How to banter (without being a nasty little prick)

This is one of those posts I can’t believe needs writing. Moving in the social circles I do, among intelligent and sensitive people, it’s easy to forget that unpleasant, obnoxious individuals exist in the real world rather than merely popping up in the pages of the Daily Mail.

I banter with my wonderful, intelligent, friends, and it is a hoot. Banter is fun, it’s lively, it’s an art form in and of itself. Outside of this bubble, though, it is something else. It’s used as nothing more than a word to add a veneer of acceptability to bullying, to oppression, to being a witless tosspot who fancies hurling a bit of abuse around without being called out on it. This is most obvious in the recent Unilad fiasco, where banter translates as threats of rape and violence for its braying mob of fans, though it has also been used as an excuse to cover for unacceptable language from pointless oxygen-bogarts Jeremy Clarkson and Ricky Gervais, to name but a few.

And it’s not on. Were banter-masters Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare alive today, they would wince at the sorry state of their art form. It’s time to reclaim banter. It’s time to kill the popular perception of banter as nothing more than bullying.

What is banter?

Numerous dictionary definitions of banter exist, and all fall on the same two crucial characteristics. Surprisingly, UrbanDictionary manages to sum up the meaning of banter rather well.

Supple term used to describe activities or chat that is playful, intelligent and original.

Banter is intelligent. It is witty wordplay, a game of verbal jousting. Banter is also playful: it is harmless, fun and pleasant. Vast swathes of the “banter” that the gaping chancres of lad culture struggle to preserve fall completely short of both of these goals.

Banter and wit

Most of the population believe they are more intelligent than everyone else. Statistically, almost half of them must be wrong in varying degrees of magnitude. It is due to this effect that grunting nincompoops tend to believe that their banter is worthy of Shakespeare himself. Chances are, you are nowhere near that level of greatness. You would probably find your arse intellectually handed to you by Stephen Fry and wander off thinking you had won, because that’s how your brain is set up.

Be aware of this; be wise to the fact you are probably not as clever as you think you are. You will be less likely to defend your banter tooth and nail if you consider every word to pour from your mouth to be a fecund fountain of foetid faeces.

A rather useful heuristic for checking if your banter is in the slightest bit witty is to imagine a six year-old child saying it. If you are faced with an amusing mental image of a precocious child saying something incongruous, then you might be on to something. If that hypothetical child sounds right at home speaking what you believe to be a blistering comeback, you probably lack the art of banter and should accept defeat.

Playing safely

The point of play is that it is fun for all involved. In some scenarios, there can be a fine line between play and abuse, wherein one person is having fun while the other is not. Banter is one such scenario. Sex is another. We can learn rather a lot from how to play safely in a sexual context and apply these insights to our banter.

The key thing here is enthusiastic consent from all parties. Some people don’t like to banter. This is fine, and you shouldn’t inflict it on them: it doesn’t mean they lack a sense of humour. For those that do, some topics are likely to be off-limits. If your verbal sparring partner appears to be upset by one of your remarks, apologise. Again, they do not lack a sense of humour. You (probably) unintentionally upset them, and most decent human beings do not revel in hurting others.

In short, exercise sensitivity and don’t be a cunt. I cannot believe there are people out there who do not understand this very simple matter.

Topics to avoid

Let us remember that humour hinges on something unexpected. It is therefore completely unacceptable to drag everyday oppression into your banter. Avoid misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and class hatred, for example. People from oppressed groups experience derogatory language and treatment throughout their lives. It ceases to be funny fairly quickly.

In a few select instances, it may be all right to use such topics in your banter. In general, it tends to go down better when your jests are about oppression itself rather than the colour of your banter partner’s skin or their genitals, e.g. Ultimately, make sure it is all right with your banter-buddy. If it is not, then, once again, they are not at fault.

Public banter

The internet age has pulled banter from the parlours and pubs into the public domain. Other people are now party to your banter. Your banter may not take the form of a conversation at all, but a piece of writing. Even the conversations are visible if you are bantering through Facebook or Twitter. In this case, be super-mindful of all of the above. Perhaps the person you are tweeting at doesn’t mind you joking about rape. This does not mean that the whole world doesn’t mind you joking about rape: you may be called out on this by a complete stranger.

