FRATASTIC by Chad Wittekind
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I’ve often used the term ‘fratty’ in a derogatory manner, mostly applied to top-heavy boneheads who don’t know when to stop drinking. While it’s true that my personal glossary has incorporated this as more of a blanket term for jocks and macho morons over the years, I do agree that in most cases it’s usage probably has less to do with actual fraternity relevance and more to do with my distaste for dealing with people who fit the movie stereotype of the typical ‘frat boy’. Chad Wittekind’s book ‘Fratastic’ really goes the extra mile in an attempt to prove to the reader that while some of those stereotypes might ring true, not all fraternities are cut from the same cloth.
The book is a firsthand memoir of sorts, depicting the induction of the author into the Phi Delta Zeta fraternity, his interactions within the brotherhood as a full-fledged member and the myriad of events that transpire during his occupancy which eventually lead to its downfall. It also serves as the author’s intent to present an inside look into the inner workings of a fraternal organization. It might be easy for the casual and duly uninformed reader to draw some meandering parallels between this book and that of Brad Land’s ‘Goat’, but there is far less introspection or horrific accounting here and more of a light-hearted venture that explores the humor, camaraderie and the often unfortunate ineptitude of those involved. If ‘Goat’ is more Holden Caulfield, then ‘Fratastic’ is Bluto Blutarsky given conscience.
Almost immediately, the author intends to go out of his way to prove the importance of brotherhood and how those involved in fraternities are often painted in a bad light due to the social stigma seemingly given them via differing media depictions. Beginning with his light-hearted hazing and whisking through his maturation into a responsible officer in the Phi Delta fraternity, the sense of responsibility and the strength of bonds shared between those of the same fraternal organization appear to be the author’s key to showing the world that theirs is more of a misunderstood denomination. However, as one escapade endlessly leads into the next, it’s much easier to relate to this tale as one that shows both the good and bad sides of fraternity life; often with no conscience spared as elements of binge drinking, brawling and date rape are explored. That's not to say that the book is particularly offensive. Regardless of those particular elements (and perhaps, admittedly, because of them), it is, in fact, quite entertaining and hard to put down (for what it's worth, it should be noted that the more abhorrent escapades are described as being frowned upon and appropriate action taken). There’s more than a few belly laughs packed into the story, and even when the straits are dire for the Phi Delts, there’s often some ridiculously hilarious reason for them that must be addressed through the precarious balance of assumed responsibility and the appreciation for the disregard of authority.
There is one part of the book that bothered me, though. Early on, it is stated that the bonds of fraternal blood are so strong that a brother could even sleep with another brother’s girlfriend and that this could be overlooked or easily forgiven. Much later in the book, someone is expelled unconditionally for the same reason; this time citing the action as tantamount to sin unforgivable. This could be due to the simple fact that the particular person described in this part of the book became vehemently disliked, but for some reason the apparent inconsistency stood out to me. Maybe I misunderstood something.
There are plenty of instances in the book where I took offense to some of the actions of those described, but as you near the end, the author makes a valid point. Most of us all know someone (perhaps ourselves, even) who have done something unsavory. Many of us know people who have multiple DUI’s. Many of us know someone who engages in copious amounts of sex at the expense of the feelings of those involved and even acknowledging that, are encouraged to continue to do so anyways. Many of us have had or know someone who have had a brush with death due to incessant drinking and merely chalk it up to a great story. Many of us are self-righteous. Many of us are self-absorbed. Many of us are flawed. More importantly, many of us are not in a fraternity. It’s far easier to point fingers at a group of individuals who are stereotyped as exhibiting the worst parts of social indulgence than it is to take a look in the mirror. Although there are plenty of unwholesome situations described in ‘Fratastic’, I know people who have certainly done far shittier things than anything you will find in this book.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe the only thing that sets most people apart from those in a fraternity is the ridiculous adherence to ‘brotherhood’. I came away from this book imparting a very begrudging ‘hats off’ to that aspect of it. With that being said, I’d still never be accepted even if I did go back to college. I’ve had more dealings with frat-boy shitheads than I can recall; a curiosity given the fact that I’ve probably had less reasons to come in contact with them than I should. With that being said, I have some very close friends who have been members of a fraternity. The author of this book simply happens to be one of them.
Overall, the book (as previously stated) is a good read. Finer elements of fraternity life such as the inner workings concerning finances and management are diligently (if not briefly) depicted. The author’s feelings of elation, frustration, indifference and responsibility are fully conveyed in a way that brings his life full circle in more ways than one.
I've never wanted to meet someone named 'Memphis' more in my entire life.