21 April 2012

The Rise and Fall of UniLad, or What the Fuck Banter Even Is

Obviously there's going to be rape jokes in this post. If you don't want to read them but are still curious about the rest, you might want to skip to the end.

Ok so Stavvers has had a already poked it with a stick, in a littery-crittery but-is-it-art kind of way. Eva Wiseman wonders
Why does banter exist? Why do men joke like this? Laugh at things that you're not meant to laugh at – insult each other, test their hetero skills? Are they taking the piss out of their own intimacy? Their very manliness? Is banter the act of whispering "IDon'tFancyYouIDon'tFancyYou" with your eyes?
To which the answer is "not exactly but pretty much yeah sort of".

We've all engaged in banter-related activity. We've all shown affection to people by winding them up - by taking the piss out of their favourite team/band/Russian novelist, by humming songs you know they hate, by drawing attention to their negative qualities, by randomly showing them a picture of Slavoj Žižek wiggling his tongue erotically when they're trying to eat, things like that. And this kind of banter is a useful, upside-down social ritual. Hugs and handshakes can be insincere. Banter can't. Banter shows three things:
  • You are aware of your friend/teammate/lover's faults and weaknesses.
  • You know them well enough to annoy them, so can judge their soft limits.
  • You know and care about them well enough to stop short of offending them, so can judge and respect their hard limits.
Combined, you get a practical demonstration that you are well aware of the things that make them insecure, and respect them nonetheless. This is particularly important among LADs, Real Men™ and other such heterosexuals, because, as we know, if you say "I know your flaws and I respect you in spite of them" to another man directly, you might as well slip a finger up his arse and whisper "I love you. Yes homo."

UniLad fanboys though, can't do this right. At least, not to women. I'm going to be generous and say they probably are pretty good at respectfully judging hard and soft limits among themselves. They're also very good at cowering before the spectre of homoerotic desire. But with women and feminists, they can only do two of the three things. Clearly, they've found some flaws in women and feminists. And they seem to have done quite well at pissing women and feminists off. But they show no respect whatsoever and are quite obviously utterly clueless at judging their boundaries. The purpose of banter is to be handled, so if someone can't handle the banter, it's stopped being banter. This is not banter. This is not playful. This is not safe and under controlled conditions. This is an outright attack, targeted specifically at perceived vulnerabilities, pretending to be a game.

Which, unless you want to skip to the end, brings me to the rape jokes. First off, I think we focus far too much on what UniLad LADs say about rape. They deserve substantial credit for their attitude to consensual sex because, as you'll see if you read any of their articles, when UniLad LADs have sex, they pretty much ALWAYS win. How amazing is that? When they're good at sex they are ACTUALLY ZEUS HIMSELF. When they get sucked off they debase the mouth-provider in hilarious ways. Their sex lives involve Batman-punching noises like POW!, BOSH!, and KA-DOGGY-STYLE! Even when the woman is so hairy he doesn't even get laid, the joke's on her because UniLad LAD has a wank. Suck that feminists.

The reason UniLad LADs need a meat-hook or Captain-Birdseye chainsaw or whatever to get it up, the reason they can't have sex with a vagina but only with an anus or gash, the reason they can't just enjoy the sensation of a woman's lips and tongue caressing their erect penis unless she's somehow degraded by it is because they're fucking terrified. Maybe even rightly so. Rejection hurts. Affection leaves you vulnerable. Erotic thoughts are fucking frustrating when you've no chance of acting them out on the horizon. 'Woman' is a serious word. 'Wench' is silly, consciously silly, so through humour, you can distance yourself from the thought of sex while pretending to be a pirate. Haha! Arrrr! Having sex with a woman involves mutual pleasure, tension and release, skin on skin and the warmth of another human body. Destroying a wench involves transforming into a 14-megaton cock-missile that shoots up her clunge-hole and explodes her into fragments of sneaking-out-the-next-morning banter-fuel. It's just easier to think about sex this way if you're not having any. Plus if you feel too much fondness for a wench you might end up gay.

I've made a list of what I think the types are, and LibCom (compulsory reading - go and do it now) analyses jokes in terms of telling two different stories - the first story builds your expectations of what it was the chicken wanted on the other side of the road, the second tells you only that it wanted to be there. This is flawed on three counts though. Firstly, though jokes that only have one story are only shocking because they break social convention, breaking taboos under controlled conditions isn't necessarily antisocial and actually helps establish them. Secondly, there isn't a clear dividing line between one-story and two-story jokes. Thirdly, all of the rape jokes in the offending post were two-story jobbies.

