Thursday, September 12, 2013

The War of Aspirations

The battle between those who want your worst, and those who want your best.

I used to think Total Frat Move was a distraction; that it was just another force - like anti-Greek movies or TV shows - that might deal a glancing blow to the fraternity movement, but at most would leave a small scar.  I've avoided commenting on it because I didn't want to prop it up at all.

But, a couple of things have changed my perspective.  The first is the growth of TFM as a media empire.  It's just too hard to ignore.  I guess a movie is on the way?  Great.

The second was listening to a mentor of mine in Greek life who said that he worries about TFM because it's becoming aspirational.  Many current and potential members are viewing TFM and Total Sorority Move not only as what Greek life is, but how it should be.  The more I consider this, the more I tend to agree.  And hence, the commentary that follows. 

There is a war going on right now in fraternity and sorority life.  It's a war over our aspirations.

In our lives, we should aspire to be something...to do something...to live for something.  This is fortune cookie wisdom, but should be repeated as often as possible. 

Because of that, we have many forces at play trying to influence our aspirations.  In our childhood, it's mostly our parents and siblings.  Then, we add teachers, coaches, and peers.  And in what could be the most influential time, we bring in college and subsequently, student organizations like fraternities and sororities.  

A fraternity or sorority experience can be life-directing.  I hope you believe that.

And so, your aspirations for how you experience your fraternity or sorority matter.  A lot.  You've been handed the keys to a beautiful vehicle.  Will you drive it to its fullest potential, or wreck it like a Ford Pinto at the demolition derby?

There is a tug of war.  There are forces trying to claim your aspirations; trying to define what it means to be a fraternity man or sorority woman for you.

I admit that I'm trying to do that with this site.  I believe in fraternity and sorority so much, that I cannot stand to see them tarnished by hazing, alcohol abuse, or any other debilitating problem.  I want the values and ideals we were founded upon to become front and center once again.  I am not alone on this side.  The professionals who work at your national office and in your campus student affairs office are likely on this side.  Many of you and your brothers and sisters are on this side.

This side desires for you to use the fraternity/sorority experience to create the best possible version of yourself.  To be self-aware, self-confident, and firmly believing that your talents and gifts are absolutely necessary in order for humankind to achieve its potential.  We want you to aspire to live an authentic life directed by the values you hold true - including those your fraternity or sorority instilled in you.

We want for you to aspire to live a life that you can be proud of.  To reach the end of your days with the knowledge that you lifted your community higher.

To do something big. Significant.  Positive.  Fraternal.


The other side is led by the purveyors of frat - which could include websites like Total Frat Move, Total Sorority Move, and Bro Bible. They are asking that you aspire to something much different. They are popularizing the idea that one should aspire to be the worst possible version of themselves.  The type of human beings that go though life noisily and selfishly, only to reach the end having done nothing of consequence except to drain resources.  To repeat a TFM tweet: "Smackin' asses and skippin' classes."


Sites like these are building a picture of fraternity that is based on boorishness and self-indulgence.  In this world women are referred to as "slams" and to be fratty is the honorable choice.  Women are expected to be superficial, and men are expected to be neanderthals (although strangely overly-concerned with what they wear).

This side wants you to aspire to nothing more than the couch during the day and the bar stool at night.  To aspire to this side's beliefs is to look at relationships as conquests and to experience life for only the tweets, posts, and next-morning high fives.  For this side, a fraternity is the perfect vehicle through which to start the long and empty journey towards a wasted life.  

I don't think I'm being too harsh here.

In this life, we are all left with a choice: to aspire for the best of our nature, or the worst.  I suppose we could aim for the middle as well.  But I'm wondering which side you're on?

It's not a fair measure necessarily, but social media statistics seems to show that the TFM side is winning.  The side that mocks integrity, celebrates sexual aggression, thinks drunk is a lifestyle, and basically props up jackassery in every way...is...winning.

Are you helping them win?  When you allow yourself to accept TFM and TSM and all the others - then you are party to a complete shift in the college fraternity's or sorority's reason for being.  They will instead become the vehicles that strive to bring out our worst.  And you will have given them the license.

