Background on informant: Informant is a sophomore at Harvard, from Los Angeles, and studying psychology. He is also involved in an outdoor club and intramural crew.
Informant: My friend at Harvard was telling me about initiation for an exclusive male “final club.” For initiation, the newly minted members were told to chug beer–the nasty, watered-down college type of beer. However, the beer these members chugged contained goldfish. Not the “snack that smiles back” cheese-flavored Peppridge Farm kind, but the living, gill-containing, fish-flavored animal goldfish. Through a beer bong, these members apparently chugged live animals, often multiple at a time. Apparently one kid got 12 in one go. There are a lot of stories at Harvard, about it’s history, about it’s students, about it’s weird institutional traditions, and I think most of them aren’t true.
Analysis: This initiation story, as the informant tells it, assumes a sort of fantastic quality. There is a shock value to it, and it’s rather hard to believe. In this way, it could also perhaps be classified as a legend. It also operates in the liminal space. In order to be a member of the fraternity, you must do something thought of by the society in which you live as repulsive. It’s, in fact, one of the things that makes you different, distinguishes you and therefore perhaps makes you a member, in a strange way, of the particular group. I found this story to be outlandish, at first. “There’s no way this happened,” I said to myself. But then later in the day, I was talking to about it with a friend at USC who is active in Greek life. He said it was hardly outlandish and that he too had heard of something similar once. Therefore, this folklore not only distinguishes people within the subgroup but also students involved in social clubs and students not involved in social clubs.