Lacoste and Armani Exchange and pick up a goddamn J. Press catalog or check out the Henry Cotton’s website. Drink scotch, not Keystone. Lay off the gym a little and start pouring time and money into repairing a 1930s BMW. Prank often and prank well. If this unfortunate, class-conscious anachronism continues into the 21st century, it might as well continue with elegance.

Munier Salem is a former Sun Assistant Design Editor and founded the Science section. He is a senior in the College of Engineering. He may be reached at msalem@cornellsun.com. Critical Mass appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Munier Salem