The main one - and bear with me on this - I actually agree with:
If the girl you’ve taken for a drink…won’t ‘spread for your head,’ think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.
The story-switching trick actually happens twice here. It switches from a story about what you should do - seduce a wench - to what you shouldn't do - rape her. This is a Going-Too-Far Rape Joke - while clearly women have no sexual agency and are only there for you to win shags from, to take this attitude to its logical conclusion is a no-no. Then it switches from a story about how serious the underreporting of rape is, which it is, to one, told from the perspective of a rapist, about how the terrifying number of unreported rapes actually encourages rape. Well fuck it, that's what feminists have been saying for years. This is a Rape!-LOL! Rape Joke - just playing off the shock value of mixing rape and humour - but it's also quite a sophisticated Unreasonable Sick Joke, showing - absurdly - the incentive that low conviction rates give to rapists as a carefully calculated thought process.

This leaves them in something of a pickle. One one hand, they've just said something serious and actually rather disturbing about rape. On the other they might have slightly advised their readership to go out and rape women. So:
Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’
The two-stories trick lets them kill two birds with one stone. The first story is a disclaimer so as to squirm out of having told their readers to commit sexual assault, the second story is a joke, shitting on every serious statement they have previously made including the bit about not raping people, so as to squirm out of having made a serious apology.

For the joke they had to plunder the classics:
It's not rape if you shout "surprise!" Then it's legally classified as "surprise sex".
The first story is the famous pro-rape gambit of limiting what counts as rape, so you can continue to be appalled by rape, while being in favour of an awful lot of variants of it. You expect a serious "it's not rape if…". The second story is something silly that doesn't even make sense to rape apologists. This is an Unthinkable, Ridiculous-Idea Rape Joke.

But then, as soon as their non-apology goes up, this switches from a two-story joke to a one-story joke. Because pretty much every fuckwit who commented rolled out the same joke. Some of them thought of better or more original ones, but essentially they're all telling the same joke: Feminists don't want us to be offensive so we will be offensive to feminists. This is basically the least sophisticated of rape jokes, the Rape-Joke-In-Front-of-a-Feminist Rape Joke. And they're all telling it.

Some one-story jokes, as I said, make legitimate points. Even the plain shock-value rape joke defamiliarises rape, and reminds the listener that rape is really fucking awful. Though the vast majority of rape jokes by UniLad LADs implicitly recognised that rape is bad, the problem is that their working definition is by a stranger, who knows what he's doing is rape - which is only true of a very small proportion. And, obviously, there are certain people who might not enjoy a shock reminder of how awful rape is. The Rape-Joke-in-Front-of-a-Feminist Rape Joke has much nastier implications. The taboo it breaks/establishes is still rape, but not because rape is bad in itself, but because killjoy feminists say you're not allowed.

Offensive or over-the-top jokes aren't exclusive to LADs and rape. The Left is quite partial to jokes* about Gulags, eating the rich and SCUM manifestos, not because we're actually planning them, but because we feel the need to establish them as taboos. Likewise FULL COMMUNISM NOW: while it it's not a moral boundary like shooting Andy Warhol, FULL COMMUNISM, in practice, could take up to a decade to implement. Some jokes break taboos of practicality as well as morality, though this tends to be both less common, less funny and less smug.

What I found interesting was the sheer amount of effort UniLad LADs' attempts at banter involve. Being a LAD seems to be a constant battle, with flippant, repetitive humour as the only weapon, against confronting all kinds of things. The emotional bonds between them, the possibility of forming emotional bonds with women that they're fucking, women being sexual beings in their own right, the horror of rape and also the fact that it's the logical culmination of their attitude to sex, all of these need to be covered up. The jokes FHM prints under naked ladies aren't meant to be funny, but a stern warning not to take your erection seriously, in case you realise you've just bought a jazz mag for people who are too embarrassed to buy jazz mags.

Rape banter is the same. Shit jokes, violent analogies and straight-up objectification allow LADs to read UniLad's erotic fiction while pretending that they're not reading erotic fiction, to share their sexual fantasies while pretending that they're not sharing their sexual fantasies. Joking about rape not only hides their downright rapey attitude to sex, it sets a limit, as a reminder not to let it spill over into actual rape. But by joking almost exclusively about Classic Rape™ and drug rape, this limit still allows for an awful lot of non-consensual sex, while neatly separating it from rape. These jokes help UniLad LADs avoid committing a very narrow and relatively rare form of rape while treating their basic attitudes to sex and women as harmless. Seeing sex as violence and women as fuckmeat is ok in principle, but rape is, in the exact words of UniLad's apology, taking it too far.

Edit: *Wink

Disclaimer: Linkshund does not condone gulags, eating the rich or the SCUM manifesto.

Disclaimer for the Disclaimer: He does really. LOL.

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