Once again, don’t be a dick. It is not their fault for being offended. Take this criticism with good grace.

Banter is an art, and it is one I would like to see survive. By not acting like a prick and by exercising intelligence, banter can be saved.

Christmas songs that can fuck off.

It has come to the time of year wherein we cannot leave the house without an aural assault of jingle-riddled festive musical tedium. While most are equally intolerable, some merit special mention for the implicit horrors they conceal. These are the Christmas songs that can fuck right off.

Rampant consumerism ahoy!

Capitalism has done a fine job of co-opting Christmas, turning it into a festival of panic-buying and receiving things you don’t really want. It is hardly surprising, then, that one of the most-covered traditional Christmas songs is The Twelve Days of Christmas. In this song, a person is given a series of increasingly ludicrous Christmas presents from a lover, presented through the medium of mind-numbing repetition. The nameless narrator of the song tells us nothing about their lover except that they buy a lot of presents. By the end of the song, the narrator has received 12 drummers drumming, 22 pipers piping, 30 lords a-leaping, 36 ladies dancing, 40 maids a-milking, 46 swans a-swimming, 42 geese a-laying, 35 gold rings, 32 calling birds, 30 French hens, 24 turtle doves and 12 partridges in pear trees. Implicit in this is that there must also be 40 cows to be milked, 46 small lakes for the swans to live in and at least 42 baby geese to soon be hatched. Quite where the narrator is going to keep all of the birds is not explored. Neither is it ever discussed that perhaps sending people as gifts might be slavery, or at the very least prostitution.

It’s immoral, it’s impractical, and it’s a vision of the future the capitalists would like to see. Its bastard lovechild is clearly visible in this godawful Littlewoods advert wherein a choir of children sing about how brilliant their mum is because she bought everyone presents.

Merry Christmas. Buy things. Debt is love.

A woman is left in a horrible, horrible relationship

Fairy Tale Of New York is the Christmas song it’s cool to say you like, because it’s kind of ironic, has a catchy Irish folky riff and Kirsty McColl died tragically early. It features bitter lyrics of a life of hardship and alcoholism, but ultimately, in some sort of Christmas miracle they arguing couple in the song realise that they love each other very much, right? Actually, not quite. Listen to the resolution of the song, at around 2.48. The woman laments that the man “took her dreams”. He replies that he kept them with him, made them his own and can’t possibly live life on his own.

Now, this would be all well and good if he wasn’t consistently portrayed as a complete and utter failure with verbally abusive tendencies. So that woman’s dream-eggs are stuck in a basket of piss, vinegar and toothless uselessness simply because the man won’t let her go. She never gets the chance to point this out, as it immediately becomes a matter of utmost urgency to report on the song choice of the New York Police Department and a bulletin on bell status. After this, we can only assume she overdoses on cocaine as white as Christmas snow, hollow-eyed on the tinsel-strewn rotting corpse of her lover.

Happy holidays!

Let me sing my privilege to the noble savages

Bono is an unmitigated cunt, and when people talk of “the good things he did”, often they refer to his charity work. Bono’s charity work includes the single Do They Know It’s Christmas, and therefore his unmitigated cunt status remains intact. This is a song in which a crowd of mostly white pop stars patronise an entire continent with startling factual inaccuracies.

Africa, as portrayed by the song, is a uniform desert populated entirely by starving people who need Middle England to ride in with their wallets and fix everything. There’s no snow in Africa, not even on top of mountains. There’s no rain, not even in the rich rainforests. There’s no rivers, not even the sodding Nile, the biggest bastard river in the world. The dear little noble savage Africans apparently don’t know it’s Christmas because Africa is such an insufferable shithole, not because many Africans probably couldn’t give two hoots about Christmas what with being Muslims.

It’s a terrible song, with a hefty dollop of misinformation. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it’s pretty fucking racist, and it seems to have pissed off a few people. Nothing says traditional Christmas spirit like a bit of casual racism with a sing-al0ng chorus.

The date rape song

Baby It’s Cold Outside is another song which can be categorised under “Christmas romance” and tells a tale even more chilling than that recounted in Fairy Tale Of New York.

It’s about rape. Straight-up, it is a song about rape.

