Is Duke's lacrosse team an anomaly? The sordid fraternity house parties on the Internet porn site College Fuck Fest may be fake, but the masculine triumphalism on display seems all too real.
Despite its dated take on blacks and women (or perhaps because of it), Animal House (1978) remains the quintessential college comedy, antecedent to today's schlockfests American Pie and Old School. But aside from Kevin Bacon's homoerotic paddling, the strong allusion to statutory rape (with the mayor's 13-year-old daughter), and a few other liberties taken with women, the film's take on frat-boy sexuality, with the emphasis placed on not getting the girl, is today about as shocking as a soft-focused Playboy centerfold from the 1960s.
Sex in Animal House seems almost antediluvian compared to more upfront and graphic accounts of sex on campus today. Perhaps none has captured national interest more than the alleged gang rape that occurred in March at a party for Duke's lacrosse team. At a dorm on campus, a stripper hired to perform for the athletes was allegedly raped by several players in a bathroom. The fallout of the allegations includes criminal charges, the canceling of the team's playing season and the resignation of the team's coach. The story has neatly divided American anxieties about race, class and sexuality into opposing teams: white, upstanding, privileged men versus poor, black, female strippers.
And you can't talk about collegiate sex these days without mentioning Girls Gone Wild, whose ubiquitous late-night television commercials have tempted many a beer-dumb college boy into picking up the phone and ordering a video of spring-break breast-baring. The franchise has netted millions for its founder, the young entrepreneur Joe Francis, who boasts several houses and a couple of planes. But calming critics with the notion that these sorts of films are just plain fun -- allowing complicit women to show off their proudest assets -- is complicated by the criminal charges that Francis has attracted in recent years. The most recent example -- an alleged extortion scheme reportedly centered around a blackmail video involving a drugged Joe Francis being sexually assaulted and humiliated -- has recently overshadowed Francis's previous run in with the law, a criminal complaint in which Francis was accused of drugging and raping a 21-year-old woman in 2004. (That case was subsequently dropped due to insufficient evidence.)
What the allegations and criminal charges suggest is what the images from Girls Gone Wild imply -- not the freewheeling abandon of American youth on spring break, but the whiff of illegality and taboo in coercing intoxicated women to lift up their shirts for a camera.
Today, frat houses have fallen slightly out of favor, what with each frat row seeming to spawn its own case of death by binge drinking, violent hazing, or incident of rape. Yet fraternities still incubate the next generation's brood for boardrooms and are simultaneously bastions of straight-male privilege and, ergo, rampant, barbaric masculinity. Meaning the frat house is still where all the fun on campus happens -- illegal fun, to be exact. As a Daily Bruin columnist once wrote, frat houses are dangerous places -- if those walls could talk, they'd have to testify.
Call the website College Fuck Fest (www.collegefuckfest.com), then, an updated Animal House for the 21st century. Part fiction, part documentary, the videos confirm that the frat house remains a good place to observe boys being boys (at their worst), where male sexuality declares open season on a particular masculinist fantasy of willing, doe-eyed femininity.
The videographers behind College Fuck Fest are themselves frat house rejects -- slightly overweight with crooked teeth and trucker hats. Their thwarted aspirations to the distilled 151-proof masculinity the frat boy represents find expression in amateur Internet porn, as they drive around the western states in a minivan attending and filming various frat-house parties. These clips are guerilla video at its best -- unrehearsed and poorly edited -- and often are the most interesting aspect of the Fuck Fest features, serving as raw ethnographies -- real footage of house parties that record what college kids do best: playing with fire, puking in the back yard, bumping and grinding and spilling cups of beer on each other.
These authentic opening sequences of frat-house shenanigans establish the video's credentials long enough to smooth the transition into the sex scenes themselves, which are sometimes of hired women servicing men in front of a chanting crowd of fist-pumping frat bros but are more often scripted sex scenes that take place in a setting meant to be an upstairs room at the frat house. The segue from reality to fiction is always the same: The cameraman filming the action is approached by another male and is told about a drunk girl passed out on an upstairs bed, or a couple currently in flagrante delicto on a couch. In these sex scenes, the men are always mid-20s and cocky. And the women, though most likely paid porn actresses, are nonetheless gussied up to look like partygoers who have had their inhibitions washed away by a couple of cans of Miller Lite. With a looped track of muffled party noises in an attempt to convince us the kegger is still raging downstairs, gonzo sex ensues.
