I have mixed feelings towards stag parties. On the last three I’ve experienced, I’ve wrestled bikini-clad women in a paddling pool against my will, ruptured my Achilles tendon and failed to escape a room filled with Nazi memorabilia in the allotted time. Now an extensive study by the European University of Madrid, and England’s University of Salford has revealed that most men hate the “extreme shaming, humiliation and deviance” of the stag party. The academics behind it conclude that men are “merely reproducing exaggerated forms of behaviour that are expected of them and that they expect of themselves in a pocket of available time to celebrate”. Is it still just a bit of harmless fun? Or has the traditional stag do finally run its course?
According to Time Magazine’s “Brief History of Bachelor Parties”, Spartans pioneered the stag do in 5BC, and the French refer to it as a “burial of the life of a boy”, which captures the tang of morbid ritualism. During a stag, the porousness between violence, sex and taboo tends to create a temporary flock madness: many regress into roles, alpha-cock or butt-of-the-joke without much in between. Like that film The Purge where, one day a year, any crime can be committed unpunished, taste hurtles out the window. In the 1980s, my dad was bundled into the back of a van by an “IRA-o-gram” so convincingly that anti-terrorist police were called out to rescue him. Even the actor Mr Jimmy Stewart, the quintessence of wholesome masculinity, had dwarfs pop out of serving dishes for his bachelor night. So far, so crass.
It’s partly a vanity thing. I have a theory that lots of men choose as best man the projection of the side of themselves they like most and want other people to see – the film-of-my-life version. Best men supposedly tailor the party to the groom, but the other friends have to adhere to that fetishised vision of himself (mostly lost in a caricature of expected virility) or risk alienation by the pack. One groom I know admitted he didn’t invite a close friend on his stag because he didn’t think he’d enjoy it and felt it would affect the group dynamic – a weird peer-pressured social curation where grooms would rather change the guest list than the event itself.