It is very easy to romanticise the past.
Not that I could ever be accused of that.
Alright, fine…almost everything I write here is a love letter to a past that, probably, never existed. I’m not sorry. I am not writing history. I am writing my story. Like most everyone in the world my life, stripped of the romantic blandishments and hyperbole would be, well, terribly and terrifyingly dull.
There was sunshine.
But there were also clouds…dark clouds.
Recently a podcast looking at the top fifty Britpop albums has arrived and it includes the word “banter” in its title. The two hosts take a lighthearted look back over all sorts of British pop music from the nineties and, along the way, attempt to inject a touch of humour into things. It’s not a podcast about Britpop and their choice of records doesn’t fit the fairly clear timeline of the era but, Hell, they have got their act together and made a podcast…hats off.
The use of the word “banter” set my little mind to thinking.
Banter wasn’t a “thing” during the nineties.
It is culturally inappropriate to use it when referencing the era.
Admittedly its etymology takes us back several hundreds of years but, honestly, nobody was talking about “banter” in the nineties.
Not even Baddiel and Skinner on “Fantasy Football” were using it.
It is a phrase that is loaded, possibly “Loaded”, with very negative connotations. Often it is used to excuse mean, lurid, sexist, racist and homophobic abuse…”What’s your problem? It’s just a bit of banter.” cry the boors at the table next to you in the pub after a torrent of vulgar remarks about various women in the room.
I know there is a more “playful” use of the word.
Truthfully though it is the language of the lad.
That’s not a good thing.
Laddism is awful.
It is an attempt to excuse the inexcusable by deploying the magical cloak of comedy.
Sadly, much of the “inexcusable” was at the forefront of much of what was going on during the Britpop era.
“I hate that Alex and Damon, I hope they catch AIDS and die.”
You can blame the cocaine.
You can blame the booze.
What you can’t do is ignore the fact that a hideous remark like that isn’t “banter”…not in the playful sense.
It is, possibly, the peak lad moment…when the uglier side of rivalry descends into something much darker and much more unpleasant than “banter”.
Or maybe the real low point of lad culture in the nineties was the video for “Country House”? It features Keith Allen who is, if we are being kind, not very nice…
“He seduced a lot of women, among them Dawn French (pre-Lenny Henry) and the actress Julia Sawalha (post-Absolutely Fabulous), and has no qualms about reprinting the more intimate details of these liaisons. Have they been bothered by that? “No, not at all. It’s not that important.” But what if they valued their privacy? “Well, maybe they should move on and think about something else.”
(Keith Allen: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, Byrony Gordon, The Telegraph)
It also features a “bevvy” of mini-skirt clad young women being chased around a giant board game in images not seen since Benny Hill was in his pomp. You can shout “ironic” as loud as you want, or even “banter”, but it’s just ugly sexism…laddism.
Then there was “Loaded” magazine.
Essentially “Playboy” for the nineties generation.
Taking the worst aspects of tabloid culture…page three, booze culture and football hooliganism and wrapping it all up in shiny paper and “banter”.
What about the attitude of the music press to the “female fronted bands”?
Read “Just For One Day” by Louise Wener and pay close attention to how she describes her encounters with journalists…the demands put on her by photographers and record company types…the casual sexism of the questions she is asked…the lurid suggestions for photo shoots. It doesn’t make for entertaining reading…and it sure as Hell wasn’t “banter”.
What Britpop managed to do though, despite these missteps, was to introduce voices into the mainstream who would, slowly, change the way things were viewed and discussed. No matter what The Guardian would have you believe, Britpop was a varied and vastly more representative pop culture movement/moment than most that had come before. Louise Wener, Justine Frischmann, Sonya Madan, Lauren Laverne, Cerys Matthews, Skin, Anjali Bhatia, Tjinder Singh, Gary Cosby, Debbie Smith and others pushed women, LGBT voices and people of colour into the previously anodyne world of “indie”. Voices that had been conspicuous by their absence prior to this point.
The fact that some people chose to ignore those voices and turned up at Manics concerts in ill fitting Burberry shirts only so they could throw half full pint glasses into the crowd when JDB sang “We only want to get drunk” isn’t the fault of Britpop…it’s the fault of the dangerous ideology of “banter” or “laddism”.
Quite what those same people thought of Jarvis Cocker with his waif like frame throwing angular shapes across the Top of the Pops stage or Brett Anderson at the Brits is anyone’s guess. Actually we don’t need to guess…we know.
It is difficult to look back on a time in your life that brought you so much happiness with a critical eye but you cannot tackle the waves of Guardianista, hyper-sensitive, critical theory, criticisms unless you are prepared to be more honest and nuanced about things than they are.
Britpop didn’t lay the foundations for Blair or Brexit.
Britpop wasn’t xenophobic or racist.
Britpop wasn’t about wilfully embracing nationalism or jingoism.
Britpop wasn’t sexist.
Britpop had moments of sexism.
Britpop flirted with jingoism.
Britpop dragged in knuckle-draggers.
But, crucially, Britpop was a celebration of hope…a time for looking forwards while looking backwards…a rejection of nihilism…the embrace of fluff and nonsense…smiles and styles…girls and boys…dreaming and scheming.