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John Doyle: Meet the real frat boys, the most appalling people on Earth

If you're so inclined, you can meet some of the most disgusting people on Earth this weekend. On TV. But you should be aware that these disgusting people are among the most powerful in the United States. Dismiss them at your peril.

By "disgusting" I mean a bunch of air-headed, self-aggrandizing louts in shorts, all wearing baseball caps backward and doing a lot of drinking. No, they're not working-class hosers. They're in university and, oddly enough, they don't seem to do much in the way of studying.

Frat Boys: Inside America's Fraternities (Sunday, The Passionate Eye, CBCNN, 10 p.m.) is a recent BBC documentary about fraternities. There's some material about sororities and women, too, but the women we meet are women who have been drugged and raped at fraternity parties. This isn't a sensationalist program. It's plain-spoken and straightforward. And, bizarrely, a lot of frat boys are eager to explain and talk up the frat-boy culture. Although, "culture" is hardly what most people would call it.

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At lot of the footage and interviews come from the University of Central Florida, a place I'd never thought of as an institution that has connections to elite scholarship or indeed elite anything. But the guys in the Gazoni Family, an independent fraternity that follows most of the traditions of long-established fraternities, sure believe they are the elite. "It's an organization of like-minded people who are just kind of together to meet a common goal," says Ben, an idiot who tries to keep a straight face while playing down the secrecy and sinister side of the fraternity.

"We're the most successful, yeah," Ben also says after a few beers. "We have more connections and friends!" And some of his "brothers" do, however, tell the viewers bluntly that they are the best, the brightest and they will be among the most successful men in the United States. Loads of money, fast cars and "hot women" is the gist of what success amounts to.

It would all amount to a bunch of moronic young males doing what moronic young males do, were it not for the initiation rituals used to prove their devotion to the fraternity. It's all about "manliness." You know – being beaten and injured and managing to survive. What we're told about would contravene countless UN regulations about torture and imprisonment. We are also told that frat members are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members.

It is estimated that 22 students in the United States have died while pledging to a fraternity in the past eight years. It's a staggering number. Mostly, it is asserted, these deaths are covered up, passed off as "accidents," and we meet a lawyer whose sole field is dealing with the issue. We also meet a young man he represents, who ended up in hospital, in the intensive-care unit for a week, after a hazing ritual that was part of his pledging routine went too far. In hospital, none of his "brothers" came to visit, and in a moment of insight he realized it was all nonsense and he'd almost died.

You don't have to meet these appalling people. You can choose to avoid them. But it's a startling insight into aspects of a deeply unsettling portion of university life and, as we know from the recent news reports in Canada, we are hardly immune from it. The documentary is scarier than most horror films, to be honest.

Guilt Free Zone (Saturday, APTN, 11:30 p.m.) returns for a second season this weekend and is worth a look. It's a very simple idea for a Canadian variety/comedy show and one that isn't always executed with pizazz, but the premise is fascinating.

It's set in a bar called Guilt Free Zone. There's a band, an audience and comedy skits set among the bar regulars and staff. Created by Derek Miller and Laura Milliken, the show's peculiar idea is that musician Miller won the bar in a poker game and now tries to keep it alive, while outlandish opposition tries to stop him. This involves what Miller calls "ridiculous truth bombs that come off with these subtleties to Indigenous oppression across the globe and galaxy."

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Miller is a fine musician – he and his band feature often – but he's no actor. Meanwhile, mind you, two fine actors, Amy Matysio and Camille Stopps, play the main bar staff while such figures as Craig Lauzon and Gary Farmer turn up regularly. The comedy is scattershot, often very slight, and the spoofs of television that are featured vary from the on-target to the very lame. It's a bizarre series, notable for its energy and efforts to take a very simple variety show premise in strange directions. You never know how it will veer – from fine rock 'n' roll to burlesque dancers to stoner humour about bad TV.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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