If there is a movie that might make me agree with conservative pundits assailing the “vulgarity” and gross-out humor of contemporary U.S. culture and much recent Hollywood teen fare, Sorority Boys would be it. This is not to say that I agree with the diagnosis, that dick jokes and potty humor point to a “fundamental moral breakdown” or “coarsening” of social life (or something like that). Rather, my diagnosis would be that, contrary to the self-justification for their “inappropriate” humor as an antidote to liberal PC bullshit, the increase of films like Sorority Boys demonstrates the persistence of structural and systemic bigotries like homophobia and sexism.
Who would have thought that one day I might recall American Pie 2 and think it showed considerable restraint and some rather sophisticated humor (at least in comparison to its scions). Or that I might come to appreciate Tom Green’s generally atrocious Freddy Got Fingered. But at least Freddy knew what it was doing, which was basically daring us to laugh at its vulgar excess and outrageousness. Sorority Boys, on the other hand, never quite rises to the level of self-conscious parody, but merely replicates the same old stereotypes.
Barry Watson, Harland Williams, Michael Rosenbaum, Melissa Sagemiller, Heather Matarazzo
US theatrical: 22 Mar 2002
In its defense—well, sort of—Sorority Boys never falls into overt racial, ethnic, or cultural slurs (except for the hairy French chick), but this is perhaps due to the general overwhelming whiteness of the teen sex comedy. There are a few black characters scattered here and there (a fraternity brother named Big Johnson, for instance), but of course they are, with one exception, non-speaking roles.
Much worse, Sorority Boys assumes that its audience is complicit with its humor, that we all “get it” and on some level agree with it, even if we wouldn’t admit it publicly. The film plays out the power struggles between several Greek organizations on some imaginary college campus. The very names of the houses establish the humor’s level of sophistication, as well as the presumptions it makes about audience. The frat from hell here is Kappa Omicron Kappa, or Cock, er, I mean KOK, a stereotypically piggish group of beer-swilling Neanderthals. The KOKs police their parties with the game of “dog catcher,” in which the brothers locate an “ugly” girl who has somehow infiltrated their house, throw a net over her, and toss her out the front door. This is usually done to sisters of the Delta Omicron Gamma house across the street, who have it out for the boys and their misogynist abuses. Of course, as their Greek acronym declares, these are the girls who live in the DOG house. They are sad, pathetic, and, well, just plain ugly—except for the romantic lead, Leah (Melissa Sagemiller), who is “ugly” apparently because she wears glasses—just like the real dogs “we” all know in “real” life. If these girls would spend more time on looking good rather than on complaining about patriarchal oppression, they wouldn’t be alone on Saturday nights, or so the film suggests. The DOGs are contrasted to the “pretty” sorority on campus, the Tri-Pis, who are superficial and bitchy, and all of whom—as one KOK brother asserts—“give great head.” So we have cocks and dogs and pies. Very original and very clever.
The plot isn’t really worth going into. Suffice it to say the story is contrived at best, filled with an endless litany of fag jokes and derogatory remarks about women’s bodies and bodily functions. One might expect this to change a little bit, once our sorority brothers, Dave/Daisy (Barry Watson of tv’s 7th Heaven), Doofer/Roberta (Harland Williams) and Adam/Adina (Michael Rosenbaum of Smallville), get into their drag routines. But of course, this just brings the boys closer to the real lives of the DOGs and gives them more fodder for their sexism. This girl is totally hairy, that one is having a “heavy flow day,” and all they do is mope around and complain how poorly boys and the world in general treat them. Sorority Boys does, however, try desperately to overcome its own prejudices by tacking on some “ugly girls need love and respect too” moral to the end of the film. It’s an afterthought that doesn’t quite fit with, or make up for, everything that precedes it.
One thing director Wally Wolodarsky was seemingly blind to is how Sorority Boys undoes its own self-satisfied ribbing of political correctness and assertion of the progressiveness of “inappropriate” humor. One of the film’s subplots is about Dave/Daisy’s impending graduation and how his father is going to set him (and his pals) up with a job through the old-boys-network. When we see these older KOK brothers/father figures ogling the Tri-Pis and slapping their asses on the annual “KOK-tail Cruise,” we realize that, indeed, this is exactly how things still work. Social, economic, and political power accrues to KOKs, not to DOGs or Tri-Pis, or any other “others.” The doors of power and authority are opened via connections between (white) men, which are most often based on a series of intolerances and prejudices against women, gays, blacks, etc., and as all these members of the fraternity, young and old, demonstrate. But didn’t “we” already know that?