Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Why do women have legs...?


Tom Chivers, it appears isn't a fan of "banter":

Can we end it? Destroy it, cleanse it with fire, encase it in lead and hurl its charred corpse into the North Sea? It is, and I am speaking as someone who recently decried the use of hyperbole in public debate, literally and without question the single worst thing in the history of the universe.

Tom goes on to define banter as cruelty unleavened by wit but which is excused because it is a bit like wit, if you look at it from a certain angle and goes on to say

I'm literally and specifically saying that if you – you, the reader – like "banter", you are an idiot.

The difficulty of arguing with this is that Tom has defined the term quite narrowly to mean casual abuse (sexist, racist, homophobic, whatever) thrown around with the get-out clause that "it's only a joke" and that the recipient therefore doesn't have the right to be offended. Well, yes. That's really quite dickish, and the jokey get-out is really only a shield for a bullying demand that you ignore his rudeness.

But that's not all banter is, really. Before the Uni-lad exposure blasted "banter" into the headlines, my experience of it was generally the rather English thing that blokes tend to seek refuge in insulting each other if there's any danger of actual emotion being expressed. Compliments can only come in a reverse sugar-coating of insult. That's all bound up in the oddly English concept that you are only really friends with someone when you no longer have to be polite to them.

As with so many things, the acceptability of banter will depend on whether or not it is happening between equals. If it is, then it really is nothing more than another way of making social discourse that much easier. If it isn't, then it's bullying. Almost all the examples Tom uses (and really the way he defines the whole concept) falls into this latter category, and on that definition I'm happy to agree with him, except that I might go a bit further than "idiot".


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