Every so often, stories about the practice of 'hazing' raise their weary, bogwashed heads out of the shitter and sob quietly in the direction of some journalists. The latest set of initiation rites to attract media scrutiny are those that must be undergone by young American men if they are to gain entry to the frat houses of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, because a guy called Andrew Lohse just blew the whistle on them.
"I was forced to swim in a kiddie pool full of vomit, urine, faecal matter, semen and rotten food products; forced to eat an omelette made of vomit; forced to chug cups of vinegar until I was afraid that I would vomit blood like one of my fellow pledges did; forced to inhale nitrous oxide; degraded psychologically on a daily basis; forced to drink beers poured down a fellow pledge’s ass crack; vomited on regularly, and encouraged to vomit on others,” Lohse told the internet earlier this week.
"As a pledge, I ceased to be a human being; instead, I became a 'whale shit'."
To which the internet sympathetically responded:
A similar brand of nonchalant give-a-shit-ness has been exhibited by both the people in charge of Dartmouth's frat system and also the local police chief, Nicholas Giaccone, who has stated that most hazing investigations lack sufficient evidence to be seen though to conclusion. Presumably witnesses aren't all that ready to come forward.
This all reminded me of a growing number of stories in recent years about UK initiations where, possibly reluctant to be outdone by their Yank counterparts in the humiliation stakes, students have been injured and even died, usually in connection to excessive consumption of alcohol. Whether this constitutes hazing, or 'initiations' as they tend to be called in the UK, of the sort ingrained into the American university experience, I'm not sure. But these recent reports suggest an unrevealed demi-monde of 'freshers' perpetuating a culture of occasionally fatal banter.
I remembered an old friend of mine who played in the rugby team at his university, and how he'd talked about new players being “broken in”, or at least used words to that effect. I rang him to find out what kind of activities comprised your average UK student initiation. It was gross. He also sent me the pictures arrayed throughout this post. Alright, so it's not exactly cheerleaders being bled to death on a catafalque before Moloch, but we hid identities anyway because some of these men are probably now accountants or working with children.
VICE: Hey Bash. So, what sort of initiations did you have to do to get into your university rugby team?
Bash: When I first joined there was a lot of hype about doing the initiations, which were obligatory if you wanted to join the rugby club. It was like you were a 'lad' if you had done them. So, I was pretty nervous like every other fresher. We went down to the sports ground. The second and third years took control and geared us up; told us to "man up", sort of trying to scare us.
OK, what did you actually have to do?
It was kinda like an obstacle course, the first one was 'ale of tuna'.
What's 'ale of tuna'?
Well, its a pint of ale mixed with tuna. I didn't mind the tuna, I munched that away, but the ale was horrible.
Of course. I'm heaving. Then what happened?
Then there was a bunch of stations which involved chinning loads of vodka and sambuca with chilli in them. The whole point of it was to make us drink, throw up and then keep drinking. It's mainly about drinking. People were vomiting everywhere.
How was it?
It was kind of a good experience. The year after that someone died in Gloucester, though, so it can go wrong and it eventually got stopped. But before that I ran my own initiations.
OK, what made your signature initiations special?
You started by smashing eggs over your head, chinning a pint, doing a roly-poly and then running around a pole. Then there was the ale and tuna. Then wrestling in a tub of beans, mixing it up a bit.
Hmm, that doesn't sound as extreme as what they do in America. What was the worst thing you had to do or made people do?
The blades of glory, probably.
What's 'blades of glory'?
You're in your boxers doing slip 'n' slide on some tarpaulin, and you launch yourself at each other legs first. You have to aim to clash in the middle with your legs interlocked, like scissors, so that your balls smash together. That's why it's called blades of glory.
I see. The name makes it sound kind of erotic.
How strong is the element of humiliation?
Well, we start by stripping everyone down in the changing rooms, blind-folding them and walking them out in a line onto the pitch with an arm on each others' shoulders. It's a bit humiliating, walking through the sports ground, naked. The football lads do initiations as well, but it's less drink, more just flour and eggs and getting naked.
What other things go on that help make you 'one of the lads' in a rugby team?
On tour we have court sessions for misdemeanours – little things, spilling your drink or whatever. Some of the punishments include running slave errands for other people, swimming in the freezing cold, naked, eating dog meat...
Have you eaten dog meat?
Yeah, three times. I actually really enjoyed it. I was drunk the whole time so dog meat was a bit of a luxury.
What do you think about some of the hazing reports coming out of America?
Well, I think we do stuff like that on a normal night out.
What about some of the worst stuff you hear about at fraternity houses, like taking people being made to swim in pools of human shit?
We don't do anything that bad, but we do have this thing call 'the list'.
Tell me about 'the list'.
So, it's a list of a hundred things you have to complete in 24 hours and you need photo or video evidence for each one. So, for example, someone has to put toilet roll up their arse and light it. Someone has to shit in a pub...
Shit in a pub? I know pub toilets are a bit gross, but that doesn't sound that bad.
Not in the toilets. In the actual pub.
Like on the floor in the middle of the pub?
Also, drinking the top shelf of the bar, ringing up your dad and telling him you're gay, puking on a bird –
Puking on a girl? A complete stranger?
Yeah. Getting naked in a lift with a bunch of people, vomiting in each others' mouths... That kind of thing.
Is there anything as violent as 'blades of glory'?
Nah, we have to look out for the welfare of the people.
Surely vomiting in someone else's mouth while they vomit into your mouth is just as hazardous to a person's health?
Yeah, well that was concealed, hopefully.
Concealed? Like mouth-to-mouth?
You do that in public?
[laughing] Yeah. We do 'bum sweats' , pouring beer through your bum into someone's mouth.
Great. Do you think initiations and hazing are going to become more rare, or will they continue despite the reports of injury and death?
We had to end it because of the whole someone dying thing in Gloucester. I do miss it, but there are other ways for people to bond with each other.
There probably are. Thanks, Bash.