Fraternity (noun): a group of people associated or formally organized for a common purpose, interest, or pleasure. As defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, collegiate fraternities have existed for hundreds of years as social organizations which enable men to participate in social events throughout their respective campuses while building a brotherhood that will last throughout their lives. Throughout the years, and with the popularity of Animal House, the image of the college fraternity has evolved. To many, college fraternities are associated with copious amounts of drinking, partying, and other outrageous behavior. Even more recently, the stereotype of fraternity life has evolved into a cultural meme: frat.
Although the stereotype of fraternity members partying is no new concept, the idea of “frat” has taken on a newer identity. A wealthy, southern fraternity member is an image that has been popularized throughout the Internet and commercialized by various retailers. The “frat” meme exists in the realm of ideas and contains various accompanying behaviors. In the realm of ideas, “frat” is an adjective used to describe an idealized college lifestyle. Describing someone as “frat” conjures up the image of a young man between the ages of 18 and 22, who belongs to a fraternity at a school that is generally located below the Mason-Dixie line. Men who are “frat,” spend more time partying than in class yet are still successful students, treat women as poorly as they want and yet never spend a night alone, and are always surrounded by a plethora of their brothers. Typically, these men have a conservative political philosophy, have extreme patriotism, and have loyalty to their country, college, and last but definitely not least, their fraternity. The website, TotalFratMove.com has epitomizes the meme’s frat ideal. Website’s main page lists various situations and encounters which fall under this ideal.
“Celebrating today like there’s no tomorrow, and then doing it again tomorrow. TFM.”
“Our shorts are shorter, beer is colder, girls are hotter, bourbon stouter, pockets deeper, and we all know that football games are more of a social event. TFM.”
“Frat” encompasses various behaviors that accompany the meme’s ideology. Dress is the most obvious identifier of those who are considered frat. Typical dress consists of pastel polos, khaki pants or shorts (never cargo), and Sperry’s. Within the past few years, companies have picked up on the southern preppy look which contributes to the spread of the frat meme. Relatively new companies such as Southern Tide, Southern Proper, Southern Frattire, and Vineyard Vines, all cater to the frat look and aid in the spreading of this meme. These companies even have representatives visit various colleges across the country endorsing their products and resultantly strengthening the influence of the southern frat lifestyle. The other component of the frat wardrobe includes tanks and hats that are generally neon and have some phrase about partying or patriotic statement written in big letters.
Language is the second aspect of the meme’s behavioral component. The word “frat” itself has various meanings. The most obvious meaning comes from its original context: the fraternity itself. When members say that are in a frat, they are referring to belonging to a collegiate fraternity. “Frat” can also be used as an adjective. For example, describing something as frat is synonymous with “cool” or “fun.” Frat can also be used as a verb. If someone is “fratting,” that means that they are partying or drinking. This meme also contains various acronyms such as TFTC (Too Frat To Care), FaF (Fratty as F*ck) and NF (Not Frat).
According to Susan Blackmore, successful memes have the quality of variation, meaning that memes are not all completely identical. The basics of the frat meme seem to have originated with “old money” families in the northeast. Many of these wealthy families belonged to country clubs or other exclusive social organizations, which is similar to the exclusive culture of fraternities and sororities. Also, the fashion of old money “prepsters” and those who partake in the frat culture are greatly similar, however the newer brands of preppy clothing have more of a southern touch. For example, the logos of brands are fish, dogs, or anything that represents hunting, an activity that is more popular in the south.
Fraternities exist not just in the South, but across the country where members have different political ideologies and ways of life. Those who imitate this “frat” behavior may have different degrees of conservatism (or are not conservative at all) but still dress the part. No matter the variation, members still have the same basic pride in their same respective fraternities and hold similar values. Variation also includes the adaptation of “frat” ideology by female counterparts. “Srat” is the term used to describe the sorority girl who balances dressing nicely with making crafts for her sorority sisters and, of course, partying.
Heredity is another feature identified by Blackmore that is necessary for a meme’s success. “The ones that live do so because they are better adapted to the environment in which they find themselves” (Blackmore 12). Greek life is based upon traditions and therefore this meme has a good chance of surviving for years to come because this ideology will be passed down just as fraternity and sorority traditions get passed down throughout the years.
According to Blackmore, the ability to imitate separates humans from animals and often, humans imitate people whom they admire. The frat culture and its meme exude confidence, success, and emphasize having fun, which many people strive for, especially in their college years. The success of this meme is due to people wanting the social, academic, economic accomplishment accompanied by the nonchalant attitude characterized by those who are “frat.” For those who aren’t in college and partake in the “frat” culture, it provides an escape to a world free of worry and obligation.
Memes survive through imitation and are effective at making people feel like they are part of a group. It is very plausible that ideas can be passed down to various generations and to people across the world through imitation. If people witness another person experiencing any kind of success, they will imitate their actions. However, I disagree with the idea that memes are similar to genes in that their only purpose is to be replicated. Memes are not alive the same way that genes are. It is not possible for memes to be selfish because they have no autonomy, they are simply abstract ideas. Their proliferation depends on the preferences of the people, not on its individual adaptability. The people will decide if they want to idea to spread, not the meme itself.