While procrastinating and daydreaming about spring break, I stumbled upon a music video: Girls’ Generation’s “Party”. However, while watching that video, I felt an uncanny sense of déjà vu. Then it clicked— the music video mirrored a much discussed high-budget sorority recruitment video (released by Delta Gamma’s University of Miami chapter in 2016). I watched the two videos side by side and realized that they incorporate identical patterns of consumption and performances of behavior. I’m not saying that one video plagiarized the other; however, the startling degree of similarity between the two videos deserves an explanation. I argue that this similarity stems from the global hegemony of neoliberalism. Furthermore, I argue that this hegemony obscures and perpetuates social inequalities, such as the structural whiteness of Greek life, and negatively impacts Asian-Americans.
Regarding my first claim, standardized patterns of global, neoliberal consumption blur spatial boundaries. The two videos are set thousands of miles apart, in Koh Samui and Miami, and yet the same products are consumed in both. The women in each video dance in Jeeps, wear orchids in their hair, and carry surfboards that they never use. They also drink out of coconuts with pink plastic straws and float on pink plastic flamingos (for more details see the above scene-by-scene comparison). Very few markers of locality remain- notable exceptions being corporations and flags. In the DG video, they pose next to a branch of Bank of America, while in the GG (Girls’ Generation) video they include various references to Thai Airlines. Thus, besides flashy shows of corporate nationalism, both videos are set in the unidentifiable, monolithic “tropics”. Spatial differences are replaced with homogenous consumption.
However, what is the effect of this neoliberal, consumption-driven erasure of locality? To answer that, I’ll focus on demographics and political economy at the University of Miami.
I believe that the blurring of spatial differences in the UM DG recruitment video obscures problematic structural inequalities. The DG sisterhood at UM is predominately white, despite being located on a campus in which non-Hispanic whites make up a minority of the student body. This structural issue of representation is not limited to this chapter; after all, Greek life is criticized nationwide for perpetuating white hegemony. However, the video does incorporate occasional, but prominent, shots of the chapter’s Asian-American members equally participating in the tropical fun. As a local newspaper states, “Of course, we live in an age in which sorority recruitment videos are often blasted for their seeming homogeneity… Still, there are at least a few minority students in the video” (Miami New Times). At a level of political economy, the creators of this video clearly understand the risks of producing a large budget recruitment video which shows a blindingly white view of sorority life. Thus, this video strives to accomplish two goals: encouraging freshman girls to rush while preempting criticism of the structural inequalities of UM Greek life.
Unfortunately, I won’t comment further on the first goal.
But regarding the latter, the video minimizes apparent racial inequalities through its portrayal of homogeneous, unifying consumption. As previously analyzed in my comparison with the GG “Party” video, neoliberal consumerism minimizes locality and consequently the existence of inequality, portraying equal participation and opportunity through consumption. The intentional inclusion of Asian-American faces further contributes to this deracialized, deterritorialized aesthetic. In establishing this carefree, tropical consumerist paradise, the recruitment video obscures the reality that UM DG, along with many other Greek organizations, perpetuates white hegemony and the continued subordination of Asian-Americans. Clearly, this phenomenon extends beyond Greek life and recruitment videos, after all, neoliberal American entertainment media frequently obscures race-based economic, educational and health inequalities, instead promoting “color-blind” consumerism.
Thus, both GG’s “Party” and UM DG’s recruitment video perpetuate the neoliberal status quo, through “harmless” imagery of standardized tropical consumption. However, this imagery enables toxic structural inequalities, which extend far beyond white hegemonic Greek organizations.