Newsflash! It has been revealed that University rugby teams are not actually comprised of thoughtful people who place civility and good conduct at a premium.
This week saw the cancellation of a Durham University’s “Forwards vs Backs” social event, following complaints from the Durham Miner’s Association. The organisers of the now cancelled event had encouraged students to wear “working class clothing”, telling them “We want flat caps, filth and a general disregard for personal safety. Think pickaxes. Think headlamps. Think 12% unemployment in 1984.”
Other students were told they would be playing the part of Thatcherite personalities, and should come dressed as “working-class-beating-bobbies” to “expect a confrontation bigger than the Battle of Orgreave”.
Having learnt of the event, The Durham Miner’s Association issued the following statement: “We understand that it has been deeply offensive to many current Durham University students who are from mining and other working-calls backgrounds,”
“It is imperative that working-class students are treated with respect. Therefore, we expect Trevelyan College rugby club to issue a full and public apology.”
Now no aspect of this episode is particularly good. The event is certainly in poor taste and could be offensive and alienating to people who had parents and grandparents who were involved in the devastating civil strife of the miners strikes.
Events like these are not simply about “having a laugh”, or a costume party. They are deliberately disrespectful and self-consciously transgressive. Think Bullingdon style vandalism, setting money alight in front of the homeless, vandalism, colonists and colonised costume parties.
These parties are about people who are typically from wealthy, safe, backgrounds, being for one for a better word; naughty, going against social norms, embracing the worst attitudes that people suspect them to have.
This is what makes the response, of both the Miner’s Association and the University so counterproductive. While it is entirely right that events like these and their participants are exposed to public scrutiny, taking official action and demanding apologies in solemn tones is not the best way to go.
Publicly punishing these people and banning their events simply reinforces their false sense of themselves as rebellious rogues and dangerous transgressors, when they are in fact highly protected, pampered youngsters regurgitating an established dogma which is only a couple of decades out of fashion, in some circles, still vogue.
As someone from a working class background who attended a top university, I never wanted demands for respect to be made on my behalf. I never felt as if I needed coddling or protecting from scary toffs and their prejudices, which were armed and ready to shatter my sense of self.
Rare instances of snobbery were far less frequent than people being patronising, walking on eggshells around the subject of class, or just being (fairly) normal kids.
Short of breaking the law, I say if university rugby clubs want to behave moronically let them. To do otherwise would be to frustrate their innate, god given nature, which would just be cruel.
Cancelling parties rarely casts you in a good light. In cases like this, it confirms to the party go-ers that you are the joyless, sanctimonious finger-waggers they always say you are, with them self-cast as rebellious and dangerous.
If people are acting badly it is much better to, frankly, take the piss out of them. To laugh at their supposedly wild rebelliousness, out-mock them, out-meme them, out-outrage them, just don’t run crying to teacher, or any other authority.