You’ve probably never heard of the annual Kappa Beta Phi induction ceremony. No, we’re not talking about a college frat event; this, my commoner friends, is a grandiose affair put on by a secret Wall Street fraternity. Two years ago reporter Kevin Roose crashed the party, and revealed some of the (surprisingly theatrical) activities therein.
Around 200 high-profile Wall Street figures were in attendance to invite 21 new members into the exclusive society. The officiate spoke about the history of Kappa Beta Phi, including its founding in 1929 by “four C+ William and Mary students,” and that the fraternity’s motto, “Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus,” was Latin for “While we live, we eat and drink.” (To which the audience enthusiastically replied: “DUM VIVAMUS EDIMUS ET BIBERIMUS.”)
After cocktail hour, the new inductees—wearing mandatory leotards, sequined skirts, and wigs—hammed it up in a variety-show. Among the festivities:
- Jokes about politicians apparently broadly disliked by the group (Hilary Clinton and Barney Frank made the cut)
- A skit involving a “wealthy baron” and a “liberal” (dressed in tie-dye clothes) in which the two shouted stereotyped insults at each other.
- And a number of musical parodies. One featured an inductee clad in a Confederate flag hat, who sang about the financial crisis to the tune of “Dixie”; another changed ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” to “Bailout King”
- And the piece de resistance: The inductees changed into Mormon missionary outfits to sing their version of “I Believe”—from The Book of Mormon musical. Lyrics included: “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe my plan involves a seven-figure bonus.”
The audience reportedly feasted on lamb and foie gras, threw petits fours at the stage, and had rollicking good fun!
There are obvious points here about the Wall Streeters reveling in their wealth and power, and making light of their roles in the financial crisis and its disastrous effects on the country (though it’s possible that there was an element of self-deprecation in the festivities). But Ross makes another interesting assertion:
“I realized was that Kappa Beta Phi was, in large part, a fear-based organization. Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world.”
Currently, the phenomenally wealthy are being represented to the public largely by their more delusional members—who compare themselves to Jews at Kristallnacht, say that they’re sick of being beaten up, and proclaim that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.” Not great for image-building. So perhaps the more grounded among Wall Street big wigs—I assume they exist—might want to ponder Ross’ point about (level-headed) public engagement. Hell, they might even issue some mea culpas. But don't hold your breath. (Image: commons.wikimedia.org)