Question: how many people do you think are saying “jheez!” with estuary accents in this photo? Because: there are 14 visible human heads in this picture. And yet I still somehow suspect the number is "more than 14":
To Tories, again, this week, who just never can stop. The backstory to the photo is this: the Plymouth University Conservatives had a big post-freshers night out, and it looked like this. These are our future MPs, Prime Ministers, heads of NHS; our bankers, our tax avoiders, our Kent-adjacent new build mansion owners. Every single one of these people is going to send an angry tweet to South West Trains over the course of the next decade detailing exactly how much they spend on their season ticket. These are the kind of people we are dealing with. And now, as they are 18, and 19, and possibly even 20, they are having their Tory version of fun. Which involves: writing on each other's T-shirts w/ fat marker pens, and going to Switch nightclub in Plymouth.
The photo has caused the tabloid version of outrage, because of some of the slogans on the shirts – "Fuck the NHS", which is the Yung Tory version of "People = Shit"; "Trump is My Homeboy"; that Rick and Morty-looking lad rocking a Hitler moustache; the guy in the bottom-right who is either popping an "OK" sign or, if you believe the Mirror, a 4Chan-inspired symbol "used by white supremacists" – are questionable to the point of being problematic. But I'm not concerned about that, because Tories are always going to Tory, especially Tories who look this much like Tories. What I am instead concerned with this:
How can 12 people in the unarguable prime of their actual life create so little visible patter in a group photograph taken of them at a nightclub?
Or, more particularly: how much (or little) banter is there, visible, in this photo, exactly?
As per our previous methodology, it's important to identify who in this photo is doing banter (i.e. is aware this photo is a banter group shot and is gurning or posing appropriately) and who is not doing banter (i.e. is aware the photo is being taken but either: i. doesn’t know the photo is a banter photo, so they are just sort of smiling to hide their teeth and meekly holding their phone, or ii. knows and recognises it is a banter photo but refuses to participate in the banter at all in case daddy sees it). Based on an entirely subjective read all of my own, the rough split goes like this:
Let's start with these three, the two banter boys – who, as a key, we will call "Josh" and "Ross", because I checked and those are their names – and our central, non-banter boy, who as a key we will call "Daniel" (because that is… also his name):
Ross and Josh have done visual banter before in photographs, and I can tell you why: because, like me at their age, they simply have to in order to take part in a photograph. Like: look me in the eye and tell me Ross doesn't draw his own Warhammer-inspired pornography. Josh is wearing an Apple watch and has his T-shirt tucked in, which tells me he has never, ever had sex before in his life. And both of these things are fine: I was like this at university – there was a two-year stretch where I had a proper "not only have I read Lord of the Rings, I've read the The Silmarillion as well, and I have crude and archaic masturbation techniques that I've developed off the back of it" vibe – and I used to pull faces like this in photos to mask the fact that I didn't know how to trim my straggly facial hair in a way that was flattering to my many chins. Like! It's fine! There are hundreds of thousands of 18-year-old boys like this in the country!
But also: this lot look like they tried to start a university group for Reddit moderators, failed when only they turned up to the first meet-up, and joined the Conservative party instead.
AMOUNT OF BANTER: Due to the fact that Ross and Josh are both pulling mildly banter facial expressions, and Josh has clearly had a marker-pen bindi drawn on his head that he has, at the last second, decided was "just a bit sharp", before smudging it with a spat-on thumb so it now looks like he has a drastic eyebrow rash, I am going to award them 7/10 banter.
Now we move on to these lads, "Jake" (actual name of the president of the Plymouth Conservative Club) and "George" (just guessing, picked a Tory-sounding name out of a hat, there's at least a 50 percent chance I'm right, though, isn't there). They are both demonstrating here what is known as "collapsible banter", and it's something you will have seen on the group escapades of your youth: lads who aren't funny when they're sober ram down four pints and decide falling over or collapsing into crowds of people is wildly funny, and that is essentially the only joke they really have, and for some reason they always end every night outside an over-lit pizza shop, lost and alone, their T-shirts torn from the neck down to reveal an oddly puce, hairless torso.
Look at Jake, there: angled like a torpedo through a hull, eyes black and vacant, a thousand million yards from sobriety; George, red and collapsed, struggling to breathe without him. The collapsing thing has two uses: firstly, it gets a good loud braying laugh from Richard, James and Charlie every time they do it; second, it feigns a level of tactile comfort they don't normally demonstrate, i.e. they get drunk and start hugging their boy mates and touching their arms and sides and such, meaning that when Lavinia – the One True Object Of Their Affection, the only girl they've ever talked to in their life – decides to leave in about 30 to 40, they can both give her weird overly-familiar back-rubbing hugs goodbye, built on a solid foundation of having already tenderly touched everyone else at the party. So because their banter is both shit and actually quite sinister, I'm going to award it 4/10.
Rory's one of those freshers who turns up going, "Yah, I was going to go to Durham but I decided to come here… to absolutely fucking party, right?" and has actually done all his assigned reading for the year ahead, and wears an honest-to-god blazer to lectures; he already wants to go home, even though I'm guessing from the relatively un-blazed faces in this photo that everyone here is on only their second or third drink (I feel this photo was taken around 9PM). Charlie, I simply cannot believe is a fresher, or a student, or even in his twenties: my guy looks like a straight-to-TV version of Wolverine, where he just lives on a farm and occasionally breathes out for a really, really long time, and just says "I wish I was dead". He has "Enoch Was Right" written on his T-shirt because he remembers the original speech. Go draw your pension, you absolute fraud. 0/10 banter.
