Saturday 25 February 2017

Stag parties: rite-of-passage or humiliating horror show?

Reports suggest stag parties, complete with soul-destroying visits to strip clubs and too many Jagerbombs, have fallen out of favour with men. So why are we still putting ourselves through the misery

Bill Linnane

The Hangover brought Alan, Phil and Stu to Las Vegas for their friend Doug's stag party
The Hangover brought Alan, Phil and Stu to Las Vegas for their friend Doug's stag party

There are few occasions as redundant in the modern world as the stag do. Ostensibly a way of marking a man's 'last night of freedom' before embarking on married life, they have developed a reputation for a level of debauchery that would make Caligula blush.

Appropriately, they have fallen out of favour - and yet they persist. Men still take part in this arcane practice, engaging in excessive drinking, casual misogyny and ritual humiliation of themselves and the stag - even if they don't enjoy it much at all.

A study carried out by researchers Daniel Briggs from Madrid University and Anthony Ellis of Salford University, and published in the fittingly titled journal 'Deviant Behaviour', found that men feel pressurised to participate in stag parties when they'd much rather decline the invitation.

The report's authors assert that the excessive consumption of alcohol and embarrassing behaviour are partially rooted in commercial ideology, which has become firmly embedded in the attitudes of young men.

So we hate the stag do - that much is clear - but why are they still happening? Surely ever since David Beckham donned a sarong and ushered in the era of the metrosexual, men shouldn't feel pressure to behave like rabid Vikings, pillaging European capitals in pursuit of paid-for nudity and self-destruction?

Apparently not. Stag weekends still exist because men are scared they might appear less manly if they say they do not wish to pay ¤1,000 for a weekend that will leave them with post-traumatic stress disorder and cirrhosis of the liver. Nobody wants to say 'this is not okay' and break the spell. Stag dos are like the emperor's new clothes, except the emperor is chained to a lamp post in Temple Bar with his eyebrows shaved off.

With stags, it's hard to know which comes first - the booze or the poor decisions. The drinking starts in the morning, continues all day and isn't seen to be over until people are losing consciousness or their lunch (unless the 'eating is cheating' rule has been adhered to, another signifier of almost terminal masculinity).

Usually there will be a daytime preamble - go-karting, paintball, or something else involving machines and fake war. This, surprisingly, is the most normal part of the event. It involves exercise and is essentially harmless fun, a bunch of men running about like kids, pretending to be either Eddie Irvine or Jason Statham, ramming each other at 90kph or shooting each other in the head and groin for 90 minutes.

It is when darkness falls that the true horror manifests - the obligatory trip to the strip club. A clouded mind is often best when entering these charnel palaces, so thank the lord for those 12 pints and two dozen paintballs to the head. Strip clubs are masculinity's lowest ebb, places that defy all reason - why is it arousing to pay someone to take off their clothes in front of you? How is that gratifying? We live in a glorious age of digital delight, where all manner of erotica, as well as willing partners, are available at the touch of a button, so why is anyone willing to pay €20 to sit on their hands while a disinterested young lady gyrates in front them?

Strips clubs are monstrous - temples of exploitation that smell funny and make you feel sad. Even the iron-willed stag party attendee who avoids the horrors of the private dance will have to endure the over-priced beer and constant harassment to spend money on the least erotic encounter of his entire existence. But the trip to the strip club is a box that has to be ticked before the stag moves on to the next stage in the ritual: the casino.

After the 'Twin Peaks'-esque interiors of the strip club, a casino seems positively bright and airy, despite often being located in the basement of a fast food joint. Surrounded by dead-eyed men in shiny suits and soundtracked by the crashing din of slot machines and quiet sobbing, at least gambling is a marginally sounder investment than paying someone to take their clothes off while they aggressively chew gum.

Once the stag has wasted some more money and braincells, it's off to the next celebration of a life he cannot wait to leave behind: the nightclub. This is where things get tricky, as you are back among ordinary people, people who may not feel especially safe around 17 drunken men, one of whom is dressed as a Swiss milkmaid.

If the group manages to get in - and that is a fairly big if - this is possibly the last memory they will have of what they will spend their lives telling people was a 'great' weekend. There was patter, there was banter, there were lads being lads, having one last hurrah. But as anyone who has been on a stag will tell you, the best part is getting home, having a long shower involving a lot of carbolic soap and watching 'Antiques Roadshow' with your significant other, hoping they don't ask too many questions.

The stag do is an anachronism - a grotesque parody of masculinity taken to its terrible extremes. But there are exceptions. A stag party in Michigan was crashed recently by a stray dog and her seven pups, who were malnourished and filthy. The men brought them in, fed them and washed them.

They spent their beer money on puppy food and ended up adopting the litter. The group now meet up at weekends so the pups can still see each other - all considerably more positive omens for the stag's married life than the wretched creature who slumps home with little more to show for his weekend than a skin-based parasite and a heart full of shame.

The report into stags has shown that men no longer want this tedious horror show. Perhaps it's time to finally call it a day on the seedier aspects of the tradition and embrace a new version of masculinity that celebrates the best parts of being a man - unless that most male trait of all, stubbornness, gets in the way.

Popular stag destinations

Prague

A beautiful city with a seedy underbelly, it seems forever on the brink of becoming a scene from 'Hostel'. Apart from the usual pits of depravity, there are also several gun ranges where you can go to drunkenly fire an AK47. Huzzah!

Vegas

The other end of the economic scale from Prague, Vegas (baby!) is imprinted on our minds as a stag destination thanks to 'The Hangover'. It offers more prestige than Prague, but ultimately is a similar experience, albeit with a 12-hour flight home to think about what you've done.

Budapest

Even more guns than Vegas and Prague combined, and cheaper than both. Worth going there alone for the hilarious patter you can have by ordering the local liqueur Unicum.

Dublin

Expensive, and often more terrifying than a poorly lit Czech backstreet, your flights to eastern Europe probably cost less than a pint in Temple Bar. Avoid.

Alternative ideas

Foraging classes

When the US sends nukes flying like maybugs and Ireland turns into a scene from 'The Road', who is going to provide for your loved ones? You, that's who. Learn how to feed your family through foraging - see wicklowwildfoods.com.

The Camino

Technically a pilgrimage, it allows the atheists among us a chance to pause and reflect on the beauty of the Spanish countryside, while also stopping at several taverns along the way. Alternatively, you could just walk to Knock with a bag of cans.

The Wild Atlantic Way

The key to a good marriage is to never take things for granted. With that in mind, fall back in love with Ireland by driving, cycling, or rambling along the stunning west coast. There are companies offering all manner of activities along the way, but Rachel Nolan of Rachel's Irish Adventures offers trail running, cycling and - most importantly - whiskey-tasting events for the more civilised stag.

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