Beheading the Archbishop of Banterbury with the righteous sword of shouty, poetic activism

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Week in Banter: Clarkson, Cameron, drag

And so, having only written the introduction to this show less than a week ago, I find myself having to edit it. The BBC has finally decided not to let Jeremy Clarkson get away with something.

The news filled me with a mixture of joy and anxiety. Obviously, I'm happy to see the man who is practically the human incarnation of Banter Culture finally forced to face the consequences of his boorish bloviating; but a story needs a strong villain. Clarkson isn't the focus of my show - but if his ouster represents a trend towards finally holding the banterers to account, am I going to find myself flogging a moribund mare by the time I get to Edinburgh? I don't want to come across as someone delivering the last kicks to a twitching, barely-conscious enemy in addressing the Banterin' Menace...

But then, the Banterer-in-Chief is still at large. David Cameron promised this week that, if he secures a second term as Prime Minister, he won't seek a third one - presumably because by that point, his mission of turning large parts of Britain into a third world country will finally have been achieved. Many of Shiny Dave's defenders predictably became lachrymose at the prospect of the end of this era. I, personally, will remember Cameron for sneering 'calm down, dear' at a female MP, snidely telling another that she was 'frustrated',  and generally behaving like a bullying blowhard for his entire ill-gotten term in office. Little wonder that Dave was among those defending his mate Jeremy for punching a co-worker. Then again, Cameron has reason to be grateful to Clarkson, who lent his voice to the disgraceful disability bullying which served to undermine his predecessor at Number 10.

Finally this week, we had a reminder that Banter Culture finds its way into places where you might not expect it, when National Union of Students motions condemning drag performers for cultural appropriation and transmisogyny came to the attention of the gay media. I find myself in the position of agreeing with the spirit of these motions, while also thinking the way the motions have been phrased is deeply problematic. The fact is that, as much as fans of drag (and most of the drag fans I've met are very definitely white, cis gay men) may not like it, there are forms of drag which are racist, transphobic and misogynist. Equally, there are progressive forms of drag, and there are trans people who use cross-dressing as a way of exploring gender before coming out as trans. It isn't as simple as 'drag BAD, trans GOOD'.

So the motions are kind of a mess, but the way Gay Star News covered this issue isn't just messy - it stinks. For one thing, if I were subbing Joe Morgan's article, the bit about the NUS passing 'plenty of motions', ho ho ho, would have been struck from the piece. We get the joke - 'passing motions' is a euphemism for doing a big smelly poopy-poo! That's the sort of joke everyone makes on the morning of their first conference, and gets sick of hearing by lunchtime. But there's also the very lazy, slanted attempt to link the anti-drag motions to the earlier guidance that conference delegates use 'jazz hands' as applause, rather than clapping and cheering. Whatever your view of this policy it has no relevance to the drag motions - it's mentioned purely to make the NUS delegates sound silly. We've been here before - this is a 'those crazy FEMINISTS!' story worthy of the Sun back in the 1980s, when they were making up stuff about kids singing 'baa baa rainbow sheep' - and gay people being the only folks who caught AIDS. As someone who used to work in the LGBT media, I have to say that I think we owe it to ourselves to do better than this.

How is this relevant to my show? Well, because it's representative of a reaction I often see in LGBT media when someone addresses drag and its discontents. As I say, there is, it seems to me, a progressive kind of drag, but there's also a form of drag which appropriates black culture, mocks women, and glories in the use of transmisogynistic slurs. But when anyone brings up these aspects of drag, too often the reaction is not to think about what drag does do right, and how it might be made better - it's to tell the critic that they need to loosen up because it's, well, just banter. It's difficult for us, as LGBT people, to think that we may sometimes be guilty of the same kind of BS as a vociferous Clarksophile - but it happens, all the same.

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