Eating the Goldfish


The informant is 50 years old and from Riverside, California. She was in a sorority in college and she describes one initiation ritual that her sorority practiced on new members: asking them to swallow live goldfish. While they didn’t have to complete this act, swallowing the goldfish was widely understood to accelerate their acceptance in the sorority community.


Swallowing goldfish is an urban legend of sorts, whispered about by children and seen in gaudy comedy movies. I asked the informant why she thinks that her sorority embraced this tactic, and she explained that it added interest and excitement to their initiation ritual. It gave new members something to gawk about and to tell stories about, which really helped cement them as members of the sorority. She said that while it was gross and weird, it also served its function.


This reminds me of other outrageous hazing rituals, which are mostly practiced by fraternities these days. Humiliation, toxic consumption of alcohol, physical exhaustion, and downright gross activities are bad, but for the reasons the informant alludes to, also… kind of good? While recent stories regarding hazing put the practice in an overwhelmingly negative light (for which I do not object), they also act as effective initiation rituals. Once you’ve been hazed, you feel like a real member of the greek organization.