Today I received a breathless letter to parents from the headmaster of my daughter’s school in England. You will all have read about NekNominate, a social media driven drinking trend, he gasps.
Well, yes, it apparently started in Australia as a Facebook drinking game where you video yourself swallowing vast amounts of strong drink or disgusting mixtures of drinks for the entertainment of your online friends. You then “neknominate” said friends – ie dare them – to drink something even more vile. If you sensibly decline, your charming pals “cyber-bully” you. This rapidly became a craze and has now been exported to the global capitals of binge boozing, Ireland and England. No surprises there.
Just like university
It all sounds faintly familiar and brings back memories of something called the Piers Gaveston, a boozing club made up of aristocratic Bright Young Things, who got "hogwhimpering" drunk. The Gavvy boys considered themselves elitely sophisticated and after their upper class hooligan antics appeared in the Sunday Times magazine, they acquired temporary notoriety. It was the equivalent of being splattered across Facebook back then. No one took much notice and they soon went off to run huge supermarkets and inherit their father's fortunes.
Another laddish club was the Prae Prandials. The PPs numbered fewer toffs and were men-only gatherings which started with swilling large amounts of alcohol before dinner, continued with much more during dinner – usually disgusting mixtures - and culminated with the members rampaging around Oxford afterwards. They got up to jolly japes like turning over Minis that were innocently parked in the Broad, tossing my record player and speakers out of a window into Holywell street - that dates me, doesn’t it – and on one occasion, taking refuge from the police in a college bathroom, where my scout Eve (scouts were cleaners employed to ensure students were seen alive once a day) found one straggler out cold in the tub next morning, in full evening dress. Not that it was recognizable as black tie, being liberally marinated in red wine, raspberry jam and confectioner’s aerosol cream. I took the suit to the dry cleaner’s and was indignant when the assistant held up the jacket, sniffed disapprovingly and announced to the packed shop: “Sketchley’s don’t do vomit.” Ironically, vomit was about the only thing it was not drenched in.
Same old drinking games
But I digress. In what way does NekNomination differ from a “sconce” – as those old student drinking dares were called? Granted the odd student did choke on their vomit and die, but once the Daily Mail had been suitably shocked for a few days, we all went back to mild over-indulging, puling caffeine-fuelled all-nighters to write our essays and sleeping all day to recover. It wasn’t usually life-threatening. More like a rite of passage.
But now this headmaster is all in a tizzy. Granted, the other day a 19-year-old called Jonny from my home town of Carlow in Ireland was nek-nominated to guzzle a bottle of spirits, filmed doing so by his brother, then for a finale jumped into the River Barrow and drowned. His brother tried to rescue him and nearly drowned too. Another young lady, 23 this time, in Australia, has changed her Facebook name after she filmed herself swallowing a live goldfish on Facebook or YouTube or whatever. She, poor lamb, received cyber death threats and now admits it wasn’t her finest hour.
But the headmaster seems convinced our secondary school kids are going to follow suit. “This current trend poses enormous potential risks to anyone who accepts a nomination, as well as putting in a very vulnerable position anyone from our school community who makes a nomination that might have unforeseen fatal consequences,” he writes. Should we be concerned - or very afraid indeed?
House Masters spoke to the 6th Form and 5th Form collectively, he continues, adding links to scary stories of NekNomination deaths.
This is what the school kids, aged 16 to 18, were told. “NekNominate it is where someone films themselves drinking a pint of alcohol in one go, and then posts it on Facebook and nominates several others to do the same in the next 24 hours.”.
This started by people drinking a pint of lager at home but has severely escalated in recent days to involve the consumption of spirits and other items not sold for human consumption," he adds. That’s smart, giving the kids a user’s guide
Then he describes the death of another young man in Ireland, Ross Cummins 22, a DJ from Dublin, who drank a litre of neat spirits and was found dead at his home, choked on his own vomit.
“The other side to this issue is the abuse people have suffered if they have not fulfilled their nomination. These people have become the victims of cyber-bullying from their own friends,” the headmaster writes.
He asks each pupil to reflect on how their parents would react if their Housemaster had to call home to say they were in hospital or worse, due to either the consumption of alcohol, liquids not fit for human consumption or injuries sustained through taking part in NekNomination.
“I also want you to reflect on how you would carry the burden of guilt for the rest of your life, if the person you nominated suffered a similar fate. Both Jonny and Ross will have been nominated by a friend who will now have to live with the fact that their actions led to their premature deaths.”
Anyone involved in this so called 'game' either through partaking, nominating or bullying those who decline, will be putting their position at school at risk, he concludes. Well that’s pretty woolly - why not just say they will be chucked out?
No instruction manuals
I'm scratching my head. What teenager ever responded to emotional blackmail from an adult authority figure? Did this man never study psychology? Does he not know that if you want a rebellious teenager to do something, you say "this is what I don’t want you to do, this is how you do it, now: Don’t Do It!"
Why not just say that this is this generation’s version of an old, old, drinking game. It’s neither cool nor new. And don’t give them an instruction manual. Mention that some people – those who cave in to peer pressure – not strong individuals like you - will do it and feel very sick afterwards. A few will die. Fact. You’re young adults: choose for yourself. And if you ignore Neknomination and treat it with the contempt it deserves, simply log off from Facebook. Let them cyber-bully away to their hearts' content. Apart from that it just seems like the 2014 take on a very old story indeed.