I recently started watching Greek, a show about fraternities and sororities which airs on ABC Family. It takes place at the fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University, revolving around the lives of characters in several fraternities and sororities. I’m not really sure why I’m so drawn to the show, but I find myself oddly mesmerized, even as I am horrified and disgusted sometimes.
I don’t know much about fraternity and sorority life. My experiences are limited to knowing some folks in fraternities and sororities, and, yes, in going to some frat parties. Outsiders to the Greek system tend to view it pretty negatively, and the system definitely has some problems. (Hazing, excessive drinking, sexual assault, cultivation of disordered eating, etc etc.) Greek does a pretty balanced job of presenting the brotherhood and sisterhood aspect, the connections that people make in the Greek system, and in presenting some of the more negative things. Including the consequences of bad behavior in our more socially-conscious era; our friends at ZBZ, for example, are placed on probation by Nationals due to violations which would have been laughed off in earlier days.
But, Greek also has a lot of cringeworthy problems. I hate, for example, the way it depicts sorority life. Sorority sisters, in Greek, are scheming harpies who are constantly stealing each other’s boyfriends, fighting over meaningless things, and bouncing from boy to boy. We’re treated to catfights and a wide assortment of general nastiness. And, as viewers, we get sucked into the attitudes of the show; I find myself thinking of characters as bitches, for example, and hating them, before I step back and realize that I’ve just totally bought into the show’s hackneyed portrayal of college women and sorority sisters in particular.
I get that with a television show, you want to maintain tension. Having love triangles and conflicted sexual relationships definitely meets that requirement, as does playing up the rivalry between different fraternities and sororities. And it would be extremely boring to watch a show in which everyone got along and nothing wrong ever happened. But…is it really necessary to go to this extreme? Could we maybe not play on the obvious stereotypes, and perhaps explore some more creative plot ideas?
Sometimes, Greek makes really cogent observations on society and college life. I like that there are gay characters, and how those characters are presented. I also like that we see more gays than lesbians; television tends to go for lesbians when it wants LGBQT brownie points, because lesbians are sexually appealing. I like that the show is much more diverse than a lot of other shows. Yes, the leads are mostly white, but not all of them are, and the minority characters aren’t as heavily stereotyped as they often are, and they’re allowed to be love objects, which is pretty rare. We see black and Asian and Southeast Indian characters who are actually fully realized as people and don’t inhabit troped stereotypes. It is unfortunate that a lot of the minority characters take the role of sidekicks, and I’m hoping that this changes as the older characters graduate, making room for the minority characters to take a stronger role.
There’s also an abstinence club on Greek, which is used as a figure of fun in the first season, something which really irritates me (see Monday’s post). But I like that Rusty’s roommate, while a somewhat stereotypical Christian trope, is also more complex, and humanized. When he loses his virginity during the current season and agonizes over it, I feel for him, as a viewer. His crisis of conscience and faith feels real and is presented genuinely, not as an opportunity to make fun of him, but as a depiction of the very real struggles that people in his position have in college.
We also see characters struggling with issues like balancing courseloads and recreation, wondering about whether they belong in sororities and fraternities at all, and dealing with problems like the divorce of parents and the dangers of a trust fund. For the most part, I think that the show deals with a lot of complex issues in a pretty positive way, although the show is definitely hetero-centric as well as centered on able bodies, which is a bit of a bummer.
I’m a bit disappointed that the show hasn’t really addressed sexual assault, which is a pretty common problem on college campuses. I’m hoping that it comes up as the series progresses, since the show doesn’t shy away from issues like college alcoholism and abusive sorority hazing like fat shaming and the encouragement of disordered eating.
I think it’s safe to say that I’ll probably be talking about Greek as it airs this season. I’m curious to see where the show takes us and the characters.