Hollywood Portrays false Greek tragedy

Animal House hit theaters 30 years ago, but Greek organizations — especially sororities — say they still have to defend themselves from Hollywood stereotypes.

Shows like ABC Family’s Greek paint a picture of sorority girls concerned with nothing but clothes, drinking, boys and scheming against their fellow sisters, some Greeks say. And while the second season has focused more on brotherhood and sisterhood, many Greeks still have issues with the show.

Sorority Forever, on thewb.com, is described in a news release as filled with “the secrets, the sex, the backstabbing, the rollercoaster life of being a girl who will do anything for Phi Chi, and the consequences of discovering the truth behind the secrets of the house.”

Members of the organizations on Greek and Sorority Forever are often shown hazing new members. Hazing is not only forbidden by almost all national fraternity and sorority organizations, it is also illegal in 41 states, including Florida.

“The Panhellenic Council follows a strict anti-hazing policy, so things like making new members drink or wear skimpy clothing is absolutely false,” said Amanda Wintenburg, a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.

Like many other things in Hollywood, she said, these shows and films are filled with stereotypical characters and situations inspired by a very small population of the Greek system — or just blown completely out of proportion.

“It’s a satire. It makes you laugh,” said Ashley Player, a member of Zeta Tau Alpha. “But at the same time it’s kind of aggravating. We have to reassure new and potential members that that is not what our sorority is like.”

Hollywood and the entertainment industry claim to show at least the partial truth, however.

Mikaela Hoover, who plays Madison on Sorority Forever, said the Web show tells the darker side of Greek life. She was in a sorority for four years when she went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and was the only girl in the cast who had been in one.

“I went to college in the West Coast, in which sororities are not as intense as they are in the South and East Coast,” she said. “There were some similarities but not a lot.”

National sorority organizations are not founded on partying. They are based on ideals of leadership, service, scholarship and ritual. As such, an important part of most Greek organizations is philanthropy.

Megan Vadnais, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said it is easy for non-Greek students to make assumptions based on negative media portrayals.

“The sorority and fraternity are positive entities in the communities and an attribute to their (the members’) personal and academic development and ability to connect with those in the community,” she said.

Each chapter hosts a large annual event to raise money for its philanthropy. The USF chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha, for instance, raised more than $10,000 at their “Think Pink! Think Fashion” show last year, Player said. The organizations also participate in a variety of volunteer projects, including campus projects like Stampede of Service.

But depicting these things doesn’t make money at the box office. It’s no wonder that movies and television shows hype up the party aspect of Greek life: Promiscuity and debauchery sell.

“We’re really flattered that they use Greek life for inspiration, but at the same time there’s a whole other side to it they leave out,” Player said.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing stereotypes is that there is a lesser sorority on campus, Wintenburg said. In movies like Sorority Boys and The House Bunny, the plot focuses around an unpopular sorority that other characters help change to win acceptance from the rest of the Greek community.

“Non-Greeks should know that these ‘outcast sororities’ do not exist,” Wintenburg said. “All of the chapters at USF have different qualities to offer potential new members and should be treated with the respect they deserve.”

Additional reporting by Candace Kaw. Robin Roup and Candace Kaw are not affiliated with any Greek organization on campus.