Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 06 Oct 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The mirthless, dead-eyed hell of banter

Men like to have an exit. We like to have a line of retreat, clearly marked and delineated, so that we can scuttle back inside ourselves just in case we’re over-exposed. It’s why some of us rely on humour. If people take you seriously, you can say that you were joking or, ideally, you never say anything that could be taken seriously at all, just in case people think you’re serious and dull. It’s into this, bleakly simple bit of mental topography that the concept of banter falls, like a charity parachutist who has shat himself clattering into a children’s party amid screaming and horror.

Banter, in case it’s blessedly passed you by, is the concept by which young men and men who would like to think that they’re young, say things which could seem rude or offensive but say that they were just joking. ‘Bad news that your mum’s dead – it’s made me a necrophiliac’ would, for example, be classed as ‘top banter.’ The object is to make yourself look witty, while emotionally devastating the other person or making them seem foolish, so that other people laugh at them. Quite why you would want to do this is explained by the simple fact that, more than any other concept, the idea of masculinity as it exists in this society is rigorously self-policing.

If a man says something like ‘I really love my girlfriend’ or ‘I think we’re all bisexual in the presence of the right person,’ the rest of the men in the group would quickly make him certain that he had said something which exposed him to ridicule. Nothing makes a group of nominally heterosexual men feel fidgety like the idea of actual, lived human emotion whether it’s love or finding another man attractive in ways that, you guessed it, can’t be quickly dismissed as ‘banter.’ A couple of years ago, I went out with some Danish men in a small town in Jutland. One of them did indeed say that his girlfriend had helped him turn his life around and said that he thought she was amazing. Others said something similar about their partners. In England, this conversation would never happen. Keep it light, keep it moving and for pity’s sakes, keep it funny, are the instructions stamped into you when you grow up. Nothing else is acceptable.

The point about this is that it’s a fabulously self-limiting mindset. Once the banter bot is installed in your head, it’s there forever. Encounter something in your life for which the response is a cry of pain, and it’ll mock you, tell you to sort yourself out and get back to the ‘lads,’ which is pretty much why so many of us kill ourselves. When something happens to you, or you become aware of emotions whose existence you’ve not been made aware of, let alone learned how to deal with, the only answer you’re able to understand is to remove yourself, to yield to the confusion. Suicide, of course, isn’t banter. And banter just can’t understand suicide, because it’s a sign that you’re taken things too seriously. You’ve broken the rules and, well, just look at what happened.

It took me a long time to work this out and a long time to realise that, for me, single sex groups are toxic. I might look classically masculine, but my values are as far from classically masculine as you’re ever likely to get. You see, I know that I have emotions, and have zero problem talking about them. My scars will be exhibited for anyone to see if they’re interested, and yet I’d rather talk about normal mundane stuff. Were I in a male-dominated group, any time I spent actually conversing would need to be offset with time spent worrying about whether I’m funny enough or who the leader of the group is so I can either kiss his arse or spend time trying to usurp him, which is pretty much what happens in a male group. They sort themselves into a hierarchy very quickly and where any dissent is stamped on in a range of imaginative ways. Male groups can’t be reformed. They can only be left and, once I’d got to university, although it took a while, I knew that I never wanted to see anyone from the group of men I’d been involved with at home ever again. The control and coercion was too great to live with.

Banter, then, has a smile or, rather, a slightly aggressive leer. It doesn’t like difference, it doesn’t like people who stand out and, in my experience, it closes ranks once you’ve gone, trying not to think that being left to fester is some kind of rebuke. Which it is, of course. Saying that you don’t like beer or nights out with the lads or view someone sharing intimate pictures of their fiance among their friends as being hugely disrespectful, breaks with the tradition of ‘banter’ and show that you’re not just content to live apart from it but think it’s where you’ll be happy. And you’re right. Being controlled by jerks doesn’t make anyone happy and the fact that you’ve read this far means that you’re either interested in the mindset or recognise it. If you do ‘banter,’ stop. It makes you a cock. If you’re in love with someone who does ‘banter,’ tell them it’s this witless idiocy or you.

With hope, with courage but, most of all, with the sheer force of our contempt, we can make men forego banter and rejoin the human race.

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