This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 25th June 2016.
Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities: Thursday, BBC Two
Mr v Mrs: Call the Mediator: Tuesday, BBC Two
When Brits think of American college fraternities, our instant frames of reference are anarchically light-hearted films such as National Lampoon’s Animal House and - possibly- Richard Linklater’s latest, Everybody Wants Some!!
Our own equivalent would be the repulsive elitism of The Bullingdon Club, but somehow that doesn’t seem quite as fun and harmless as a bunch of drunk, shaggy American dudes twisting in togas to My Sharona.
That, of course, is the benign Hollywood fantasy. The sobering reality, as seen in the This World documentary, Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities, is that these college hothouses are just as much of a vile breeding ground for powerful corporate and political leaders as our own Oxbridge gene pools.
In the last few hundred years, nearly half of America’s Presidents have belonged to a fraternity. It’s an honorific badge for life, and a potential fast-track into positions of influence.
The basic facts: college students traditionally pledge allegiance to a campus fraternity or - for women - sorority. Shared accommodation can cost up to $2,500 per term. For male students, it’s seen as a noble brotherhood. They repeatedly boast of sharing the same values and goals. That is, becoming as rich and successful as possible. Darwinism and the American Dream in microcosm.
But in this macho world full of brutal masonic rituals, where new students are sometimes horrifically beaten and branded, tragedy is an inevitable by-product. The secret initiation process known as hazing has resulted in several deaths over the years. Bound by a sacred oath, these heroic brotherhoods then concoct lies to cover their tracks.
Fearful of losing donations from their powerful fraternity alumni, colleges have been accused of covering up the truth with students and the police.
Needless to say, misogyny runs rampant in an obnoxious, shallow subculture where hard-partying jocks roar at each other’s pecs and guzzle booze from footwear. Women – sorority girls - are treated as trophies. Rape cases frequently creep into the headlines. It’s endemic.
One female student spoke chillingly of being drugged and raped at a frat-house party. She didn’t report the crime, as she feels that colleges don’t encourage women to make such allegations. As she stated bluntly, they’re “the personification of patriarchy… no one wants to be known as the rape school.”
Naturally, this dispiriting programme focused on the darker aspects of frat life, because that’s where the story lies. Not every frat boy is a potential murderer or sex criminal.
But you can’t ignore the horrifying pitfalls of a protected system where social, financial and sexual triumphs are viewed as the ultimate sordid goal. You can’t ignore this world.
So you leave college, get a job, get married and live happily ever after. Right? Wrong, otherwise why would Britain need a professional network of family mediators to help couples struggling with divorce?
Filmed over a year, Mr v Mrs: Call the Mediator offers intimate insight into the work of impartial mediators tasked with assisting estranged couples, some of whom can barely tolerate each other, as they seek to resolve difficult disputes and avoid costly court cases.
The director attempts to force a layer of black humour via ironic music cues, but it’s basically a depressing miasma of frosty grimaces, bitter rebukes, catastrophic passive-aggression and dreams gone horribly sour.
Each week we trace the stories of three couples. As with all forms of voyeuristic television, it’s impossible to avoid making your mind up about people you’ve never met: Jeremy Kyle, faux-cosy BBC style. It’s guilty viewing in the most uncomfortable sense.