Bantersaurus, Banta Claus, Immanuel Bant, all nicknames for the mildly articulate Andi Thomas. He’s doing banter!
There are words and phrases that seem to bypass the brain and nestle deep in your bowels, where they twitch and generally ruin your day. Management speak has given us plenty — “impactful”, “incentivise”, “moving forward”, unless it’s applied to something that is, well, actually moving forward — as has the internet, most recently the chimerical horror of “awesomesauce”. “Rail replacement bus service” sends my brother into apoplexy, albeit very slowly, via Tring.
Nominations from Twitter included “amazeballs”, “I can haz”, “it may have been raining but spirits were not dampened”, and “John Terry”. Each and every one, a thumping abomination.
But none of them come close to “banter”.
Like a tumour, banter can be either malign or benign. While it all falls somewhere on a continuum of please-God-make-it-stop that runs from the couches of Soccer Saturday to the rape-lulz of Unilad, there’s a line somewhere, unclear but definitely present, which separates the witless and the braying from the brutal and the wrong. The former is merely vacant chivvying, frequently little more than a loud shout of WAHEY! or a parping deconstruction of a comrade’s taste in shoes [or earrings - Ed], clothes or women. And it doesn’t seem that there’s much to worry about there, as long as it keeps itself to itself. Banter between consenting adults in the privacy of their own company is fine; nobody wants it shoved down their throats.
The latter — the malign, nasty shit — is more concerning. “Banter” is increasingly being used as a cloak for the resurgence of all manner of irrational bile. Though briefly cowed by the “forces of political correctness”, that devastating and irrational conspiracy devoted to the heretical notion that perhaps it isn’t okay to be an unspeakable fuckwit to foreigners, women, gays, and anybody else that can be frantically found to answer for your own shuddering inadequacy, the bigots are back. And they’re bantering.
Such banter thrives on the implicit vapidity of the concept. By passing off (say) a racist insult as banter, the banterer is able to wink an acknowledgement to those that might agree with him that yes, he does mean it, while simultaneously informing those that might object that no, of course he doesn’t mean it, while heavily implying that at the same time that he does, only he doesn’t really, because he’s not allowed to and he knows that, but that’s your fault, because you don’t have a sense of humour and it’s a joke, only it isn’t really, unless you don’t take it as a joke, in which case it is. For a singularly stupid pastime, it’s a quite clever cross between a dog-whistle and a klaxon, and it hinges on one of the fundamental building blocks of British society: humourlessness is the only thing worse than being French.
If you’re told that something’s a joke, and refuse to take it as such, then it’s your fault. It robs the victim — typically a minority of some kind, natch — of the power to determine their own offence. It strips them of one of those most important of human rights: the right to tell somebody to go fuck themselves.
As with all hobbies beloved of the spite-souled, it’s about power. When Andy Gray belched “tuck it in for me love” into the face of a female colleague, he did so knowing — incorrectly, as it turns out, but only once the wider world had been asked for their opinion — that he cast a long enough shadow in his own domain to be able to insist that his crass sexism was banter. It is the thin veneer of the privileged boor, the bigoted boss, the callous lad, and the keyboard warrior smugly tucked up behind his own anonymity.
And luckily, as Andy Gray found out, it’s still on the whole not fit for public consumption. Most people remain human enough, for the moment at least, to know that if it walks like a prick, talks like a prick, and is pissing all over your trousers, then it’s probably not something to be indulging. While this is of no great comfort to those suffering in banter-slapped silence, it does at least mean that those arseholes privileged enough to have a platform have to make some effort to hide their hideousness. That, as Stewart Lee tells us, was the real triumph of political correctness: they still occasionally feel the need to cover themselves. That still holds, just about.
But it’s time we acknowledged that the lowing of the non-malicious bantercoots isn’t something that we can just ignore, and is in its own way a far more sinister, modern phenomenon. Malign banter simply conceals old clucking wrongs. Benign banter is a new kind of horror. It is poisonous because it is empty.
One of my favourite Far Side cartoons shows a man testing his new invention for the first time: a Dog Translation headset. He walks down the street, and it is revealed that “Woof! Woof! Woof!” is just dogs shouting “Hey! Hey! Hey!” back and forth. What sounds like conversation is nothing of the sort. And so it is with banter: peel back the pretence of meaning, and it’s just people shouting “Banter! Banter! Banter!” at one another. Empty words referencing empty minds, the verbal equivalent of poking someone in the arm, over and over and over. “Banter,” I said. “Banter!” he replied. And we laughed until our heads fell off.
It is on our televisions, vacancies falling from the mouths of vacancies. It is batted limply back and forth between our sporting heroes, our politicians, our musicians and artists and people who frankly should know better. It is the default setting of that strange class of human, the celebrity, a stunted form of being that relates to actual human value in the same way banter relates to language. It is all over our internets, slathering the greatest democratising tool since the printing press in suffocating toxic banter-lard. It mutates, spawning good banter, bare-knuckle and balls-out and top lad banter, epic bantz propagated by banter agents Bant and Dec, stuffed down chimneys by Banta Claus. It is roared out into the weeping firmament by the rough bantersaurus, slouching toward Banterland to be born.
And it breeds. It was suggested by one or two apocalyptically-inclined physicists that switching on the Large Hadron Collider might trigger a chain reaction and reduce the universe to strangelets, self-replicating particles that would subsume all matter into a homogenous and inert lump. They were wrong, but it happened anyway: the endless tide of banter is coming for us all. Our brains will subside, our words will be dust, and the Nothing will spread. Banter will begin to appear everybanter, banter choking banter, suffobantering each banter and bantering every banter in a hot banter of banter. Banter banter, banter crushed by banter, banter riding banter banter to hell.
Is there a banter in banter? For banter banter banter, read banter, banter, #bantaloons, banter, and the eventual genocide banter banter bantering banter banter banter. Bantz: banter banter, bantery banter, not least because banter banterous banter endless banter savage banter of barbaric anti-banter banter #banter banter banter. The banter, the banter. #Bantz banterellogram, banter banteresque banter banter LOL banter bantidisestablishmentarianism banter underbantz banter banter banter banter. Banter banter, #banter banter. We’re banter. Banter.