When Principal Jack Phillips took the stage to condemn specific acts of “unacceptable behavior” at our school, it was no mistake that he used the word “banter.” While at the time his use of the word elicited a few stifled laughs from the student body, the concept of banter and its rising prevalence is anything but funny.
Used as a crutch, banter is a cheap imitation of a sense of humor for people who have none, and used in defense of sexist, racist or offensive comments it is a violation
Not only is banter, or the use of, racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic comments as “jokes”, becoming more prevalent, but it is becoming accepted and commonplace in our society. Take for example the recent firing of Malky Mackay, the manager of Cardiff City football club, when a shocking series of his text messages were leaked, including, “‘Not many white faces amongst that lot but worth considering,” (referencing a list of potential signings) and other offensive comments. While the messages are condemnable themselves, the most telling part of the scandal was Mackay’s press release in response to public outrage that ensued. Any semblance of a remorseful apology was lost, with Mackay labeling his actions as “friendly text message banter”.
What may be even worse are the people that jumped to defend this notion. How has our society become so desensitized that, under the guise of one word “banter”, all semblance of being sensitive or of having a filter is forgotten?
This isn’t an isolated case (see Richard Keys and the sexist on-air comments he made about a female lineswoman – all under the defense of “prehistoric banter”). As banter continues to manifest itself, especially in the current teen generation, ASL is not immune. Not only in our school, but among teenagers across the globe, a “lad” culture has emerged. Although it is not as clear cut as a perpetrator and a victim, two distinct roles are carved in this culture. Those partaking in the banter are rewarded; they are labeled “lads,” willing to say the unsayable, willing to do anything to get a laugh. And those unwilling to take part? Those who are the unwilling recipients of racist, sexist and homophobic insults? They are vilified. Push back against the banter and you become an outsider.
Everyone should be entitled to feeling safe and comfortable and while this culture still exists, where individuals feel the need to seek, as Phillips put it, “some kind of twisted approval from friends”, it will be extremely difficult for that to be the norm. While I personally do not believe that our oft-maligned core values are comprehensive enough, in this situation the value of respect resonates with me. Acting respectfully, and having morals are not particularly difficult ways to lead your life.
Daisy Buchanan of The Guardian put it best in her recent article “My five-point plan to ban banter”: Proponents of banter “love it because it makes them feel witty, sophisticated and urbane while allowing them to talk about having sex with one another’s mothers.”