A woman tries to leave a man’s house. He gives her a drink. It has some drugs in it. While still compos mentis enough to argue, the woman argues that she cannot stay, says “no” several times, lists people she knows who might be worried about her and again mentions that she cannot leave. We leave her having finally been forced to into sex with coercive tactics and drugs. We’re supposed to find this rape cute because it’s all Christmassy, and who wouldn’t want to be raped by charming crooner Dean Martin? Listen to the lyrics of the song and tell me it is not about that.

As it’s Christmas, I shall conjure up the happiest possible ending for the story. The next morning, the woman goes home. Her family enquire as to why she appears to be shaken and upset. She explains what happened, and her mother, sister and vicious maiden aunt are appalled. These women call round at Dean Martin’s house, just as he is about to pounce upon another trusting, drugged woman and intervene. They then chop off Dean Martin’s raping penis and use it as a Christmas tree ornament. Everyone is very lucky in getting away with this cathartically criminal act, as the police are currently occupied with singing Galway Bay over the frozen husks of a pair of addicts. With support, Dean Martin’s victims find themselves able to move forward from the incident and engage in community activism to try to build a world without rape.

That’s the happiest possible ending, and we still have at least one rape in it. Fills the heart with Christmas cheer, that does.

The song that is surprisingly awesome

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is a song which is intensely, intensely irritating. In all honesty, I would be happy if I never heard it ever again. The thing is, it has a surprisingly positive poly message hidden deep inside all of the twee faux-childish awe: the kid doesn’t give a shit that Mommy is necking with Father Christmas. In fact, the kid expresses dismay that Daddy can’t see the happy occasion.

Of course, Santa is Daddy, but the kid doesn’t know this. The kid is completely cool with Mommy playing with other people, and seems to think Daddy would be too. It is a glimpse at a non-conventional family set up which, for a twelfth of the year, gets played on loop. May the message one day sink in so we never have to hear that godawful song again.

Those are some of the worst, but let’s be straight here: all Christmas songs can fuck off.

In which I post an inspirational quote

I’m not usually one to post inspirational quotes; this isn’t fucking Tumblr after all. This is a quote which eloquently words something which I have struggled with wording.

But the evil of pinning faith to indirect action is far greater than any such minor results. The main evil is that it destroys initiative, quenches the individual rebellious spirit, teaches people to rely on someone else to do for them what they should do for themselves; finally renders organic the anomalous idea that by massing supineness together until a majority is acquired, then through the peculiar magic of that majority, this supineness is to be transformed into energy. That is, people who have lost the habit of striking for themselves as individuals, who have submitted to every injustice while waiting for the majority to grow, are going to become metamorphosed into human high-explosives by a mere process of packing!

The quote comes from “Direct Action” by Voltairine de Cleyre, an anarchist, theorist and feminist from the late 19th/early 20th century. It’s well worth reading the entire piece, there’s a really entertaining bit where she talks about strikes (“now, everybody knows that a strike of any size means violence…”), which shows just how disempowered our unions have become. She also wrote some marvellous tirades against marriage, such as “Sex Slavery“, which you should all go and read right now.

Now for your regularly scheduled somewhat angry ranting.

How to oppress men a little more effectively: what we can learn from fish

I’m a feminist, and so I absolutely hate men and want to do everything I can to oppress them. Feminism is, after all, about female superiority and completely ignoring the men. It’s true! Everyone says it! I want to make sure that we women absolutely demonstrate how we are better than men and herald in a new dawn of women’s supremacy.

The thing is, we’ve stalled. We need inspiration. It’s not enough that we oppress men by fighting for equal pay and bodily autonomy and generally wanting to carve our own paths in life and find ourselves on equal footing with the men. Our demands aren’t unreasonable enough yet. We need to oppress harder, damn it.

Evolutionary psychology often looks at animal behaviour and compares it with humans. I decided, in my quest to stomp my Doc Marten on the face of men forever, that I would do the same. I took inspiration from fish.

Seahorses are brilliant. The male seahorses are the ones that get pregnant. One of the biggest things standing in the way of female supremacy is the fact that sometimes we find ourselves knocked up, and we fancy carrying the foetus to term just so that the man–sorry, spunk hose–can spend the rest of his darling life paying child support. Other times, those spite abortions that we have are time-consuming. At any rate, wouldn’t it be better if it was the men who get pregnant?

