A fraternity family trick

Background on informant: Informant is a senior at USC, studying international relations. He is from the Bay Area and lived and studied in Russia for a year.

Informant: Whenever a new member of our family gets initiated, we’ll tell them that there’s a really special handed-down object that only people in the family know about and have seen. And we’ll basically bring some kind of bag or container and be like, alright we need to do this practically. And now that you are officially initiated you can see it. And we’ll open it up and it will be an ICE.

Analysis: The interesting thing about this initiation is that it asks the participant to engage with the initiation — the participant knows that the initiation is taking place — but then it turns out to be a trick, and a good trick, of course, if the participant happens to like Smirnoff ICE. Moreover, the initiation has a clear frame but seems to change every time it is performed — with a different bag or container, as informant says “some” bag or container. It also has all the other aspects of an initiation; it serves as a rite of passage for the participant, who once he has done the initiation has passed through the liminal space, is in on the trick, and is thus a full member.