I'm sure I'll be branded as weak and too sensitive and too soft as a man for this perspective.  My only response would be that the manliest men I know - my father and both of my grandfathers - would not hesitate to kick my ass if I ever wrote something like this.




Those who advocate for the worst will likely claim things like life is not to be taken too seriously, or you only live once, or life is meant to have fun.  Trust me, you can still aspire to your greatest self and have fun.  I had a blast as a fraternity member and a college student.  I enjoyed the parties and the relationships and breaking the rules every now and then.  But the difference is, that never became the essence of who I was, or what my fraternity was.  My Greek experience took the ambition I had to make a difference, which was instilled by my parents, and accelerated it.  My Greek experience took me as a man and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "you can be a better."  It didn't say, "go hook up with as many women as you can" or "try to black out as many nights as you can."  My Greek experience encouraged me to be more of a man, and not less of one.   

Maybe we can wake up a lot of potential members and current members to the dispiriting stench of these sites if we frame it as a choice.  Either choose to join those who appeal to and clamor for the worst of you, or join those who think that in this one shot we got on this earth, we need to aspire for our absolute best.

I have chosen my side.  People who cared about me and my life helped to bring me here.  I love the people I stand beside, and I love the fraternal world we are building.

It is not my goal to go to battle against the other side, or to try and stare them down.  It's my goal to work with you to build such an overwhelming movement towards the best of who we can be, that those who wish the opposite have no ground left upon which to stand.

You could say that's my aspiration.



5 comments:

  1. the sad part is I don't think the TFM creators/writers truly believe it either. I've noticed a change in their tone in the last handful of months. Articles about trying too hard to be "frat." The vehement opposition and (almost) true investigative jornalism to the Alabama sorority situation. A confused response to high school "frats."

    I think they're starting to realize the monster they created, and they don't like it either.

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  2. I think a lot of institutions are under attack these days: church, family, community, etc. Greeks seem to be the next box on the list to check off. TFM seems organic, but who propagates the perception that feeds it? My default position is that anything that the media or establishment tries to discredit or attack must be doing something right.

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  3. TFM is completely satirical. The only reason it has gotten out of hand is the fact that people have started to take it seriously.

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  4. I believe that social media is winning. As a current member of a fraternity and leader within that fraternity, TFM and similar sites have not only helped ruin the reputation of the Greek system but due its focus on what appeals to every man (sex, booze, social status) it encourages similar behaviors out of anyone who reads it. As the tweet states "Smakin' asses and Skippin Classes" is more appealing to tweet than "Made a 98 on my Physics Exam!" And because we live in a Greek world that is ran by social media we want to appear that we are cooler than the other fraternities and that we have the higher social status. Does this mean we are throwing away the real values of the Greek system and making worst versions of us? I don't believe so. I believe that some people are falling for it and making worst versions of themselves but from what I see at my Greek Community (which has made TFM a few times) is that it is just a show. TFM has popularized the negative but I still see chapters through this negative create great men, who go off and do great things and take some not so great men and make them 100% better. I think a lot of chapters see the downfall of TFM and warding their members away from similar websites and behaviors. I know my chapter is for sure.

    Peter Hunt
    University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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  5. My theory is that people (especially Greeks) like to be called the best. Everything in Greek Life has become a competition - even events created to help others or bring students together. Greeks especially crave more attention from the media.

    Another great example are the fascicle top "party school" rankings of questionable and even more arbitrary means of obtaining data. Data collection explained for the two major party school rankings:

    Princeton Review: (Princeton!) uses "a combination of survey questions concerning the use of alcohol and drugs, hours of study each day, and the popularity of the Greek system". So being top party school means kids go Greek, don't study, and say they get drunk/high a lot. Cool!

    Playboy: "staffers...interviewed campus club leaders, dorm rush chairmen, fraternity presidents and other campus social studs at more than 250 schools nationwide". Soo again - what were the criteria here? Wild unsubstantiated stories?

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