The Riot Club makes Oxford look bad because it’s hopelessly overcooked and out of date

No-one at Oxford is like this


What is the point of The Riot Club, the new film based on the Bullingdon?

Is it a dark piece of social commentary on the misogyny of the upper classes, a politicised attack on the current Cabinet, or just a rather sad bit of daydreaming based on a play by a woman who is 36 but retains an unhealthy interest in the immature goings-on at university societies?

Lone Sherfig’s new film, based on Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh depicts the Riot Club (i.e. the Bullingdon Club) in the most desperate caricatured, cliché-ridden form possible.

While overtly a satire, the club is still portrayed as a decadent, debauched, and dangerous society where money fixes all problems and no act is too far.

A world of gilets, champagne and prostitutes whose ethos is captured in a brilliant line: “I’m sick to fucking death of poor people.”

Ignoring the quality of the film, it’s also a hopelessly out of date and cack-handed take on what Oxford is like, and that’s damaging for the student body and the university as a whole.

It looks like it was written by Daily Mirror leader writers who still complain about pit closures and use the word “toff”.

It’s Sebastien Flyte lost in a world of pingers and ironic 90s nights, but people outside Oxford might not notice this.

There was a very accurate Tab comment from a man named Vincent last term, who shows a better understanding of the Bullingdon and Oxford’s general poshdom than any desperate playwright: “This film is a bit too late I think. At the moment, most people who are asked to join, or put forward, decline. The time has come where rich cuntery is actually recognised by rich cunts as rich cuntery…”

In a world where Oxonians of all backgrounds wreck Arzoo’s on a weekly basis, and there are more drinking societies than you can shake a Banter Squadron at, a dark social comment on elitism based around the bloody Buller seems a little out of date, and more intended to uphold the tragic narrative of “posh Oxford”, rather than actually make any accurate comment or moral argument.

What’s tragic about The Riot Club, and the media’s obsession with Oxford and the Bullingdon in general, is how much they wish it were true.

The people who claim to find the Riot Club, and the traditional view of the Club “back in Dave and Boris’s day” so disturbing and obnoxious are the ones who want it to be true the most, the ones who seem to gain some sort of pseudo-sexual satisfaction from all the “debauchery”.

The reality of the club is that it’s outdated, representing generations of privilege, but without the majority of the behavior it used to be associated with.

You are much more likely to encounter public schoolboys and girls wandering the streets of Cowley in the early hours having a good chew of their cheeks than wrecking pubs, throwing misogynist comments at every passing waitress and donning tails once a term.

A reflection of the club that depicts it as elite, politically conservative, exclusive, and also gives it an enigmatic allure just doesn’t match the reality.

If you asked most Oxonians pre-1990 about the club, the responses would probably have involved needless destruction, financial excess and immorality.

Today, while these still exist, we are very much in a period of Buller lite. 

What are they like today? The public face of the club seems to be no more than anonymous Tab comments shaming (or glorifying) those involved, and naughtiness for the modern member seems limited to the odd trip into the Oxfordshire countryside to let off some fireworks and smash a few bottles of Bolly, before returning to £1 shots in Anuba by 11 – a far cry from the ultra-violence and aggressive elitism portrayed in the film and a truer sign of the times than the film could ever manage.

The wealthy backgrounds of the Bullers are focused on when they get drunk in restaurants, occurring rarely nowadays, despite similar events happening on every crew date around the university, with people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, every Thursday.

Today, when everyone can smash up Arzoo’s for the meagre price of £15, and stumble away without complaint, and rugby clubs across the country commit social and sexual atrocities, the idea of elite societies hell bent on povvo bashing and crockery destruction have simply lost their shine.

Sure, Oxford is posh, elitist and esoteric to a lot of people on the outside world, and the film is, in the end portraying a souped-up version of reality, but that doesn’t escape the damage it will unjustly do to a university already rocked with scandals that paint pictures that don’t reflect reality.

In truth the society is no longer the playground of the aristocracy, more those who are willing to overlook the appalling reputation in order to have a slightly more expensive crew date with the blokes they went to school with.

It is not the snobbish, classist, poor-person hating, glass-smashing, murderous club that Lone Sherfig and Laura Wade wish it was.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t that interesting. The mystery is the most interesting part of it, and yet, when the veil is pulled back, it’s just a group of (admittedly rich) undergraduates getting drunk in a restaurant, and wearing some silly clothes, they don’t even really do that much smashing any more.

The odd peerage aside, it’s like any other drinking society.