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Burying the Skulls

By Allison A. Melia

The Skulls, a recently released teeny-bopper thriller starring "Dawson's Creek" heart-throb Joshua Jackson, is supposedly based on the real Ivy League experiences of both the movie's director, Rob Cohen, and writer-producer, John Pogue. The movie delves into the world of elite "secret societies" at a generic Ivy League institution called Y University (although the shots of the unmistakably dingy streets of New Haven make the connection relatively simple, not to mention the school's blue and white colors and bulldog mascot).

A working-class orphan, Luke McNamara (Jackson) hopes to join the secret society known as the Skulls (based on the real life secret society, Skull and Bones, at Yale) as a way to make influential connections that might allow him to attend law school. Along the way, as he investigates the mysterious death of his roommate, he uncovers the corruption and amorality of an organization concerned solely with money and power.

While murder and intrigue are not part of the typical undergraduate experience, Cohen and Pogue certainly got some things right. For one, a substantial portion of the movie is devoted to crew--several characters, including Jackson, are on the team. Definitely believable. Pushing and shoving in the dining hall by know-it-alls trying to prove themselves brings Annenberg to mind. And there is a tacit distinction between the "haves" and the "have-nots" which is not entirely foreign at our own University.

At the crux of the movie's plot, though, is the existence of an elite society whose laws supercede all others. The Skulls' motto is, "A Skull above any other," although they tend to use each other's power and status to advance their own agendas instead of fostering a sense of brotherhood and loyalty. The movie illustrates a fact that many people know already: Groups such as secret societies and their cousin organizations, final clubs, are quickly going the way of the dinosaurs.

The truth is that there is no place for these old-boys'-networks in today's society, which, as mentioned in the movie, is increasingly becoming a meritocracy. The very fact that McNamara is at Y University to begin with despite its costs is proof that times have changed. And although McNamara is captivated with the idea of being a Skull and having access to the wealth, class and power available to the group's members, the rules and rituals that accompany membership are ridiculous and antiquated symbols of an organization whose time has clearly passed.

After they are "tapped" for membership, the new Skulls are greeted in a dimly lit, dungeon-esque inner-sanctum by faceless seasoned Skulls in monk's cloaks. Later, as part of the initiation process, two of the pledges are required to enter a cage-like apparatus, which dates back to the 17th century and resembles a medieval torture device, and reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. And as an attempt to settle an irreconcilable dispute between two members there is a duel using archaic pistols. Apparently this is a common method of settling intra-Skulls disputes, since in the movie there is actually a statute regarding duels in the Skulls' rule book. These practices are an attempt to recreate the bygone days of yore when the hallowed halls of academia were available solely to upper-crust white males, and the rest of the hoi polloi were kept in their place.

In perhaps the most anachronistic moment of the movie, the Skulls who, needless to say are all male, are on an isolated island at a decadent cocktail party. The absence of any female presence has begun to strike the audience when a crowd of gorgeous young women, dressed to the nines, parades in. None of the women say anything of import--they were simply shipped in as sex objects for the entertainment of these "leaders of the future." Remind anyone of the last final club party they were at?

Although women are excluded from Skulls membership (as they are from our own Harvard final clubs) they are welcome to sit quietly and look pretty and later, off-screen, satiate the sexual appetite of their male counterparts. This simply does not reflect reality outside cloistered Ivy League campuses or beyond the doors of these all-male societies, in the 21st century.

The attempt on the part of these groups to create an aristocracy based on gender, race, old money and blue-blooded lineage is increasingly difficult now that the Ivy League has made a concerted effort to foster equality and diversity and to increase the availability of financial aid.

The ability of these secret organizations to secure power and prestige for themselves through their connections only ensures mediocrity at the highest levels of achievement. The best and the brightest who lack these connections would not necessarily receive a coveted law school acceptance if these societies had their way. Luckily, nowadays, while the sexism and elitism of the societies was accurately portrayed in The Skulls, their influence was clearly over-dramatized.

Despite the contrived plot and deus-ex-machina ending, The Skulls, possibly unwittingly, demonstrates how there is clearly no place for these exclusive, self-interested groups on a modern campus.

Allison A. Melia is a first-year living in Canaday Hall.

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