At one point when Jacob Goldberg was filming some of his fraternity brothers at Harvard University taking glitter showers, dancing and sliding playfully down a stair railing, a tourist stopped them. When they asked if she wanted to blow glitter off her hand for their film she was so ecstatic, Goldberg said, that she hugged them.
“We were doing something very ridiculous, and that was making people happy.”
The video, a parody of sorority recruitment videos in which Alpha Epsilon Pi guys romp around Harvard Yard being all sparkly, was Goldberg’s idea after seeing some of the videos sororities at other colleges make to recruit new members.
They were ridiculous, he thought. “I was just a little surprised that people showed the merit of an organization by how good they looked in slow motion,” he said. But he didn’t want to do something mean-spirited. He wanted to poke fun at the stereotypes of sororities — and the stereotypes of a Harvard man, as well, wearing a suit to class, overthinking — with a self-deprecating, utterly silly parody.
It resonated: 50,000 views in a few days, thanks in part to a Harvard Crimson story. Most Harvard students probably aren’t all that aware of sorority videos; the chapters on campus don’t make them. But nationally, in the past few years, there’s a bumper crop of new footage, sisters pitching their house to freshmen with carefully selected images set to pop music.
Sorority membership is surging nationwide. Over the past decade new members increased from about 80,000 to more than 140,000 nationally.
To some, these videos are sweet and happy. Others find them tragically empty. This summer a slick recruitment video from the University of Alabama Alpha Phi sorority generated some controversy because some viewers thought it was weird that almost all the girls in it, wearing white, seemed to be pretty blondes doing stereotypically pretty blonde things.
After 700,000 or so views, the original got taken down.
Funny or Die parodied it with a clip (that we can’t link to because someone’s sweet grandma might click and hear the cuss words) explaining how it’s actually so not sexist or racist or whatever, pointing out the occasional brunette appearing on screen as proof of the obvious diversity of the chapter, and noting, during a “we’re all jumping, in bikinis!” scene that this is what people wear when they go in the water.
It was weird that it got so big, said Griffin Meyer, one of the (actual) filmmakers, an Alabama student doing junior year in Hawaii whose girlfriend is in the sorority. He thought some of the critics undercut their own argument that it somehow reduced women to sexual stereotypes because women just having fun, dancing, shouldn’t have to be viewed sexually.
It wasn’t all so glamorous either, he pointed out. “The girls were sweating, their heels sank into the mud. And I crashed my drone doing the video — that wasn’t fun.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be a documentary,” he said. “It was idealized. College. What high school girls would want — super glammy and whatnot.
“The glitter,” he said. “I realized after I finished it I used two glitter shots, I should have used one.”
That video is now a classic, but there are lesser-known works as well. Common motifs:
Let’s hold hands and spin in a field!
Let’s run upstairs in our heels!
Let’s share a popsicle!
Let’s jump in the pool!
And glitter, of course.
Some sorority recruitment videos talk about philanthropy and sisterhood and travel and don’t giggle. And some are so awkward they’re good.
But there’s enough of a format — ‘I am peeking through leaves!’ I just did a cartwheel!’ ‘I’m ready for a piggyback ride!’ ‘You guys, I can’t believe you dumped all this water on me!’ — sort of a selfie dance-mix kinda thing that makes them, well, easy to parody.
They blow kisses, blow bubbles, blow petals, blow glitter.
Lots of glitter. Which brings us, naturally, back to Harvard.
“We have the dog, the glitter, and friends frolicking and enjoying one another in white clothes,” Goldberg said.
“We couldn’t not have the dog and the glitter.”
Except the dog they chanced upon while filming was actually scared of them and ran away.
Short dog scene. There’s a whole lot of glitter though.
Goldberg, a senior from Florida who spoke by phone after taking a neuroscience exam, said it was easy to talk friends into doing it. And once they got involved, they made it a lot funnier, he said.
He’s a runner, legally blind, who has raised tens of thousands of dollars for people with visual impairments through charity events. He hopes to work in film production after he graduates.
“I’m always trying to find my way around society,” he said. “Film is like a third eye — I can create the image, I can control the image with editing.
“People think in film you need perfect eyes. … But you can get someone else to focus or do the lighting. In terms of the story, that’s in the heart and the brain, not the eye.”
His heart and brain brought us this: AEPi guys swinging from a tree branch just, oh, for fun; wearing matching white oxfords and sitting very close together reading; blowing glitter onto the statue of John Harvard; spinning in a giddy circle; holding hands to make a gleeful jump off a brick wall on campus together. (With maybe a few sprained ankles.)
It took a couple of hours to shoot this video, and five days to finesse lighting, slow-mo, color and two guys licking a Sponge Bob popsicle.
Maybe it’s catching.
“When I walked home and showered, there was glitter everywhere on me,” Goldberg said, “in my pockets, everywhere. There’s glitter everywhere. People told me there’s glitter in the Yard still.”