Informant: I think this is like our second or third day into Hell Week, and we had had some kind of––we were in the courtyard, and they’d given us these giant bowls of chocolate pudding… And it turned into a food fight. So we had, like, just gone nuts, or you know… Spitting and throwing pudding at each other, and just tackling each other in pudding. So what the actives didwas, they put us in the middle of the courtyard in a group and hosed us down to try and get some of the pudding off, right? Well… They finally said, “Alright. The hose isn’t working. You guys go take a shower.” So what they made us do is we all get in the showers. So they had us all strip down, and the pledges all have the same clothes on. We all have camouflage pants, white underwear, and a white T-shirt. And they threw all of our clothes in a big pile… And… They let us take showers for the first time in like three days, and we were feeling pretty good. And then they shut the water off, and they started yelling and they’re like, “All right, you guys have thirty seconds or whatever to get clothes on and get to bed.” And we were just like, “What?” And we had no idea how to figure out whose clothes were whose. So you just grab whatever pair of underwear you found, threw them on. You try to find pants that fit you, put them on, and a T-shirt. And so you went from a nice hot shower into these ice cold––‘cause it’s January in LA and we’ve been outside getting hosed with cold water––so you’re putting on sticky… Chocolate-covered… Clothes, after a nice hot shower. And then you’re crammed into a tiny tiny room where we had to sleep like literally on top of each other, and we’re told to go to bed. So we’re like lying there in these gooey, cold wet clothes… That was just the worst night of Hell Week for me, ‘cause you just itched… But then you also just had the, you know, burrito eating contests where they designed this burrito to make you throw up. So they put everything in it including chewing tobacco. So it was like, you know, raw fish and fricken chopped up squid. And uh, whoever finished it first––and it was giant––got a beer. So… Everyone knew it was either gonna be me or [X] that was gonna win. ‘Cause most guys––there was, you know, guys were throwing up––cause most guys couldn’t keep it down. And [X] and I went at it, and I beat him and he was so bummed. So, that was that… And like they gave us a night in LA and we had to go out and come back with tributes. So they gave us a couple of cars and the goal was to end––this is the middle of the night. We had to go out into Los Angeles and come back with tributes to the Hell Masters. So my team found a street sign that had the name of one of our founders on it. Just coincidence, right? So other teams are coming in with like liquor bottles or whatever, and we walked in with this giant freaking California Department of Transportation road sign. And that stuff was just fun.
INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:
Interviewer: Did you enjoy Hell Week at all?
Informant: I did, personally, ‘cause I like that stuff… When the Jackass Train left the station I was gonna be on it… I mean, I showed up a day late to Hell Week. [X] and I both did. So the Hell Masters threw everything at us. So when everyone else had to go running, you know, [X] and I had to run circles around them while eating a raw onion. But I just came from the mountains so I could have run all day. And we got a lot of respect from the actives by just rollin’ with everything they freaking threw at us. I just thought it was hysterical.
Interviewer: Did it bring you closer to the other pledges?
Informant: Kind of. It was all about unity, you know? Like the actives tell you, “You guys are one unit. If your pledge brother can’t make it, you help him out no matter what it is.” And that could be with like running or push-ups or whatever. A lot of the time it was just eating. I mean they’d try to make us overeat, and [X] and I ate freaking everyone’s food for them and there’s guys like throwing up. But, you know it’s… It’s not like you’re a soldier where somebody’s life is on the line and you’re there for them in their time of need. You’re not bonded in that way. There was never an episode where I can help somebody other than, you know, eating their hamburger. And I was just happy to get food. So it was less about, like, being there for your pledge bros, and it was more about proving yourself to the actives.
In their article “Crossing the Line,” Jennifer J. Waldron & Christopher L. Kowalski write, “Initiation rites and rituals are particularly important for men in sex-segregated environments… In the anthropological literature, [Don] Sabo suggested that male rites serve as a means for older players to persuade younger members, often through pain infliction, to conform to the social roles and appropriate behaviors of the team” (291-92). This text is specifically geared towards hazing on athletic teams, but can be applied to hazing within a fraternity, which is also a sex-segregated space. Hazing can be used to establish a hierarchy of power and authority, and to ensure the new members understand where they are ranked on the totem pole.
This informant, however, established a power of his own through the hazing process. Rather than be left feeling submissive and weakened, he felt it was a chance to prove himself to the actives and gain their respect. Thus, while hazing may be a way to put pledges “in their place,” so to speak, it is also a chance for a pledge to stand out. For those who want to prove themselves to the actives, and who fit a more stereotypically, hyper-masculine mold––who eat copious amounts of food, are physically fit, enjoy drinking a lot of alcohol, etc.––it can be a positive experience, and an “appropriate” rite of passage as they enter a hyper-masculine environment.
Source cited above:
Waldron, Jennifer J., and Christopher L. Kowalski. “Crossing the Line: Rites of Passage, Team Aspects, and Ambiguity of Hazing.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol. 80, no. 2, Taylor & Francis Group, 2009, pp. 291–302, doi:10.1080/02701367.2009.10599564.