Fraternities require sweeping social reforms

“Culture Industry” seems to mirror the organizational structure of Greek Life

Fraternities require sweeping social reforms

Gaby Gonzalez, Staff Columnist

The culture industry — as discussed by Theodor Adorno in his piece “Culture Industry Reconsidered” — makes it so that we want certain things and are predisposed to certain social behaviors through consumerism. There are different facets of society that are subject to, or perhaps mimic, the implications of the culture industry. I argue that one such example is the fraternity.

Fraternities are factories for producing specific modes of socialization. They are mass-produced in the sense that they are heavily invested in both property and members, and they are replicated so as to generate revenue in a systematic way.

While fraternities originated as organizations that prioritized intellectual pursuits, they have rather aggressively veered off that course. While there are hints of what the fraternities once stood for, they are now masqueraded through the social practices of the present day. 

Fraternities today follow a formulaic, mass-produced culture. The individuals that pass through any given fraternity are simply another “cog in the machine” This is partly what is so alarming about the implications of the culture industry itself.

“Although the culture industry undeniably speculates on the conscious and unconscious state of the millions towards which it is directed, the masses are not primary, but secondary. They are an object of calculation; an appendage of the machinery,” Adorno writes. In context, this translates to how fraternities have become largely for-profit institutions that seek to recruit members in an exploitative and repetitive fashion.

The relationship that the culture industry implies is not that capitalism works for the best interest of the masses, but instead illustrates how capitalism can calculatedly use the masses to achieve its own aims (those aims typically being profit). Capitalism is a self-justifying structure — it has its own end. In the same regard, the purpose of fraternities is not rooted in a consideration “on the conscious and unconscious,” or the welfare of the people that participate in them, but rather in reproducing a form of subjectivity and sociology.

Capitalism inherently considers how it can use workers to achieve its own end. Similarly, the purpose of a fraternity is not to nurture the individual members, but to use them to reproduce a certain social relation. Fraternities seek to reproduce a person in the image of the culture, rather than cultivating a culture which benefits its individual members.

This structural setup is precisely what Adorno theorized would result from the culture industry. While he emphasizes that “the expression ‘industry” is not to be taken literally, he also refers to the standardization of the thing itself — and to the rationalization of distribution techniques.

We can extend this idea to fraternities and note that fraternity culture has been standardized; there are formulaic recruitment processes, hazing traditions and social codes and expectations which must be met in order to become an accepted member of the system. Members are “manufactured more or less according to plan.” It is up to the individuals to nurture that standardization — the reproduction of that culture lies in the members’ complicity to the norms and practices.

Thus, not only are we cogs in the capitalistic machine that envelops our society, but we are subject to microcosms of the culture industry. We experience reverberations and recreations of the same exploitative structure that the culture industry warns against in our daily life. Further, there is little room for debate that we are not subject to this framework. Rather, we are all almost seemingly passive participants in it.

While the culture industry may be one theory of how society is structured and its associated implications, we should be wary of discounting the theory and what it could mean for us on an individual level. After all, if we are cogs in a machine, wouldn’t we at least like to know that we are?