banter: the stone in the snowball

“Get over yourselves”, as The Lulz (or plain ‘The’ to his pals) is fond of saying. This is a very handy all-purpose put-down, along with “Smile, love, it might never happen”, invariably spoken by a bloke who doesn’t realise that it just has happened.

life in the pond

Some people are keen that everyone else should come to their party, because it proves to them that their party is worth being at. Unfortunately the party in question is the sort where someone’s put on a U2 album, you’ve been given a glass of Blue Nun and can’t find a pot plant to pour it into, and a squiffy bloke with dribble on his chin is talking to your tits about cars. In a monotone. And you are hoping to hell that you’ll manage to escape before people start throwing their car keys into a bowl.

Talking of Keys (see what I did there?) I’d never even heard of Richard Keys, or indeed Andy Gray, until last week. And now I have, because they made arses of themselves by making abusive sexist remarks while they were at work (they’re employed to talk about football; the job description reminds me of St Custard’s games master: “I may not know much, but I’m jolly good at football…”), and Gray was sacked for it, and Keys resigned. So far, so good.

There has been a lot of comment in defence of them, of course, claiming that what they said was only good-natured banter. And Richard Keys muttered about ‘dark forces‘ at work. And he wasn’t referring to himself and Gray.

Is banter ever good-natured? I’ve encountered a fair bit of it myself, and I have to say that it always struck me as being utterly humourless; a way of putting someone down while smirking to show it’s only a joke. Let’s see, a few examples I’ve had thrown at me:

“It’s a sort of training manual for you” (a Chief Engineer, pointing to a pornographic calendar)

“You won’t forget the boys, will you, when you’ve got your Jack-and-Danny?” (sorry, but I guess you can work that one out)

“When God made man, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve…”

I don’t want to get too hooked up on dictionary definitions, as the way we use language is constantly evolving; but the OED one for banter seems bang on the money:

1. Wanton nonsense talked in ridicule of a subject or person; hence, humorous ridicule generally; now usually, good-humoured raillery, pleasantry.

I can see how banter could work in an acceptable way; indeed, I have engaged in what you could possibly describe as banter, with friends, in  a situation where we understand fairly clearly where we’re all coming from, as it were.

In the workplace, though, it can be a tool of oppression. How did I feel when I was subjected to remarks like the ones I’ve cited? -angry and humiliated. What did I do about them? -nothing. Why not? -because a complaint would have been met with incomprehension, and somehow put me in the wrong, by the twisted values of that particular workplace. “You’ve got to have a sense of humour to work here,” as someone said when I actually did complain about some obscene graffiti…

I imagine that the women who worked with Grey and Keys had a broadly similar experience. And, listening to recordings of these two in action, it’s hard to find anything humorous in what they say; it’s just stupid misogyny, masquerading as humour. The stone in the snowball. Get over yourselves, you two.

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8 Responses to banter: the stone in the snowball

  1. anjiknut says:

    I never liked Andy Grey for personal reasons.

    It’s nice to see that people really do lose their jobs in the end, but it takes a lot of courage to speak up.

  2. Philip Watson says:

    My workplace observations tend to agree with yours: banter is frequently just another aspect of power play. Interestingly, those most keen to indulge seem frequently also those least able to see the humorous side of any event which might befall them.
    (The absence of this sort of behaviour is a very pleasant feature of the school where I now work.)

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  4. Banter seems to me to be the verbal equivalent of Horseplay. I’ll add something above the line about that once everyone’s had a chance to have a read.

  5. Dru says:

    In the sense that he’s just a plain arse, Anji?

    Good point, Philip; the bantering classes do get out of their depths quite quickly when it comes to seeing the funny side, don’t they?

    Go on, then, Richard! -by the way, ‘horseplay’ featured in P&O’s conditions of employment. In fact, the closest thing that particular document came to a position on bullying and harassment in the workplace was a solitary sentence announcng that ‘horseplay will not be tolerated’.

    • Federay says:

      Whenever I hear “horseplay” I think of a friend who appeared suddenly with a big plaster over her face and her explanation was (and she giggled) “horseplay in the bedroom” and ever since I have found it a sinister term. Because, like all the terms above they are the words you use when you want to avoid other words.

      Oh this Sky episode and all its little spin offs make me burn.

      • Dru says:

        it does conjure up something odd in that context, doesn’t it, Federay? Not as odd as discussing Uganda, but, well.

  6. Pingback: Just Teasing! | Being Drusilla

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