The headline of this blog post is slightly different from that of this excellent short Telegraph blog post about Banter entitled: If you like banter, you’re an idiot (H/T @danny_webster).
The reason is twofold. First, I don’t think Tom Chivers describes what banter is in a nuanced enough way. There is good banter and bad banter. Second, I think that participating in bad banter reveals a type of personal inadequacy (whether participants know it or not), which quite accurately shows them up to be an idiot.
Good banter, as the ever accurate Urban dictionary defines banter (and I am sorry to have to classify the jokey and lovely word) is a “Supple term used to describe activities or chat that is playful, intelligent and original… It is also something inherently English, stemming as it does from traditional hi-jinks and tomfoolery of British yesteryear.” Such as when Churchill addressed the rudeness of somebody confronting him about his sobriety, presumably in public.
“You, are drunk!”
“Maybe so, but you are ugly and I will be sober in the morning.”
That’s legendary Banter and used in self defence.
Bad Banter however is vulgar in the uncultured and offensive sense. As Tom Chives puts it rather visually, its:
an English stag do in Dublin or Amsterdam with matching T-shirts. It is cruelty unleavened by wit but which is excused because it is a bit like wit, if you look at it from a certain angle.
In England it’s also often used among men to seemingly show comradely, yet often is accompanied by an undertone of competitiveness. In some this can be good hearted, but in others it often betrays an insecurity of status, which can manifest itself in a rather nasty aftertaste; much like dogs in a pack baring teeth and sniping at each other’s throats or heels while jockeying for status. Reverting back to Tom:
its what is left when humour has died, and just the rotting, stinking carcass remains, bearing a resemblance to the living being but lacking all that made it good.
I have experienced this sort of banter from time to time. It’s not comfortable and while my first reaction to it is often anger and a wish to hit back, I have learned to ignore it when directed at me, and if appropriate when aimed at another make a compliment to the person at whom a clumsy ‘larf’-dart was aimed.
This is because on the one hand, it does not lift up, but puts down, and that can hurt, teaching them that the only way to be strong is to send a ‘larf-dart’ back. In other words it can be bullying, particularly if the person at whom it is aimed does not feel they belong to the pack, or worse if the dart comes from somebody who is perceived to be higher up in the authority structure.
There is also the issue of being in the pack and being outside of it. What are the people participating in bad banter showing others around them, whether in the pack or outside of it, about the nature of the community they are in? What if somebody genuinely misunderstands good hearted banter for the snarling variety?
The other reason why I refuse to take part is because bad banter lacks the really good wit that makes good banter so great, and I cannot often pull good banter off myself at speed. But then I have to navigate three languages before I can get a word out, so I’m not too hung up about it.
Tom Chivers ends his piece like this:
This is not a tirade against rudeness. I am all in favour of rudeness, of bawdiness, of insult and mockery and obscenity. They’re all brilliant things, when done well. But “banter” isn’t. If you insult someone, you expect them to be insulted; if you are rude, you expect people to be offended. “Banter” is apparently a free pass: I can insult you, but you’re not allowed to be insulted, because “it’s only banter”. I can be obscene, but you can’t be offended, because “it’s only banter”. No. If you’re a grown-up, you know that your offensiveness may offend, and you either accept that or you apologise and don’t do it again. Saying “it’s only banter” makes you not only an idiot, but an idiot who can’t take responsibility for his own jokes.
This isn’t “only banter”. I’m literally and specifically saying that if you – you, the reader – like “banter”, you are an idiot. You are welcome to be offended by that.
I don’t want to be insulting, so while I feel the full force of Chives distaste for banter should act as a reminder of what it means to be salt and light in the world, I will maintain that if there ever was a Godly insight and critique of a negative cultural norm in the UK coming out of the Telegraph, then this dear reader, is one.
If you want to be insulted Luther is a good place to start: http://ergofabulous.org/luther/?