I say ‘banter’ you say… What do you say? Is it that the TV channel ‘Dave’ is the home of witty banter? Is it that you watch shows like ‘QI’ and ‘Would I Lie to You?’ for the banter of people like Stephen Fry and David Mitchell? Or is it that comedians like Frankie Boyle or Daniel Tosh can’t possibly be offensive because it’s ‘pure banter’?
Today’s banter isn’t about being witty, it’s about having an excuse for being as horribly offensive as is humanly possible, and if anybody dares to complain about this offense then they’ve clearly had a sense of humour bypass. When I object to a rape joke, it is my fault for being a humourless feminist, and not the joker’s fault for mocking something that literally destroys lives.
A Tory councilor (whose constituency is embarrassingly close to where I’m from) lost his constituency (but not his place on the council) after joking about the two policewomen who were murdered in Manchester recently. He apologised, “If I’ve caused offence to anyone I am really very sorry. I never intended to”. And that’s the problem with banter.
Banter, in its current form, puts the onus on interpretation instead of intention that, in my opinion, is not only wrong but also potentially dangerous. Sure, it might be ok for Roland Barthes, but it doesn’t work in conversation. I’ve heard the argument that people should have the responsibility of ‘knowing their audience’ and only making these jokes in front of people who won’t get offended. Because obviously, both the perpetrators of rape and their victims walk around with huge badges announcing this. In truth, you can never know your audience because those aren’t the kind of things that people often feel comfortable telling others.
I know there are people reading this that will accuse me of being a perpetrator of ‘political correctness gone mad’. I know that because I used to be one of those people. But then I grew up and realised that even funny jokes aren’t worth making at the expense of people’s feelings. If a person is offended by something which affects them and not you then it’s not their fault for being oversensitive – it’s yours for being under, for not taking the time to think ‘hey, is this joke at the expense of being a decent human being?’
Proper fast-paced, witty banter is brilliant, but the banter that is used as an excuse to say horrendously offensive things, whilst denying others’ right to be offended, is nothing short of facile. It is the tactic of people who use shock, not humour, to solicit laughter, and it violates a basic moral code of just trying to be a decent human being. Toni Morrison got it right when she said that “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.”