This was a mistake. Instead of revising for my remaining exams, I spent most of my time stalking kids from my primary school on my dad's 1995 IBM netbook. Like most Facebook creepers, I wanted to see if they'd been more successful than me in those ensuing years of separation. In hindsight, had they fuck. But there was one boy whose early forays on the social network impressed me and have stuck with me to this day. Not because of his preference for button-ups over black hoodies, Buble over Blink-182 or boarding school over bong rips. But because every photo album he uploaded had the word 'banter' in the name: 'Christmas banter'. 'Hockey banter in Cheem'. 'Cheeky banter in Cowes with the Riot Club' and so on.
I knew this word but that wasn't what it meant. There was no evidence of him engaging in light-hearted conversation with anyone, just photo after photo of him wearing collared shirts, drinking champagne that was probably his and conducting drunken 'japes' with young teenagers who somehow managed to look like old Ben Fogles.
Banter had changed. What was once a descriptor of casual social interaction was now in the process of mutating. It was becoming a term for general mischief, but the mischief enacted by an altogether more well-to-do sect. This meant that guys like my Facebook chum could dismiss even the most egregious acts as mere banter, as any consequence could be dealt with in cash and the cachet of a private education.
But like Burberry and cocaine, normal people wanted in on this trapping of the upper classes, and soon everyone was justifying their terrible actions with the newly defined word. Everything was fair game and to think otherwise made you weird. As a result, banter was now akin to coercion. Livers were pummeled by dirty pints because refusing them would alienate you from your prospective teammates. Freshers grinned in the face of insults because complaining was now a social mark of cain in a situation where they were trying to be more social than ever. Girls, in clubs, in pubs, in lecture halls, probably endured more shit than I can even list because of banter.
A pal sent me a headline from the Mirror today that suggests we may have finally reached a nadir. A 25-year-old man called Michael Haigh had killed his friend in an apparent hit and run. He claims it was 'just banter.' They were messing about in a way that only true banter merchants will recognise: Pretending to drive a Jeep into each other. When Michael accidently hit his pal, killing him, he drove away, unable to stand the site of his dead mate.
I guess it's not banter if you can't tell them it is afterwards!