Drinking Societies are a poor excuse for shit chat
Sorry not sorry
Oh, I hear you sigh, one of those articles. No, don't worry – this isn't an attempt to wage university-wide class warfare.
So why resurrect this well-worn topic? Well, drinking societies exist, and they're likely to continue existing for a long while yet. The fact is that half of the people who vaingloriously declare themselves utterly opposed to drinking societies on 'moral grounds' by day are in truth paid up, terminally hung over members of such institutions by night. Comrade Bob on a Friday miraculously morphs into our dear old chum Robert on a Saturday. Such is the way with performative Cambridge politics.
I should probably offer a disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of a drinking society. Maybe that makes me an inappropriate commentator on this topic. Maybe not. Sometimes I think the gods just didn't grace me with quite the right amount of 'lit'-ness or a hardy enough liver to stomach such a pastime. But in truth I don't have a particular moral bone to pick with drinking societies.
Sure, the single-sex nature of them is something I'm really not keen on. Thirteen years of single-sex education has led me to believe that gender-exclusionary environments are less likely to bring about camaraderie and more likely to intensify immaturity.
On the other hand, I have friends who are members of drinking socs, enjoy them and who are, with some notable exceptions, all perfectly lovely people.
It is also the case that drinking societies come in all shapes and sizes, and thus to tar all groups with the same brush is unfair and unwarranted. While some colleges have time to put on elaborate rituals and uniforms and deliver black letter invitations in pigeon holes, others are just a fun, potentially uncivilised gatherings of good friends.
My real question is this : is a society that orientates solely around the activity of drinking really a true reflection of the interesting, life changing, idea challenging experience that Cambridge promised to be? Drinking is great, and can really add to the fun of what ever you are doing – sport, music, drama, whatever. But isn't drinking for the sake of drinking, whatever the paraphernalia you attach to it, all a bit sad?
My mind goes back to Caesarian Sunday of first year, the day that sees the conglomeration of various college societies on Jesus Green, including the infamous tradition of the Girton/Jesus fight.
(The tradition is, in fact, false – the product of a Daily Mail journalist asking a passer by what was going on, the passer by replying that some dude in green was fighting some bloke in red. And herein the Girton/Jesus fight 'tradition' was born. Some 8 years ago.)
I remember hearing of a Sidney fresher dressed up as a cotton wool sheep getting seriously burnt from an initiation ritual. Naturally, I was immediately concerned for his welfare. Then I had a thought – why are these people willing to go to such lengths to give off the impression that they are "cool", when we all know jolly well they spent most of their school life as cooped up study-hards bent on academic success?
Then it struck me – the costumes and rituals are a direct product of it all being just a bit boring, the ridiculous ceremonies simply just a convenient conversation starter. Some people go to crazy lengths to have something interesting to say at a dinner party.
There's also something a bit miserable about formalised drinking. Everything in Cambridge is formalised to the nth degree – supervisions, exams, career networking events, the boat club, ADC auditions, the Union, endless committee meetings… Eating is even a definitively formal event.
Surely this is even more of a reason not to be formulaic in your fun? Spontaneous nights out that you decide to go on reluctantly but enjoy immensely are invariably the best nights of your time at university. A weekly pilgrimage to Sunday Life on the other hand might at first appear to be the be all and end all, but in time you inevitably become the Cambridge version of the washed out, coked up gambling rat at the slot machine in Vegas.
So, dear Cantabs, please do drink. Drink responsibly. And yes, if you really, really want to, join a drinking society if you are ever invited.
But please, please don't do this at the expense of decent conversation.