A York man has been ordered to sign the sex offender's register, complete a 12-month community order with 200 hours unpaid work and pay £750 in compensation and £250 costs because he pulled down a ginger guy's trousers in a pub garden to see what colour his pubes were.
i. Pulling someone's trousers down in a pub garden to see what colour their pubes are – especially when this action is done immediately after pointing to the ginger hair on their head and then going "is that your natural colour?" and then searching in their pubes for truth – is not funny. It is deeply humiliating, especially when the ginger pube-haver is only 19 year old. Nineteen is a frail time: you are at once occupying a slender but grown adult body, but the mind hasn't caught up – you are excited for life but afraid of it at the same time; every touch is electricity, every second is a moment of dawning potential, everything is pulling you into adulthood and away from the yearning of adolescence. You are both sure and unsure, brave and afraid, a baby calf tentatively making its first steps – and so, generally, it is the exact worst time to have your trousers pulled down and your pubes flopped out in front of everyone in a pub garden. With one caveat:
ii. It's also extremely funny.
So you see the conundrum. On the one hand: not funny. On the other hand: very funny. I mean, let's look at the evidence:
— The court heard that the victim was "angry and upset" by the actions (obviously) and that the landlord and landlady later noticed him crying, so we can definitely put those actions in the "Not Funny" category;
— Immediately after what we will now legally refer to as The Pantsing, the victim re-pantsed himself and sat down to avoid further embarrassment / pantsing, which again, if you think of it as having just happened to you is very much Not Funny still;
— The perpetrator clearly knew the severity of his crime because he repeatedly tried to apologise to the trouserless victim on the night in question, so even he knew it was Not Funny;
— But it's also extremely funny.
We just keep coming round to this! Is it juvenile? Yes. Is it humiliating? Yes. Is it extremely funny? Also yes! And so we must come to an uneasy conclusion: the law does not account for banter.
I am invoking the B-word here because, when interviewed, that's exactly what the Pantser said re: the attack on the Pantsee. "It was banter," he said. "Nothing sexual." Can banter be sexual? It cannot. Can a pantsing be sexual? Not in my experience, but I'm sure there are niche forums. Can banter lead to an order to sign the sex offender's register? Apparently yes. So we're in a murky grey area where, basically, banter is illegal. Humiliating banter is illegal.
It's hard to know how to feel about this whole thing. A lot of this year has been about banter – the pursuit of, the definition of, declaring it over or peaked, banter as a language, banter as discourse, banter banter banter – and in many ways it feels like outlawing it would be a step in the right direction. Maybe we all need a year off of banter, a hard reset. Maybe that's what's just happened, in a court in York: that banter has been declared a crime, and we all need to think very hard about our bants or bantings, and that this is the start of a new era of banter: calm, controlled, nobody's pubes being exposed, in strict accordance with the law. In many respects: thank you, York Trouser Prankster. Thank you for taking the hit that banter as a universal concept so desperately needed.
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