Life Divided: drinking societies

Jamie Onslow and Emma Leech debate the merits and misogyny of drinking societies

For (Jamie Onslow):

Drinking societies sporadically feature in the national press as stories emerge of students committing variously offensive acts in the name of tradition. Ronald Coyne’s recent display of burning a fifty pound note in front of a homeless man comes straight out of the national anthology of horrible things that rich children can do for their own amusement.

Similar stories concerning the Bullingdon Club, perhaps the most famous drinking society in the world, also proliferate. What most people don’t realise is that the club doesn’t actually exist. The photos of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson are, of course, unsatisfactory. After all, it is now common knowledge that these men do not exist either; they were invented by Russians as fake news to utterly destroy any faith in the British political system.

The reality of student drinking societies however is somewhat different to the horror stories. As a proud member of thirty three top-secret drinking societies, I am eager to share this rewarding side to student life.

Every Tuesday sees me don my handmade shrimp costume to attend the weekly gathering of the Crustacean Society. We gather at various rowing lakes, and drink huge amounts of pond water, extracting nutrients using our bristly setose legs as a sort of sieve.

The last Friday of every term is traditionally reserved for the Carbonated Drinks Drinking Society. Members are distinguished by their large and colourful foil hats, modelled after those of the legendary San Pellegrino soft drinks, and the gatherings are held in the President’s fridge freezer.

The highlight of my year, however, is the annual Piers Morgan Ball. Shady-looking individuals sell contraband Piers Morgan memorabilia from a small pavilion, and the evening ends with the appearance of the man himself. In an act of unparalleled debauchery, a brave young piglet is invited to insert itself into the former Mirror editor’s vile mouth, thus concluding the Oxford year in high style.

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Against (Emma Leech):

To the untrained eye they might be hard to spot, but they’re always there. Lurking in smoking areas in garishly loud blazers or hiring out rooms to discuss port & privilege. You might see a photo of people at an unspecified event looking thoroughly high on life. Suddenly, they become glaringly obvious and, for secret societies, they do like to tell you about it.

If you study at Oxford and haven’t watched The Riot Club then don’t. I watched it during one vacation and it nearly took a team of wild horses to drag me back here. Although the violence and debauchery may well be exaggerated—let’s all take a moment to pray that it is—the figures represented are hauntingly familiar.

Sam Claflin’s character is somewhat akin to that boy who brings crystal glasses to pre-drinks (although he is resoundingly better looking), and Douglas Booth reminds you of that someone who you have definitely seen drunkenly breaking into college rooms to trash them, egged on by his signet ring wielding friends.

It seems to me, an unworthy outsider, that the reality just a bit tragic. Inviting girls to follow you around silently is so nineteenth century it’s almost laughable, if you can swallow down the vomit of repulsion. Similarly, initiations remind me of when, in primary school, we made one girl do the playground obstacle course in order to be our friend. We were eight.

People regularly insist that drinking societies are simply harmless fun, but if that’s simply the case then surely I could just draw a logo with Sharpie on some T-shirts and give my squad a name and it would be much the same thing?

Perhaps I sound slightly bitter about the fact that I haven’t been considered for one of these prestigious positions—investigations are still underway to find out whether this is due to my gender or bank balance. But, my grandma has a sideboard full of ‘special’ cutlery, and she doesn’t have to drink piss to earn the right to use it.

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No, I would not like to be your pub golf caddy, and, no, I won’t be impressed by your naked lap of the quad. I’m sorry