As I gaze despairingly out of my window a further hoard of blazer clad ‘lads’, their shirts adorned with an enticing mix of vomit, red-cherry VKs and incomprehensible fluorescent slogans, their necks festooned with ties depicting the vile and atavistic cults to which they belong, flit across and pollute what would otherwise be an idyllic cloistered vista on a Sunday afternoon. As the sun sets on yet another bastard pilgrimage to ‘laddism’ (Suicide Sunday) I am consumed by pity, revulsion, and loathing, but also the longing for understanding. For too long conceptualisations and explanations of ‘lad’ and its attendant means of expression ‘laddism’, have suffered from a peculiar narrowness of focus. In this piece I seek to problematise monolithic conceptualisations of these terms by highlighting the myriad and oft-neglected lad-paradigms that fall under the umbrella term of ‘laddism’. The three main schools are as follows:

·       Classical Laddism

Adapting the definition proposed by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, this constitutes the laymen’s understanding of the ‘attitudes and behaviour of some young men in Britain, who drink a lot of alcohol, and are mainly interested in sport, sex, and music’. Proponents of this school are characterised by their excessive use of ‘banter’, their penchant for a ‘donna’, often priding themselves on their ability to imbibe copious volumes of poor vintage wine and other forms of ‘lad-juice’. Social ties between self-fashioned lads are cultivated through an oral tradition which recounts misogynistic and at times homo-erotic sexual escapades or sporting ‘triumphs’. Peculiar to Cambridge, classical lads form primitive ‘societies’ which to the outsider may appear to serve no other purpose than constituting a public sphere in which to indulge primitive and debasing urges. However, for ‘lads’ these imagined communities provide a ready-made fraternal network (important for the otherwise socially challenged) that brings them into contact with females, enabling them to maintain the fantasy that they are socially successful ‘massive lads’.

 

·       Neo-Laddism:

Neo-Laddism is not so much a cohesive ideology as it is a particular way of looking upon the lad universe. Neo-Lads embrace much of the social trappings of lad culture, enjoying its attendant hedonism with regard to women, alcohol, and sporting success, yet eschewing the most debasing and archaic features associated with Classical Laddism. Whilst Classical Lads lack the social confidence to attend a nightclub without a fancy-dress costume (e.g. Chicken outfits, morph-suits, neon Spandex) Neo-Lads feel comfortable enough to simply ‘wear a nice shirt’. Whilst a Classical Lad will feel the need to draw attention to his ability to funnel a particularly ‘manly’ spirit like VK, Neo-Lads will observe this tortured spectacle from the comfort of a bar-stool usually clasping a glass of whisky or any alternate drink which can be consumed purely for its own enjoyment.

 

·      Anti-Laddism:

Anti-Lads are a broad church defined by the forces against which they rally. They vehemently reject all things associated with Laddism, including its ideological tenants and socio-cultural expressions. Anti-Lads take a principled stand against lad societies, swaps, binge drinking and fancy-dress. Anti-Lad unions have since 1996 been at the forefront of the boycott movement against the venerable institutions of lad culture, the Mahal, Revs, Cindie’s. On Suicide Sunday, Anti-Lads have been known to vacate Cambridge altogether, seeking asylum in far off lad-free lands like Madingley and Grantchester. In its most extreme manifestations, Anti-Laddism can involve subverting the lad status quo via ‘Terrorladdism’. Terrorladdists often act in small cells. Their actions include attempting to publicly humiliate lads on CUTV, stealing lad paraphernalia such as ties, hats, and bugles, and informing porters or policeman of lad misdemeanours.

 

Some lesser known approaches:

·      Post-Laddism:

A nascent paradigm that would benefit from some research and PHD theses. Broadly construed: Post-Laddists do not necessarily reject the fruits of Laddism, but reject the meta-narrative implied by Classical Laddism maintaining that lad realities and aims are fluid social constructs subject to changes in time, geography,  and power structures.

 

·       State-Laddism:

Where Laddism is co-opted by the state. For an example of the successful way in which Laddism has been used as a tool to renovate the image of a political leader, see Silvio Berlusconi (Conversely Bill Clinton’s attempts were less successful).

 

·       Free-Market Laddism:

Free-Market Laddism, most usually evinced in Classical Laddism, is a phenomenon of competition (normally physical) between Lads, making use of a common currency (usually ‘lad points’) to reward success in the lad marketplace.

 

·       Neo-Colonial Laddism:

This virulent strand of laddism often contains a xenophobic thread. In Cambridge Neo-Colonial Lads arrive sporadically as aliens (usually from more ‘laddish’ yet less prestigious universities like Nottingham, Leeds or Manchester) to occupy, exploit and undermine indigenous lad culture, through their display of superior drinking, sporting and chaos raising abilities. Whilst most logical observers remain unimpressed by their primordial binges which are facilitated by lack of a weekly essay, indigenous lads seem overawed by their displays, willingly subjugating themselves so as to act as conduits to the exploitation of Cambridge restaurants, bars and clubs by the less intelligent but more laddish lads.

 

·       Monarchic-Laddism:

A way of organising and governing primitive lad societies. Monarchic-Laddists can be identified by their unyielding subservience to, and adoration for, he who is crowned ‘King of the Lads’. Most Cambridge societies are governed by a liberal-lad compromise, where succession to Kingship is neither hereditary nor democratic, but decided by a council of ‘lad-elders’ based loosely upon the subjective criteria relating to whom is considered to be the ‘biggest lad’.

 

And finally, there is a schism running through lad-studies at present: the debate over when laddism attained hegemony as a socio-political phenomenon.

·       Modernists:

Modernists, whom themselves are often anti-lads, maintain that laddism is an invented construct, a necessary corollary of ‘modernism’. For modernists, Laddism created lads, and neither has any precedent before the French Revolution of 1789. They explain the growing strength of contemporary laddism as a consequence of the exponential growth of the public sphere brought on by the rise of social networking.

 

·       Primodrialaddists:

Primordialaddists, maintain that laddism is an essential part of human nature and existence. Most Primordialaddists are themselves lads, believing that laddism is an inevitable and natural expression of society that has been present throughout history. For Primodialaddists, examples of laddism can be discerned far detached from our own modernity. Some theorists have highlighted ‘biblical laddism’ in the guise of David versus Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and even Moses. Others have highlighted Plato as the archetype of the modern lad.

 

·       Ethno-Symboladdists:

Ethno-Symboladdists have sought to breach the divide between the two competing schools mentioned above. They stress that whilst laddism is a modern phenomena with no real precedent prior to 1789, that modern laddists manipulated and deployed a pre-existent nexus of lad symbols with a history stretching back into antiquity.

 

So next Suicide Sunday, when you tiptoe through cobbled streets running with urine and vomit, past inebriated and unconscious young men, you can now direct your pejorative epithets with a little more accuracy.......THEN ON TO LIFE!

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