I wanted to stay on it. I really did. I remembered its glory days—how it used to be the place for stupid yet brilliant humor, cleverly crafted shit-talking, and, very occasionally, useful information—and I held onto that nostalgia. But after I graduated, I watched as it slowly went downhill. Eaten by itself and long-since-unfunny in-jokes, I saw its crappy output balloon to where I couldn’t go anywhere without being reminded of how far it had fallen. I had to finally cut the cord.
I had to.... unsubscribe from my fraternity listserv.
The story of why I can’t be on my listserv anymore is a very short one: I’m nearly a year out of college, and, at a certain point, it starts to become a LITTLE pathetic to pull the 3 a.m.-one-eye-iPhone squint when you're trying to read emails about Formal. But what I discovered while following the Listserv in the past year, away from campus, is that there are some definite do’s and don’ts if you’re trying to send a successful frat email. Because look: This thing is a college tradition unlike any other. It’s un-PC. It’s one of the few remaining bastions of all-male contact. And, more than anything else, it’s a carrier of a certain mystique—if you were ever a pledge, you’ll remember the coded references to certain legendary emails, and how badly you wanted your fraternity’s token comp sci major to finally give you the secret Gmail password.
To protect that mystique, we need to give the listserv a set of rules. This isn’t Vietnam.
Yesterday, a few bros from the University of Maryland emailed us the “Guide to Talking to Jewish Chicks,” written to help lead the fraternity’s WASP-y brethren into the good graces of the Chosen Girls. It was funny, and it appropriately went semi-viral. Why? It was the Mike Trout of fraternity emails. Trout's a five-tool player who can do everything. This email similarly followed the five core rules of fraternity emails:
1. Make sure it's relatively inoffensive.
The guide was written in a self-mocking way by a Jewish guy, which allowed it to play to some stereotypes that you wouldn’t be able to get away with otherwise. It had a certain edge, which all good humor does. And it didn’t really piss anyone off when it got leaked, which is a minor miracle.
2. Use borderline useful and semi-topical information.
Key word here: Borderline. You don’t want to go over the top when you’re dropping knowledge, Ken Jennings.
Preparation emails are always great. Recaps of mixers and other events aren't as great, because everyone has experienced them, so it'll be distorted to reflect your views. Unless you’re telling a story of something funny that specifically happened to you—like what was going through your head when you decided to take your pants off and rage on the speaker system at the public tailgate—keep the focus on what’s to happen in the future. (Although, do actually tell the story of what was going through your head with that speaker incident, too.)
The UMD email referenced a topical, upcoming event—who is co-sponsoring our Greek Week?—so it succeeded here.
3. Use fraternity in-jokes.
You’re going to want to reference some really obscure thing that’s happened in the fraternity’s past. Not so much the obvious, overused stories—like rehashing the famous story of the couple caught screwing on the bathroom floor at semi—but one that will cause your reader to go, “Oh yeah. I, and I only, remember when that happened.”
4. Spend too much time writing it.
Are you spending an irresponsible amount of time crafting it? This is good. You should feel comfortable skipping classes, ignoring phone calls from your family, and shirking any other sort of responsibility to instead write 2,000 words about Jewish girls.
5. Make it hilarious.
A very funny email will excuse nearly any other mistakes made. The Maryland bros got that, easily.
Here are five more quick things you want to look for if you’re trying to send a fraternity email:
6. Weigh the likelihood of it going viral.
You should already have some set rules on who can see things passed around the listserv. But let’s be honest: Outrageousness is old news. It’s better to focus on keeping it quality.
7. Actually have something to say.
Don’t just send an email because people haven’t heard from you in a while.
(This doesn’t apply if literally no one has heard from you after you disappeared in Punta Cana. Alert as many people as you can to your condition and whereabouts.)
8. Consider putting it in list form.
You’re still reading this, aren’t you?
9. Make fun of as many people in the fraternity as you can.
Never malicious, but friendly jabs.
10. Include a witty sign-off.
This is up to you. Because I couldn’t think of ANY way to finish this column.
After the jump, read one more example of a perfect fraternity email, from our own Lance Pauker. It has all 10 of the rules!