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  • Writer's pictureIlana Davis

‘Bama Rush’: TikTok Weighs In

Updated: May 29, 2023

"You fuck with the wrong people, you get fucked."

Bama Rush documentary poster girl screaming

It’s midnight on May 26th. You’ve downloaded Max and settled in to watch the tell-all documentary from director Rachel Fleit, Bama Rush, expecting big reveals and a deeper look into what has gripped social media since 2021: #rushtok. For a documentary about #rushtok, TikTok was strangely omitted from the conversation altogether. As were the revelations posted to the app. That didn't stop users from coming on after watching the film with their own reactions.

TikTok user Nicole Hurd (@hurrrrd) explains the reactions of viewers well: “I have a theory that they had the intention to do everything we thought they were going to do, but that it failed, and that is the backup plan for the documentary.”


The Machine

Something that avid #rushtok viewers wanted to see was a deep-dive into The Machine. Ironically, it’s this very institution on campus, or “secret society”, that could be the culprit of the documentary’s outcome.


As Theta Nu Epsilon’s moniker goes, “Little is known and what is known is secret.”


It’s all very Eyes Wide Shut. Secret societies control voting and elections on campus. Access to reputable networks of alum and jobs after college. TikTok user Seth Nelson (@sethtaylornelson) goes as far as to say that The Machine has influenced politics outside the University walls.


Perhaps The Machine is the reason the documentary turned out the way it did. Whereas the Bama Rush portrays emphasis on inclusivity (or striving for); on empowerment and the tradition of rush rather than the process itself in 2023, The Machine is anything but.


“The danger is not belonging,” John Archibald, Journalist and University of Alabama alum (1986) says in the documentary. “It’s not being one of the chosen people”


But even for those chosen few who represent their individual sororities and fraternities in a coalition of student senators, the prospect of voting for the good of all PanHell, rather than the school itself, is troublesome.


Alex Smith, Phi Mu Alum and former senator working with The Machine, reveals the frustration of serving Greek Life first and the student body second. As she wrote for the school’s paper, The Crimson White, back in 2015, “I was promised I would never be told to vote against my conscience.” Only that's exactly what happened to her.


So, we may never fully understand the true power of The Machine, or their influence on the school, state, and documentary, for that matter. Maybe it was the sororities themselves changing the course of the documentary as they threatened lawsuits against Fleit for obstructing the order of their traditions.


Oh, how intriguing such a documentary would have been. It's alluded to, but for now, remains hidden in actuality.


The Girls (& What They Represent)

Despite the conspiracies, and a massive audience of over 1billion TikTokers around the world tuning into #rushtok, be it with ridicule or fascination, what Bama Rush provides is an alternative perspective. All expectations aside, there are some profound revelations. Instead, Bama Rush follows four young women preparing to “rush” at the University of Alabama, one of the country’s most intensive sorority recruitments.

Bama Rush is tale on femininity. Each subject faces altruism ever-present among teenage girls and young women. Eating disorders from a young age. Sexual assault and the male gaze. Being Black in a predominantly white sorority, or being mixed as a PNM (Potential New Member). These girls deal with anxiety over not being good enough and their self-image (am I pretty enough?

Will the fraternities want to associate with the sorority I'm in?). Since the first sorority was established in 1882 until now, there have been many waves of what the organizations stands for - like concept of feminism itself. Education, women’s rights, and selecting the “best of the best” to represent your letters have all been incorporated into what we now see on TikTok through quick 1-3 minute videos.


Through these interview subjects, and Fleit’s own insertion into the documentary, Bama Rush moves away from #ootds and “darties” towards larger conversations including femininity, mental health, and diversity. The young women, the subjects of the documentary, serve as symbols within the rush system. Of sorts, of course. They are individuals, not molds.

 

Shelby (Phi Mu)


“I did not film with them once during rush week, because what they were doing did not align with my morals and values," Shelby says in a recent TikTok. "I love the University of Alabama, it's given me so much."


Hailey (Dropped Out)


“My mom used to have a photo of me and I was throwing up a sorority sign ‘that’s the sorority I want to be in'," Hailey says in the documentary. "When I was younger, that’s all I wanted to do… but I just want to be my own person … I feel like they always try to mold us into one person."


Isabelle (Alpha Delta Pi)


“We were just talking about making genuine conversations with people and genuine friends," Isabelle says at the end of the documentary. "Throughout this journey, I’ve changed so much … I really have been finding myself as a person. This feel more at home than I’ve ever felt in a long time”


Makayla (Dropped Out)


"I realized that since being a sophomore now, you don't have to be in a sorority to enjoy your life," Makayla says in the Max documentary. "It's just me personally. I don't think I could do it, but I know other girls that love it."


*Mikayla does not have much social media presence


Rian (Active, Sigma Kappa)


“I want these organizations to be less concerned with tradition and more concerned with the well-being and individuality of their members."


In Conclusion

It’s not the documentary we wanted, or expected, but is it the one we needed? Only time will tell. As we settle into summer, a new batch of eager freshmen will flock to ‘Bama in the fall - and universities across the country - intent on having their very own #rushtok moment. That, or we are witnessing the downfall of a nearly two-century tradition in which the end goal has well surpassed the original purpose of the institutions.


Next, I want a tell-all on fraternity life.

Imagine what they're hiding.





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