Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Delicious and terrifying at the same time

Deranged Sorority Girl brings a little perspective to the white-glove and tea world of campus high-society

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‘DOUBLE EFFING NEWSFLASH," as the newly infamous Rebecca Martinson might say. You’ve probably heard about the leaked email from the young University of Maryland student, in which she abuses and berates her sorority sisters for their "AWKWARD" and "BORING" behaviour during Greek Week.

Known as the Deranged Sorority Girl Email since Gawker posted it on April 18, this hilariously obscene, aggressive screed has become an instant classic, spinning out into social media commentary, Internet memes and viral videos.

It's notably nasty, but nasty emails aren't exactly rare these days. So what makes this rant stand out?

There are a few factors, starting with...

SORORITY GIRL RAGE: Martinson is foul-mouthed and furious. She seethes with suppressed violence. At one point in this insanely hostile missive she tells her offending sisters to punch themselves in the face "right now" so she doesn't have to hunt them down and do it herself.

There's something irresistibly incongruous about this picture -- the girly, bubbly, high-achieving sorority sister out of her head with anger. And this picture is immediately followed by an even more irresistible idea -- that it might not be incongruous at all, that the strain of being pretty and privileged and always having perfectly straight hair has left this young woman roiling with rage. All our Mean Girls suspicions about "the popular girls" have been triumphantly confirmed.

FORM AND FUNCTION: Another incongruity: Sorority Girl's style suggests Tony Soprano on a rampage, but her subject matter is entirely silly. Mostly she's berating hapless Delta Gamma girls for inadequate cheering at sports events and for chatting with sorority sisters instead of Sigma Nu frat boys.

The disconnect between the trivial message and its murderous delivery makes the email ripe for parody. (See below.)

MICHAEL SHANNON MAKES AN AWESOME SORORITY GIRL: Actor Michael Shannon, who looks like a handsome man who's been taken apart and then put together just a little bit wrong, is known for playing extremely intense cops and criminals. (If you want a convincing sample, just Google "The Iron Scene" from Boardwalk Empire.)

He brings his eye-popping, unpredictable line readings to a viral video in which he recites the Sorority Girl tirade line for line, with a performance that ranges from low, hissing menace to all-out screaming. Never has the phrase, "OMG, Becca," held such magnificent, unhinged power.

Shannon absolutely owns this role, but other YouTube contenders are offering their own versions, including a Barbie doll dressed in a pink cheerleading outfit; an animated fake Joe Pesci going all Goodfellas; and Siri, the iPhone assistant, with her flat, affectless voice punching arbitrary syllables ("I would rath-ER have 40 girls that ARE fun and TALK TO boys").

There's also the inevitable Downfall mashup, in which Hitler admits that "I've been having just so much fun with my sisters this week."

THE ARGOT OF THE (VIRTUAL) STREET: Deranged Sorority Girl is nasty, but there's a certain flair to her nastiness. Several commentators have compared her to playwright David Mamet in her deft ability to combine the American vernacular and the poetic obscene.

In a fairly brief space, she manages to drop 41 F-bombs, while perfecting the loony use of ALL CAPS and Threatening. Unnecessary. Periods. She has also helped popularize an unprintable rhyme.

But she's no Janey-One-Note. Deranged Sorority Girl also knows how to change things up, as when she starts off with a mild, bureaucratic phrase like, "This week is about fostering relationships within the Greek community," before totally losing it -- and unfostering several relationships, probably permanently.

Which brings us to...

TEACHABLE MOMENTS: OK, most of us have been following this story purely for its rich entertainment value. But some parenting and tech sites have been using it as a cautionary tale.

After the email was leaked and gleefully posted on Gawker, it immediately started spreading online. A Delta Gamma official emailed Gawker and asked that the text, which she rather quaintly called "unsavoury," be taken down. But, as everyone knows, those Internet bells cannot be unrung.

In what now looks like ironic foreshadowing, Martinson complains in her epic email that boring, awkward girls are "HORRIBLE, I repeat, HORRIBLE PR for this chapter." She has now managed to drum up a whole heap of horrible PR for sorority culture, Delta Gamma and herself.

The lesson here is that everything you do online can become public, and the dumber it is, the more likely it is to get attention. So, thank you, Deranged Sorority Girl, and your volcanic rage and your poor impulse control, for teaching us the value of holding our breath and counting to 10 before hitting send.

We'll just punch ourselves in the face now, so you don't have to. "

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 E2

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