A Typology of the Modern British “Lad”

Yesterday I ventured to suggest that the disorder being caused by English fans down in Portugal on the occasion of Euro2004 will stay within acceptable limits, among other reasons because of the authorities’ tacit policy of encouraging the substitution of alcohol consumption with dope. Later news reports make me not so sure anymore. In any case, there’s an excellent and entertaining description in the Guardian (and so in English: Man, oh man), by novelist Andrew O’Hagan, that examines the phenomenon of the societal cohort from which these folk spring, the British “lad” (a.k.a “bloke,” often “lout”), as observed especially through the prism of the “lads’ magazines” that have sprung up in the British press since the mid-1990s to cater to their attitudes and desires.

On the “Continent,” as they inevitably term over here where the rest of we Europeans live, you are most likely to meet such lads running in packs, in the form of the infamous “stag parties.” These are weekend-long affairs at some exotic foreign location, in which a group of friends celebrates the impending marriage of one of their number by donning uniform shirts (usually with the wearer’s particular funny nickname stitched on the back), forcing the (un)lucky guest of honor to go around in an even more-ridiculous outfit, drinking massive amounts of alcohol, and seeing where things naturally go from there. The calculus as to whether they’re likely to appear in your metropolis is fairly simple: Does your city have any reputation for showing visitors a good time, and is it within range of the cheap flights from British airports which have now popped up like mushrooms after a rainstorm? Amsterdam has long played host to stag parties, and within the past few years Prague has gained that “honor” as well. (Due to its cheap, excellent beer and beautiful women, Prague of course is a stag destination par excellence; I myself, when I’m there, occasionally mingle with the fellows to watch football with them and watch the money stream out of their hands. Not to me, though, alas; I’ll have to think up something to fix that situation, but they’re not likely to be impressed with anything “EuroSavant.”) Nonetheless, now it seems such troupes are looking even farther-afield for places to run wild; Tallinn, Estonia (a new fellow-EU brother-state) is said to be gaining in popularity.

The calculus as to whether they’re welcome at the places they choose to party is slightly more complicated: yes, they’re loud, annoying, actually often belligerent, and certainly are nothing any decent womenfolk should be around. But they also spend money like water. It’s the one consideration weighed against the other; but some of their targets have indeed come down on the side of peace, quiet, and uninterrupted civility for their cities, at whatever cost, by banning stag parties. O’Hagan’s article mentions that having happened already in Dublin (in the Temple Bar district, definitely a good place to go for a fun night out), as well as the cancellation of the overnight London-to-Aberdeen train that apparently had turned into a favorite rampaging-ground for these types. From what I keep up with in the Prague papers, that city has long considered stepping in to do something about the stag parties, but hasn’t taken any action yet.


TV is another matter, since the financial benefits of pandering to the lads can be exploited through this medium without the networks actually having to put with them anywhere near their vicinity. Sure enough, there’s a distinct “laddish” motif to most of the commercials you’ll see on British TV, at half-time and before and after the football games: for example, the 30-second spot for Carling beer (sponsor of the Premiership, English football’s top-flight league) in which two such lads are kicking around a football in their upper-story apartment, it escapes over the balcony, and proceeds to ignite a general riot in which every passer-by (old and young, male and female), drops what s/he is doing to join a free-for-all football game that rampages through the city. Or the current Nike commercial, in which the renowned Arsenal/France striker Thierry Henry rampages through a house, dribbling a football while smashing bay-windows and upsetting bookshelves, opposed vainly by other top players of English football who also happen to be under contract to Nike as well. Sure, ultimately it all turns out to be Henry’s dream; but the overall theme that it shares with other such marketing is clear, namely that nothing should be allowed to get in the way of holy football.

So just what is up with contemporary British society, that such a seemingly-large proportion of its young and not-so-young-anymore men simply refuse to grow up? There’s nothing like that to be seen in the US, and only faint echoes of the problem in the football hooligans coming from the “Continent.” (The German racist skinheads are a broadly-similar, although at the same time different problem.) I’m sure British sociologists have been out in force for some time now, investigating this.

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