Life as an Oxford stereotype9th June 2011
This is not about the Bullingdon Club. They may well be an embarrassing remnant of a by-gone Imperial era, one which offers a terrifying glimpse at the neo-Osbornes who will be running our country in the future. But they are too easy a target.
This is about you, the average Oxford student. You adroitly steer your way through an Oxford degree without compromising your principles, avoiding the snobby elite that you heard all about before you got here: your moral compass serves you well. Sure, you attend the black tie dinners, stand solemnly for Latin prayer at formal hall and drink port with your tutor, but you do it all with your fingers crossed. Little does your tutor know, that, secretly, you only drink the port ironically.
You see the less palatable side of Oxford for what it is. You’ve heard of the well-known elite institution, with a long list of eminent past members, that traditionally celebrates by indulging in the epitome of conspicuous consumption, encouraging its members to destroy valuable property and to take pleasure from the sheer decadence of it. Surely, you say, this is the nadir of Oxford society: the astonishing lack of self-awareness, the total absence of humility, the two fingers up to those who are worse off.
But this is not about the Bullingdon Club. This is about you. That well-known elite institution with a long list of eminent past members is Oriel College, which recently marked a notable sporting success with the burning of a fully-functioning rowing boat. And, of course, in Oxford, this is not out of the ordinary. The common practice of ‘trashing’ finalists nicely illustrates the point that the typical undergraduate experience requires complicity in the distasteful flaunting of opulence and privilege.
This is also about me: I am a self-confessed average Oxford student. I’ll only drink port ironically. I’ll wear my gown at formal dinner as if it were in quotation marks. I’ll watch a boat-burning purely out of anthropological curiosity. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves; at least we’re not as bad as those toffs in the Bullingdon Club.