The misuse of the word 'banter' in recent months has been incessant. Dave, a TV comedy channel that carries material from the intelligent to the reprehensible, has even used it as part of its branding. Used as a noun or verb, the dictionary definitions are -
banter(n): the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks.
banter(v): exchange remarks in a good-humoured teasing way.
Seems fairly reasonable. British interaction between established friends is quite commonly peppered with the gentle exchange of insults and teasing, with the expectation of the exchange being mutual.
The thing is, 'banter' (a word that I despise every time I type it) has become less and less good-humoured. Outright misogyny and threats of violence, when called out by those inclined to do so, are dismissed as 'banter', which apparently now makes them okay. Jeremy Clarkson's frequent tirades of bullshit are a perfect example. The number of times that I've been told, "oh, it's just banter", in the sense that classifying it as such renders it exempt from a critical eye, are numerous and just as infuriating each time.
Here are a few choice examples of Clarkson's 'banter'. Watch as he has a pop at some easy, vulnerable targets...
The poor -
"I don't understand bus lanes. Why do poor people have to get to places quicker than I do?"
Clarkson's highway code on cyclists: "Trespassers in the motorcars domain, they do not pay road tax and therefore have no right to be on the road, some of them even believe they are going fast enough to not be an obstruction. Run them down to prove them wrong."
The disabled -
"Britain's nuclear submarines have been deemed unsafe...probably because they don't have wheel-chair access."
Victims of domestic abuse (maybe women with cosmetic surgery) -
"There are footballers wives that would be happy with this quality of stitching... on their face."
Women in general -
"Much more of a hoot to drive than you might imagine. Think of it if you like, as a librarian with a G-string under her tweed pants. I do, and it helps."
Teachers on strike -
"I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families."
Playful and friendly? Good-natured teasing? Let's try a quick Gedankenexperiment (that's Pretentious German-Speaking Blogger for 'thought experiment'). Imagine that someone else had said it, maybe someone you don't find entertaining to watch on the tellybox. Maybe that PE teacher who was a dick to you back at school, or the traffic warden that gave you a ticket the other day. Failing that, try Michael Gove, he's always a good go-to for an awful human being.
Now put yourself in the shoes of the target of Clarkson's 'banter'. You're unemployed, or a woman, or disabled, or old, or a cyclist. You already get a lot of shit from the world just because of who you are or how you get around. Now, all those people who respect Clarkson, because he can occasionally be a bit funny about cars, are rationalising a little bit of extra hatred toward you.
Suddenly, it's a lot less good-natured.
What it comes down to is this: your speech is not protected because you think that what you're saying is funny - especially if you have a voice that's heard by many. By having an audience, you have a responsibility to work toward equality, not sow more seeds of discrimination and hate.
And for those of you who think that I'm sat here calling for the end of sarcasm and irony, watch an episode of QI. Go on, I'll wait. There you go, witty use of both - without resorting to picking on the vulnerable.
Just remember this. When Clarkson, or any of these pissant purveyors of the opposite of wit - cracks a joke which uses language which could be described as sexist, racist, ablist, classist, or any other bigotry, they normalise and encourage that bigotry in the minds of 'real-world' bigots.