Seahorse culture is like a feminist utopia. While the male is at home, bare-tailed and pregnant, the female is CEO at Coral Towers. It’s perfect! This is exactly what we as feminists want! We’re finally in our rightful places, on top of men. The men wouldn’t mind at all, either. They’d know the kids were theirs. Because men have been doing a spectacularly poor job at getting pregnant so far, we women have had to do it, and because we’re all sluts, the bloke we dupe into paying for our kids probably isn’t the real father. I’m sure this probably makes them feel sad, so I’m sure they’d be very happy about getting pregnant.

But perhaps we don’t want men to be happy, right, sisters? We’re better than them, who gives a fuck what they think about us? Really, men are only good for one thing.

The fish pictured above is an angler fish. The thing is, that’s a female angler fish. Male angler fish look kind of different. This is what a fully-grown male angler fish looks like. Like human men, he is a pathetic and tiny parasite. The male clamps on to the side of the female, and slowly becomes a part of her. Gradually, he is absorbed into the female angler fish until he becomes nothing but a spunking cock and balls welded to her side.

Isn’t that just brilliant? The female angler fish doesn’t need to bother with listening to any of his whining, she just has the relevant bits of him on hand, whenever she needs it. We feminists could learn a lot from this. Also, we would be even better at asserting our superiority if we looked a bit more like angler fish. I’m an advanced feminist, of course. My vagina already boasts a set of teeth that could rival the most brilliant of angler fish. To my feminist sisters, when you hate men as much as I do, you, too, will grow a row of sparklers in your nether regions.

That’s still not enough though, is it ladies? I mean, that spunking cock welded to your side is eating your food! What an ungrateful little bastard. Perhaps, then, we should have a special someone over for dinner…

In some species of octopus, the women eat their mates. That’s right! Like praying mantises, female octopodes sometimes eat male octopodes, during or immediately after sex. That’s because sex is hungry work. Also, once they’ve blown their load, is there really any point to men? I applaud the female octopus. She has shown us the way.

But what of we feminists? We’re doing pretty well, but unfortunately we’ve still not fully assimilated into the Hive Vagina. We’re still not quite there yet. Although a lot of people think us a homogeneous mass, there’s still some traces of individualism among our ranks.

Here, we can learn from the fish once again.

A lot of fish swim in shoals. This really confuses predators: myriad upon myriad of identical fish, they find it impossible to pick out their prey and get confused and swim off. We feminists could do well to learn from it. Imagine how much easier we’d find it to shut down debate if we fully assimilated into a swarm like so many fish do.

If we take tips from fish, we as feminists can do a far better job of oppressing men. Right now, we’re just not good enough. We’re not even equal yet. How can we achieve female supremacy if we still find ourselves oppressed by men?

Simple. We swarm and eat their heads.


An incitement to anarchy

This story has taught me that “incitement” entails commenting on something that has already happened and suggesting that expansion of such behaviour would not have entirely negative consequences. I hereby incite anarchism.

I think if more than one person is waiting for something, they should form a queue, with those who arrived first at the front of the queue. When this happens, it is fair and a very effective way of doing things.

I think that if you have too much dinner on your plate, and your friend is still hungry, you should give them the rest of your dinner rather than throwing it away. That way, no food gets wasted and both of you get to eat until you’re comfortably full.

I think everyone should treat other people as human beings rather than as a skin colour or what you think their genitals look like or as a slave or master. The world would be nicer that way.

I think that people should place far less trust than they do in the things the media and other authorities tell them. Knowledge should be a personal quest for all people, not just absorption of party lines. We might all be able to make better decisions that way.

I think that patriarchy and kyriarchy and the class system and racism and ableism and homophobia and transphobia and all forms of oppression are harmful to all of us. I think we could do better without those systems.

I think that imposed order in the form of religion, the state and capitalism are harmful to all of us and drive oppression. I think we could do better without these artificial structures.

I think that people should be able to take action with which they are comfortable to take apart artificial structures of oppression. This action can take any form they see to be right, provided their actions do not harm another person. I think that it is absolutely right that people strive to heal the world by any means necessary.

This is an incitement to anarchy. Such incitement is, according to our crooked judicial system, punishable by draconian, disproportionate penalties. This is but one more reason why I believe anarchy to be far less dangerous than the current system.

