We are reproducing social hierarchy through “admiration”

I agree with Kim Taylor Foster on this statement: ““The Riot Club is a much darker social commentary than you might expect.”[1]

When look not so closely, this movie about questionable lifestyle of an elite society seems to be a typical ‘gang narrative’. It should portray how the gang members, all ‘posh’ white men, spend their money thoughtlessly, draw themselves into violence or drug, and at the end, are punished by social norms.

With some possible references on the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University [2], ‘The Riot Club’ is an exclusive dining club, encouraging the members to join boisterous banquets and rituals of vandalism such as trashing restaurants and public places. ‘The boys’, or the members are selected according to their good family background and charismatic personality of ambition, boldness, and intelligence. It seems like this kind of rituals shape them into future authorities by legitimatizing their egocentrism and acts of people manipulation.

One of the scenes shows that they offered to pay a large sum of money in order to trash a restaurant’s dining room. That was considered as a bully by the restaurant owner, a middle-classed man who was struggling to afford his daughter’s Oxford tuition fees. The scene is impactful as tension was gradually built up by conversation between representatives of two classes in society: ‘the privileged’ and ‘the commoners’.

“You’d like to be me, but unfortunately for you, you can’t” – one of the boys looked down on his commoner as that one tried to redefine them as “spoiled little brats”.

Strangely, an unshackle confidence in this sentence stunned me, as well as his adversary who was immediately ran out of words. This might occurred from the boy’s ease of exercising power, but I believe that the sentence is directly addressed to the audience. We are only ‘commoners’ like most of the characters that were bullied. This link caused every disdain to have some attacks on us.

When look more closely, there are two storylines running simultaneously in this narrative. One depicts relationship between each character of the story, the other depicts relationship between us and the story. As we observe and question the characters’ motivation, the story throw question back to us: “if you can, do you want to become those posh boys for one day?” – “If not, what’s the purpose of sitting still for one and half an hour observing their life?” One of the answers is that we want to see them be punished. But to be honest, when I bought the ticket, I didn’t expect a very critical and serious social commentary. The punishment is a must, but before that, I want to discover dark, raw, violent side of those “filthy, rich, spoilt, rotten” young males who led a life I could never have. I perceive it as a ‘dangerous but exotic’ corner of society from which I alienate myself, but at the same time, am eager to take part in it. Such motivation resembles those of the 18-19th century’s ‘Orientalists’, who wrote of the Orientals (e.g. The Indians and the Arabians) as mystical, irrational, barbaric people. The undeveloped Oriental lands were described to be threatening, but at the same time enchanting and seductive because it reflects the explorers’ secret desire which is unrealizable in their civilized Western world: the desire to become wild.

In this manner, we might believe that the purpose of watching movie is to ‘escape’ from our real life and live those of others. We all have, according to the Guardian, ‘secret love for the posh boys’ as we can’t resist praising their power, luxury and beauty. Apparently, this love-hate relationship shapes us into a reproductive instrument of social hierarchy because we accept the superiority of being the privileged. This happens because we have capacity of admiring someone, and this is one of the most vulnerable parts of being human. But how can we live without it?

So, some questions to be further considered are:  “Can we accept that our capacity of admiring someone exposes us to domination?” and “How can we deal with this vulnerability without a.) turning into heartless creatures, or b.) ending up hating ourselves?” These questions might make someone feel uneasy, so I would like to ask them with a serious grin on my face (which I hope will help…)



[1] http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/09/18/the-riot-club-review

[2] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/oxford-university-bullingdon-club-wed-4305702

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/sep/15/the-riot-club-bullingdon-oxford-university-oxbridge-elitism

Naphat Malikul (Prim)
Naphat Malikul (Prim)
Naphat Malikul (Prim) is a film and book critic for online press in Thailand. She graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University in philosophy major. Her writing pieces mainly focus on socio-cultural issues, philosophy, and humanities. She is also a co-founder of afterthescene.com, a blog for cinephiles.