Tim has better places to be. Tim is in other societies, with normal people. He plays hockey, or something. He debates. Tim stares into the camera as if he already sees into the future: Tim can see the unfolding carnage from this photo, can see the little hopes of careers crumbling around him as he goes, can see everyone ruining their lives in perfect slow-motion. Tim only joined this society because his dad went to the same university and was the president of it, and that’s what helped him get his first communications job. Tim has already got two girls texting him from freshers week and he's got designs on a third who lives on the floor above him. He's going to have one more JD & Coke then walk home, listen to six Kendrick songs in his room (carefully omitting the N-word every time he raps along, but secretly thinking it really, really loudly), then is going to wake up early and go for a big walk wearing a hoodie with his name sewn on it, along with a pair of shorts, because that’s all he ever wears, that’s all he ever does. Later, he might treat himself to a podcast about business. 2/10 banter.
Richard has never had a drink in his life, especially not now, here, tonight. That man is monstrously sober. I feel like his cup is either filled with lemonade or, more likely, water. No banter.
James, like all of them, is deeply, deeply in love with Lavinia, which you can tell from the fact he is – very gently, very tenderly – gripping lovingly onto the crook of her elbow, here. When he goes to sleep he will imagine this moment, again and again and again, running scenarios where instead of delicately extricating herself from his grip immediately after the photo was taken, she actually turned and made significant eye contact with him and said something flirty like, "Buy me a drink?" and they talked and they talked and they talked some more, and when he walked her home (they all offered to walk her home, at the exact same time, in one loud 11-strong Tory voice, but in this scenario James made the cut) she pulls her coat tight around her arms and stops on a bridge, and they look at each other, intensely, and then they kiss, and now he is asleep, and wakes up, sweating and nervous.
I feel like James has only eaten Weetabix since he got to university two weeks ago. He's on, like, a pack every three days. Doesn't even do milk sometimes, just water. No banter.
Lavinia isn't banter because, as you can tell from the fact nobody has distorted her face with something vulgar in marker pen, nobody has dared make her banter, because they are all deeply in love with her. Note her position as the focus in this picture, and her apex at the core of the Golden Ratio overlay that I just Googled and pretend to know about:
Every eye in this Tory group is on Lavinia. Every single one of them went home and friend requested her on Facebook the second they got back. Every one of them has scrolled back through every profile picture she has ever had. Every one of them has checked her tagged photos on Instagram to see if she has a tall rugby-playing boyfriend back home. I already know what she will look like in 20 years time as a disgraced Home Secretary, and it’s "like this but Torier". I can already see her, in the year 2038, making a solemn no-makeup speech to a group of assembled journalists explaining that the alleged meeting she had with a property development company did actually happen. Lavinia is poised for power, which is why she will not be partaking in the banter. She also clearly wasn’t invited to the lads' blue T-shirt buying trip, so she's thoroughly pissed off at all of them. No banter.
Enormous behaviour, the biggest of dick energy, absolutely massive, this lad owns the group. I’m not even going to give him a name, just some powerful Tory nickname: this lad’s just "The Tank". He can put 14 beers away and still wake up for his 9AM. He absolutely destroyed the Libby Left girl in that Facebook comment thread. He wrote a column so spicy for the student paper that they had to cut it because all the PC Brigade first-years who work there revolted against it. The Tank is a bally hero, bro. He goes missing for three weeks in the middle of the second term and it turns out he had menny B and his mum had to drive up and get him. He's! A! Fucking! Legerino! 11/10 banter.
I mean, truly, there's absolutely no banter in this photo, is there. They all had their fun at The Tank's place doing pre-drinks and doing all the marker pen shit, and they waited an extra half-hour before ordering the cabs in because they were sure more of the 100+ people who RSVP'd would turn up, and they did that chant in the ride over so loudly the cabby had to pull over and ask them to stop ("OH WAY, OH WAY, OH WAY OH WAY / JACOB REES-MOGG'S BARMY ARMY"), but truly they all know this is forced, and none of this is real, and they are just going through the tired paces of pretending to have fun at university, and instead they’d much rather literally be at the Tory party conference this week wearing the suits they all inexplicably already have, posing for selfies with the Mogg man, shaking Phillip Hammond's hand, pissing in a urinal next to Iain Duncan Smith, but instead they're all now crying to their dads, who have all had to cancel 10AM meetings with Bentley today to call their idiot sons and ask them why the fucking hell they are on the cover of the Dairy Mirror, and I really thought we were past your anarchic phase, Richard, I really thought you’d grown up, and perhaps we’ll have to re-think whether you’re ready to come skiing with us at Christmas, or maybe you should stay in Plymouth, with all your so-called "friends", and this whole experience will tarnish the very foundations of their Conservative Party group and they'll all quietly stop responding to the WhatsApp group chat they started and – slowly, but perceptibly – stop being friends.
So if you think of this photo as what it is – tired banter by old-before-their-time Yung Tories – it’s about 2.2 Bantons, most of those presented by The Tank. But if you look at this as what it really is – the simultaneous ending of 66 friendships, a lifetime's worth of humiliation during one of the most formative weeks of a young person's life, which will almost certainly be formed into a sword that will be plunged into the poor via policy in about 20 years – then you’re looking at maybe 0.1, 0.0 Bantons.