It’s All Greek To Me

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.

3 Replies to “It’s All Greek To Me”

  1. I love this show too! While I really like the characters, I really hate the way that frats and sororities are portrayed overall. My experience with sororities and fraternities is kind of skewed though. I went to a school with very little greek life and those in greek like were not completely sectioned off from campus and parties and events were for the most part open to the entire campus, which seems to be different than a lot of schools and what we see on Greek.

    I really like what they are doing with Dale this season (and towards the end of last season). They are actually showing some character development in him, which we didn’t see in the first season and some internal struggles that he faces. I really like that he has become more of a prominent character.

    I’ve also really liked the storyline between Calvin and Grant — the struggling the hide the relationship, yet still have one, and the struggles that Grant has with coming out.

  2. Greek is hands down one of my favorite shows currently on tv… and not just because it’s loosely based on my own alma mater! For me, this show is about an accurate a representation of the Greek life I experienced out there. I particularly relate to the dilemma Casey faced in the last episode – wanting to participate in the “traditional panty run” but being concerned with her image and reputation within the Panhellenic community and in her own future by fighting for it – and then solving the issue by turning it into a charity clothing drive. I think Casey is an excellent example of a young woman who really is striving to figure out what it is that she wants to be, do, and stand for. She may be problematic, but I find her relatable.

    Greek certainly isn’t perfect – but I also appreciate the diversity as well as the representation of male homosexuality. If you haven’t seen the first season, I would recommend going back and watching the show from the beginning. The handling of Calvin’s coming out and his subsequent relationships is handled decently well. You’ll be disappointed to know though,(Spoiler for 1st season!) that there was a short lesbian relationship that occurred when a character got bored of being hetero.

    With regards to the plotline of sexual assault – a close friend of mine has served as a creative consultant to the creator of Greek, and I’ve brought this up to her before. She told me that because it’s aired on ABC Family, that’s one topic we can expect them NOT to cover, however prevalent on college campuses (and esp in Greek life) it may be. I’ll just keep wishing, because I would love to see it handled on televisions aimed at teens in a respectful, educational manner.

  3. Interesting that ABC Family is comfortable with teen pregnancy, but not sexual assault. That’s really disappointing.

    And, actually, I have watched the show in its entirety up to this point, and was indeed disgusted by Rebecca’s momentary flirtation with being lesbian. But, in all fairness, I think that’s something that happens a lot in college. I certainly knew people of all genders who explored same sex relationships in the college environment and decided it wasn’t really something they were interested in.

    I find Casey appealing as well, even if she frustrates me sometimes, in part because I really empathize with her struggle. She’s not really sure who she wants to be yet, and she’s clearly trying to reconcile competing views of herself. I also love that they throw in an Elle Woods reference now and then, but then again, I have a soft spot for Legally Blonde.

    Also very excited to see where they take Calvin and Grant. And I love what they are doing with Dale. I feel so badly for him because his relationship with God and Christianity has been a huge part of his character for so long, and it makes me sad that he thinks he can’t be part of the church because he had sex. I’m hoping that we see him meeting up with awesome tolerant Christians who explain that Jesus is really not going to be that upset that he had sex; I kind of feel like the show has focused a little too much on the abstinence part of Christianity, and not on, you know, the rest of the religion, so hopefully that gets balanced out with a more tolerant, loving church.

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