Is my body too feminist for you, babe?

Some vintage bollocks from Beyonce. Reality does not appear to work the same way for her as it does for the rest of us, and so it is impossible to be angry about any of it.

First of all, according to Beyonce, she sparked an uprising in Egypt. This uprising consisted of some women singing along with a pop song. While wearing burkas, but somehow, with X-Ray vision, Bey could see their mouths moving.

After bringing a peaceful gender revolution to the Middle East, Beyonce goes on to say something even more baffling:

‘I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like bootylicious.’

Beyonce and Sasha Fierce have laid down an edict. We must rebrand immediately. We are no longer feminists. We are bootylicious. I am anarcha bootylicious, though inspired by radical bootylicious ideas. I reject Beyonce’s bootyliciousness because it comes from a very privileged perspective. Likewise, Mediocre Dave finds Germaine Greer’s bootyliciousness problematic in our modern age.

Perhaps this rebranding can work on other areas of thought. I suspect Beyonce would be delighted if we changed socialism to “to the left, to the left.” StarbarMurray suggests we can apply this rationale to other areas, such as changing Thatcherism to Nasty Girl.

Basically, the whole thing is too silly to be angry about. The comment thread is open for discussion of the finer points of bootylicious theory.

Readability and the spread of ideas

Reading this anarchist communique gave me a lot to think about:

Confronted with those who refuse to recognize themselves in our orgies of destruction, we offer neither sympathy nor dialogue but only our scorn. It is necessary to commence for once and for all; not to dream of new ways to organize, but to make manifest the subterranean communes in the heart of each c-clamped pushbar. We must reject all mobilization—in secret. In the realization of zones of offensive capacity, we destroy those who would have us give up the singular ecstasy of rupture for the misery of impotentiality.

Isn’t it amazing? It really explains everything so beautifully, and–fine. It was created with a generator, though to my eyes, it is indistinguishable from the real thing.

There is a lot of literature from feminists, anarchists, theorists and combinations of the above that I simply cannot follow. I do not think that I am stupid. I do not think that I am too poorly-read and dull-witted to comprehend the intricacies of such pieces. I think they might be badly written.

Coming from a science background, it was beaten into me that good writing was something that anyone could understand–one lays out one’s points clearly. People can then act upon the points, understanding what has been written. While learning to write, I was taught that clarity was crucial, and that if something was written densely, the fog of long words and impenetrable prose was probably hiding a distinct lack of a point. So I am naturally wary of anything which is not easy to immediately understand.

Most of what is written in opaque prose probably does have good points and good ideas concealed within. The problem is, it is difficult to find what it is supposed to mean. And from that, it is difficult to act upon what is being said. Feminists and anarchists have long been accused of academic elitism. This is of course the case when half of our engagement with people is so unreadable.

I suggested the other day that we should stop worrying about what the mainstream media thinks of us, and that to counter this we need better propaganda. When our propaganda is so throughly arcane, how can it propagate?

Beyond the dense academic prose, two other problems often occur in literature and discussion in spreading ideas. First is gross oversimplification. This is, quite simply, insufficient for communication. The other problem is an excess of managerial language.

Adam Curtis argued that this shift was due to internalisation of neoliberal thought–that we became managers of a revolution. I would suggest, though, that at least some of it is a reaction to the use of florid academia in communication: at face value, managerial language is more readable, as it uses shorter, more common words. However, it is just as easy to disguise a distinct lack of point in jargonish manager-speak as it is to hide behind a barrage of long words. There is also the fact that it is much easier to communicate process rather than ideas in managerial language.

We are therefore largely stuck with business waffle communicating process, and impenetrable waffle communicating ideas, or a horribly simplified piece of writing which can communicate neither process nor ideas.

There are alternatives, though. It is perfectly easy to spread ideas and propose methods without falling into any of the above traps: speak plainly and clearly. These anarchist communiques showcase nicely how such a thing can be achieved. They lay out arguments about wage labour coherently, without losing anything to oversimplification. It is a complex message which is made easy to understand. It is the sort of communication which needs to happen more often.

I do not think this is a big ask. Better writing costs nothing intellectually, and has the potential to make a big difference.

I ask, clearly and concisely: write what you mean.