Carnage is here, and it’s nowhere near as shocking as its reputation would suggest
There’s no shame in liking a good bar crawl
Ask a 16-year-old for a description of a uni night out, and they’ll probably point excitedly to a Facebook news feed dense with Carnage pictures uploaded by half-forgotten characters from two years above.
As easy as it is to laugh, you can’t blame them: nothing says “I’m a grown up and don’t have to text my mum to tell her I’m on my way home anymore” quite like the bar crawl’s familiar routine – the over-ripped t-shirts covered in text which says nothing in particular, drinks which cost a quid, pasty flesh keenly exposed and everyone getting with each other in a way which never quite took off at sixth form house parties.
Like most things which can thank the hard-wired bad taste and social clumsiness of people under 25 for their bewildering success – Madchester, The Inbetweeners, the recreational use of marijuana, Zante’s service economy, Jeremy Corbyn, those trainers with wheels in them, YikYak – it’s pretty cringe.
By the end of first year absolutely everyone who’s been on Carnage will loathe themselves for having gone. They’ll wonder why they ever bought into some 35-year-old’s barely legal, FOMO-and-WKD-Blue-fuelled protection racket. Weathered into cynicism by the aching mundanity of three years of city centre weeknights, by the time we leave university we know the truth: actual carnage is the stuff of warzones.
But try telling that to the fire hazard press – whose autopilot reports on Carnage, cut-and-pasted and recycled year on year, are just about the only thing sustaining this sorry, tired relic of the early noughties. Every year you’ll have seen the double-page spreads and mile-long Mail Online photo features. The scenes are plucked from a faraway provincial town, still cobbled and reassuringly post-industrial, with accents to make someone from Tunbridge Wells sneer themselves into feeling a little threatened: Liverpool, Birmingham, Huddersfield.
The laughably tame scenes have papers chasing their own tails, wailing about pissed-up freshers causing “havoc” and “chaos”, safe in the knowledge anyone elderly or drippy enough to think of chaos as an eighteen-year-old boy from Telford lying down in an empty side-street will be fast asleep and oblivious to the crushing ordinariness of a corporate bar crawl.
Take the strange poetry of the photo captions from The Sun’s latest offering, each the shrug of a sub-editor who sees worse after work every Friday. “Fresher nabs road cone in Bristol”. “Girl vomits in the street in Bristol”. “Door staff help lad in Huddersfield.” “High spirits in Lincoln”.
Other reports from the front-line stake out the same territory. The Mirror invites its readers to gawp at the “boozed-up students causing havoc on the streets of Birmingham”. Come on. Look at the stupid teenagers. Don’t they make you feel good about yourself? Some of them might even be fit.
Nothing about Carnage should be considered news-worthy student activity. Paris 1968 – 20,000 students are involved at the Sorbonne in violent clashes with police. Kent State 1970 – four unarmed student protesters are shot dead and nine are wounded by the Ohio National Guard. Huddersfield 2015 – Josh had seventeen shots of Schnapps and fell over. He went to a comprehensive school and hasn’t done the reading for any of his sociology seminars yet.
However, the comments sections of these pieces and the wisdom of two-car, bookless forty-somethings would have you believe these aggressively ordinary nights out are hastening the collapse of the civilised west when really it’s behaviour people our parents’ age would welcome and discuss misty-eyed over coffee for weeks if it’d happened at a PTA ball, a fiftieth or second wedding.
Carnage is just one example of how the press like to depict students, as wasted, ungrateful and feckless. A lumpen, colourless body apolitic, oversexed and underworked, drawn two-dimensional and brainless, inviting the hard-earned commuter belt of self-righteousness to kick them into touch.
Why do they target us? Because we stand for something, anything. While the Downton Sky-plussers are their own ghosts, grasping for a meaning in a world they built for themselves, we’re living the lives they wish they still could.
Yes, Carnage is unquestionably, unapologetically and uncompromisingly shit. Nobody likes waking up in the morning with sick on their shoes, remembering they pissed in a phonebox and threw their kebab out of a taxi window. But the Vauxhall Zafira classes are kidding themselves if they think these stock photo scenes imagined as apocalyptic frames of blunt horror are anything other than the fun they had before their lives became grey, doughy and loveless.