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Salamanders: A Night at the Phi Delta House Essay

In 1982, George Hornbein and Ken Thigpen produced a nauseating and repulsive documentary. It is based on an annual tradition that a college fraternity upholds, consistently, every year at Penn State University. This tradition is that of eating salamanders. Yes, salamanders. Live amphibians dunked in beer and swallowed whole. This tradition has evolved over time and has become a competition between sex and gender. Consistently, each spring the Phi Delta Theta brothers of Penn State University seize salamanders from their confined ponds.

The fraternity then puts them on display in their basement. They use temporary and blowup pools and use them as a centerpiece for their party. Their party, like many, consisted of barbeques, drinking competitions, and the infamous salamander contest. That of which is to determine who can swallow the greatest amount of salamanders throughout their party. This twelve-minute long documentary is grueling and revolting. Not only does it keep you on the edge of your seat, but it also makes you want to sit next to a trashcan. Of all the different things in the world that can be documented, I can’t believe that something like this was actually published.

I find it hard to believe that anyone can enjoy this and I has find it hard to believe that not one person could sit there for twelve minutes without gaging or making a face. Like that of many cultures, this so-called “tradition” is considered to be a ritual. It is a repetitive social practice that is set off from everyday routine and passed down from generation to generation. Members within this society, Phi Delta Theta, which is a fraternity, believe that this is something their fellow brothers did and therefore they must do it too. Although many find it disgusting, they do it to show their respect and faithfulness to their fraternity.


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