“Aggression and humiliation are the norms here, the one driving the other.”
By Sean O’Hagan
The Guardian (12/10/18)
Last year in the US, four freshman students died as a direct result of hazing rituals during college fraternity initiation ceremonies. All the deaths occurred during or just after drinking bouts in which the victims consumed vast amounts of spirits in a short space of time while older students egged them on. One of the deceased, Maxwell Gruver, 19, a student at Louisiana State University, was found to have had a blood-alcohol level over .49 g/dl at the time of his death – just .31 is considered life-threatening.
“Nobody can physically drink that much … You have to be forced to drink it,” his mother told ABC news. “It’s senseless. I mean, how is making your brother do all these things, and humiliating somebody, a brotherhood?”
The unholy trinity of fraternity life
In his book True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities,John Hechinger notes that around 100,000 young men choose to be initiated into chapters annually, despite these all-male societies now being associated with what he describes as “the unholy trinity of fraternity life: racism, deadly drinking and misogyny”. Many of the young men they attract will go on to work in politics, finance and law-making, sometimes at the highest level. What’s more, the loyalties formed will be maintained throughout a working life in which the male, white and privileged look out for each other whatever their transgressions. Hechinger cites a fraternity promotional video that promises students a lifelong bond with “the best and brightest men on campus. Men who will become the best men at your wedding, pallbearers at your funeral and everything in between.”
When Moisey first exhibited the work in a small show in Berkeley, it was his artist’s statement that drew the most media attention. It read: “This is what our leaders looked like when they were young.”
There is a funeral in Andrew Moisey’s timely and provocative photobook, The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual, though it is unrelated to anything that happened on the campus of the unnamed university where the images were documented. It does, though, show young men looking awkwardly ill at ease as they attend the most serious ritual of all. Elsewhere, the same young men seem altogether more relaxed in a closed, all-male campus environment where heavy drinking, boorishness, bullying and misogyny are the norms. A world in which homosexuality is taboo but cross-dressing and semi-naked wrestling are acceptable and parading your penis and testicles is almost de rigueur.
Bringing out the worst
“I wanted to show how the whole brotherhood thing that fraternity houses are built on actually tends to bring out the worst in young men, and the lofty ideals that once informed the organisations have now been replaced by pretty dreadful behaviour,” elaborates Moisey, who studied at Berkeley and now teaches at Cornell. “But I also wanted to get over the fact that, though these guys love to revel in their own debauchery, they don’t think of themselves as bad people.” …