Depending on your local and state laws, some of the scenarios depicted could be very illegal and many are unambiguously wrong. In one episode, the College Fuck Fest crew is hanging out at a party in Las Vegas when out of nowhere a stranger approaches, whispering conspiringly, "Hey dudes, there's a chick passed out in one of the rooms upstairs." Inside the room, they find a woman lying on a cot. The boys try to stifle their laughter, but they can't contain themselves. One bends down and runs his tongue down her neck, pulling on her halter top. "Dude, what if she wakes up?" She does stir a little, and then, fulfilling a classic male fantasy, the drunk girl starts kissing him back. She turns from side to side. "I can't see," she moans. The man begins to have sex with the woman, and she acts like she's into it. "Hey Travis, you didn't even get her name," the cameraman says. The men laugh.
Whether or not such nonconsensual sex really occurs at fraternities, these videos still reveal a great deal about the fantasies of masculinity -- and the links these fantasies draw between sex and power -- that drive pledges and ingénues both. Why else would a bunch of college guys choose to live in cramped, often squalid quarters with other young men but to be around this kind of privileged masculinity?
When it comes to embodying cultural ideals of masculinity, there's strength in numbers; fraternity requires a set of rules and aesthetics, brotherhood implies a shared set of genes. This masculine ideal can be performed by a troupe of young men who would never measure up on their own. A frat house is a support group.
As in most forms of pornography produced with an intended male audience, the erection is the star of College Fuck Fest. As the keystone of masculinity, its presence is required, and the men in the videos goad on its hardness. In one scene, a man performs oral sex on a woman in the back of an SUV, but can't get an erection when its time for them to have sex. Of course, its not about his ability to please the woman at all; the hired actress recedes; she's merely an accoutrement to facilitate the exchange of sexual energies between men. The woman is the alibi for a bunch of men cheering on one another's erections. Her presence is a fulcrum that shifts a homoerotic scene into a socially acceptable Friday night among guys.
It's these homoerotic bonds between men that ultimately drive the Girls Gone Wild franchise, which, despite the allegations and criminal charges that follow Joe Francis and crew around spring-break paradises like nagging hangovers, continues to diversify. The Girls Gone Wild tour of bands made a stop this winter in Minneapolis, a place where it might be hard to get women to lift their tops in January. When a journalist from the University of Minnesota's campus newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, asked an anonymous male in the audience (which was predominantly men) what he expected, his male friend lifted up his shirt. "Yeah, that," he said, pointing to his buddy's bare chest.
But homoeroticism needs to be disguised, which is where the strippers and sex workers come in. The presence of a female in the scene allows the men both physically present and remotely downloading videos to pretend to watch the female body while the real focus is on the erections, muscles, strength and prowess of men. And the women receive the brunt force of this form of male bonding. The videos on the College Fuck Fest website allow a look at these darker fantasies of objectification and control as they find expression in a mean, animalistic sexuality. In one particular scene from the website, men scream in the dark as women go down on their frat brothers. They dump beers on each other and give high-fives and roughly insert beer bottles in the women's vaginas. It's not hard to see these videos as ruthless, graphic visual extensions of a patriarchal society. It's the public, gang-bang mood to the proceedings that is the most disturbing, the erotics hinging, as they do, on the fantasy of women as sexual objects -- naked, willing party accessories no different from kegs of beer or bags of chips. Sexually charged groups like those evoked by these videos teeter on a knife-edge, threatening to tip off into chaos at any moment. One realizes with mounting dread that the men in the video -- the men swilling beer in frat gear, pumping fists in the air, and shouting "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" as a beer-drenched brunette sucks off one of their cohort -- are about to graduate from frat row into corporations and statehouses and single-family homes.