December 9, 2010

‘Strange Days with Bob Saget’ Profiles Cornell Greek Chapter

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An episode of Strange Days with Bob Saget, featuring the comedian “pledging” the Seal and Serpent Society as an honorary brother, aired Tuesday on A & E. The episode provides a glimpse into some typical fraternity traditions, showing Saget pouring water for the brothers, interviewing each brother and making a “pledge paddle.”

“Once we got to know the guy, it really felt like he was a part of the house,” said Jon Hermann ’12. “He fit right in.” Saget shadowed Hermann through his classes during part of the episode.

Producers began filming the episode at the Society last April after the brothers there were contacted by the producers and made an audition tape. The Society has no national Greek letter affiliation, unlike most other fraternities, making it easier for president Jordan Smith ’11 to obtain the approval of the alumni board. Through conversations he had with producers, he speculates that the Society was selected because there were no concerns about offending any larger national Greek letter organization.

Nonetheless, Smith said brothers of the Society worked hard to keep their composure and not say anything during the filming that would compromise their reputation or lead to public ridicule.

“We had to be crazy politically correct and think through words long before hand,” Smith said. But certain statements still did not go unnoticed. At one point during the episode, Smith was called out and made fun of by Saget for using “oligopolist” in a sentence.

“I never would have used ‘oligopolist’ if I knew that would be on T.V. in any way,” Smith said.

The title of the episode, “How to Pledge and be Hazed by an Ivy League Fraternity,” made a few people nervous about the statement the show would make regarding the Cornell Greek system, including Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs.

“The title made me very nervous, not because I thought Seal and Serpent would do anything that they shouldn’t, but because of my experience with media sources,” Apgar said. “I can imagine that the people producing the show tried to … portray [Seal and Serpent] as a typical fraternity. The guys at Seal and Serpent did a good job resisting.”

However, despite the questions about the title of the show, there were no complaints at the premiere at the Society’s house on North Campus. The finale of the episode was met with applause.

Many of the scenes in the episode were fabricated for TV, according to Smith. The toga party at the end was put on completely by the producers, who stood outside the door checking people’s I.D.s and limiting admittance.

During one scene, the brothers stood at the War Memorial on West Campus, paying tribute to the Society’s brothers who died in World War I. The candles they held were added by the producers for effect, Smith said.

During that candlelit scene, however, the speech seemed genuine. Saget expressed his feelings about the week and thanked the fraternity. While at the beginning of the episode, he said he expected to be “jumped at the door and my buttocks paddled beet red,” he said that in the end, the fraternity defied his expectations.

“I respect your intellect a great deal and your values and we truly have an admiration for where you guys are coming from,” Saget said. “Thank you for letting us share your passion for this organization.”

Hermann said that he did not feel nervous about the depiction of the Society going into the premiere, based on his interactions with the crew and the producers and the nature of the Society’s pledging process.

“I think the producers’ intentions were great,” Hermann said. “Our pledging process is really about getting to know the house and that’s what we show him.”

Jordan Smith agreed.

“It portrayed us well,” Smith said. “I think it portrayed the Cornell Greek system well. However, I don’t think it captured the amount of studying that we do.”

Andrew Elkin ’11 watched the airing of the episode on Tuesday. Though he was not concerned with the portrayal of the Society, he was more concerned with its representation of Cornell and the Greek system.

“There are high school students across the country that watch that and to them, this is the Cornell Greek system and that’s just unfortunate,” said Elkin, a member of Phi Gamma Delta.

Saget’s picture is on the Society composite, hanging in the living room of the house. The brothers developed a real bond, Hermann said. Members of the Society drove down to New Jersey to see Saget at a stand up comedy show and Hermann said that Saget will likely return to the Society’s house in the future.

“I treat him like an alumni in the house,” he said.

The episode can be viewed free of charge at

Original Author: Juan Forrer