Review: Reckon Radio’s University of Alabama ‘Machine’ podcast – Not bad, but why so serious?
The haves versus the have-nots is a tension that exists at almost every traditional college campus.
At the University of Alabama, it’s the Greeks versus the troubled independents, who think it is unfair that they are excluded from the system. The Greeks have the cool parties, the nice houses, tasty meals. The non-Greeks, at least the ones who care about not being Greek, are only able to see it from afar.
One of the biggest gripes from the have-nots is that the Greek system was wise enough to figure out how to vote in a bloc and defeat any loosely organized non-Greek effort.
Out of that emotional backlash, mythology is born: The all-powerful University of Alabama Machine.
There is no doubt “The Machine” is a real thing. Its existence has been written about and documented over the years. As an organized bloc, it wields some power on the University of Alabama campus.
Lore, however, has contributed to the impression that “The Machine” enjoys substantial influence both on campus and throughout the state of Alabama. To be sure, we can attribute at least half of “The Machine’s” power to merely thin air.
While much of “The Machine’s” power is hype, at least to some, the legend has become synonymous with fact. In this environment, Alabama fraternity antics—which under any other circumstance would be treated as dumb college kids doing dumb college kid stuff— have been built into an apparently evil secret cabal of future Alabama leaders.
That was the topic of the inaugural podcast series for AL(dot)com’s Reckon.
I know what you’re thinking: Oh boy, another knock-off of some NPR-quality production steeped in social justice themes and snowflake millennial victimology! And you would be correct.
The podcast also comes complete with elements of beta-male score-settling.
Finally, after all these years, the nerds at AL(dot)com are getting their revenge for never being invited to those Greek parties and socials in those gaudy fraternity and sorority houses on the University of Alabama campus!
We’re told we should care because “The Machine” is grooming our future leaders and it can impact everyone lives.
“It’s one of those things when you first hear about it, you can’t understand the hold it has on our campus and the state of Alabama – even sometimes nationally,” Amber Scales, a former SGA presidential candidate and director of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion effort says on the podcast, arguing that for nearly 150 years a small proportion of the student body has held power, “kind of, generally 8,000 people controlling a campus of 38,000.”
“That’s mind-boggling to me,” Scales continues. “And the crazier part is how they have an effect on, you know, elections outside of our campus. So people think, ‘Oh you know, it’s SGA election. Why should I care?’ Because these people end up your senators. They end up your representatives. They end up your governors. You know, those real positions of power and they use our campus as a training ground. If that’s not the death of democracy, I don’t know what is.”
Holy cow, Batman! The “death of democracy” on the University of Alabama campus? How can this possibly be?!
Does anyone at AL(dot)com believe this? I doubt it, and even the ones at AL(dot)com who lived through “The Machine” as students at the University of Alabama – John Archibald, John Hammontree, I’m talking to you guys – you probably immediately moved on with your lives to more pressing matters than the overhyped antics of an underground society of 18-to-22-year-olds.
Yes, “The Machine” may very well have broken into an office or have wiretapped a phone. Those are undoubtedly serious matters—but don’t we, as a society, chalk up such antics to dumb college pranks? And aren’t the responsible parties still accountable to the law?
Beyond the unnecessary demonization of college kids, the Reckon podcast’s central thesis, which is we should care about Alabama’s fraternity row because they will one day control the state, rings hollow.
Indeed, “The Machine” is hardly owning Montgomery these days. Consider these exhibits:
- Governor Kay Ivey – Auburn grad
- Future Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth – Auburn grad
- Attorney General Steve Marshall – UNC-Chapel Hill undergrad, UA law school
- Secretary of State John Merrill – University of Alabama grad and anti-Machine champion.
- State Auditor Jim Zeigler* – also a University of Alabama grad and anti-Machine champion.
*Note: This podcast is one of the few times in recent memory anyone at AL(dot)com has taken Jim Zeigler seriously.
Also, for good measure, the podcast rhetorically indicts “The Machine” for being active in local Tuscaloosa city elections. A candidate who sought the support of the Alabama Greeks had to defend doing so, as if these college students shouldn’t have a say in the local politics of the city they reside.
But those students probably should have known better. I mean, voting as a bloc in elections outside of campus is not OK, that is unless it is December 2017 and AL(dot)com darling Doug Jones is in a tight race against Roy Moore.
The story of “The Machine” is a worthy topic, but you kind of wish the approach was a little more open-minded instead of this damning exposé.
One must wonder, did Reckon do anything to stymy the mythology surrounding Greek power at the University of Alabama? Or, in a twist of irony, did Reckon add into the ongoing narrative that “The Machine” is an all-powerful entity one crosses at one’s peril?
Even though the latter is hype, this Reckon podcast series feeds that narrative. If you didn’t know anything about “The Machine” or had limited knowledge of it before listening to the podcast, you would think it is omnipotent. In its effort to “expose,” Reckon has only made “The Machine” that much stronger and more legendary.