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Dapper Laughs and ‘sexism as satire’

So Dapper Laughs is dead – he announced as much on Newsnight, wearing funereal black, with his face shorn like a sacrificial lamb. I don’t think many of the people who watch Newsnight knew who Dapper Laughs was before this point. He has certainly attracted more notoriety in death than he did before he retired the character.

Personally, I’d read a couple of Vice articles in the summer, but didn’t give him any extra thought till I saw the petition: ‘Cancel “Dapper Laughs: On The Pull” on ITV’. I’d heard he was a Vine star, a new media icon, and ‘the new breed of British tosser’. I’d somehow failed to realise that his tosserdom had been rewarded with a TV platform.

But no, since September Dapper Laughs has had a regular slot on ITV2. Otherwise known as Daniel O’Reilly, this Clapham-based cliché made his name through some Key Stage Three style buffoonery, most of it pitched at about the same level as a whoopee cushion.

There was something here, however, that went beyond ‘your mum’ jokes. There were the Six Second Sex Secrets such as “But how do you know if she’s interested? It’s easy, there’s one thing you’ve got to do. Just show her your penis. If she cries, she’s just playing hard to get”. And the light dusting of homophobia, like the Vine involving a left-turn sign and a banana.

For the TV show, the six-second format was extended to a full 20 minutes, in which Dapper helps a hapless guy (in one case a girl) improve their skills with the opposite sex. I say ‘helps’ and I say ‘skills’, though I guess it depends on whether you think asking his mentees crude questions about their sex lives is helpful, and yelling “she knows” at random women is skillful. While the more anarchic parts of his comedy have been toned down for a TV audience, it’s certainly not to everyone’s tastes.

According to the petition:

“O’Reilly’s attitudes towards women, and ITV’s backing in particular, are far from harmless: because ITV has granted O’Reilly the massive exposure and credibility of its platform, everyday sexism is being normalised for both young men and women.

It is time for ITV to follow its own responsibility policy and recognise that it has a duty not to aid the spread of sexism as seen in “Dapper Laughs: On The Pull”.  This insight should lead ITV to end their affiliation with Mr O’Reilly and not commission a 2nd series. Further, all future content decisions should be reviewed on a similar basis.”

Well, something worked, whether it was the petition, the Twitter furore, or the fallout from the rape jokes in his live show. The show was not renewed for a second series, and his upcoming tour and Christmas single were cancelled.

O’Reilly duly appeared on Newsnight to be eviscerated by Emily Maitlis. I felt almost sorry for the guy as he tried to pass off the rape jokes as ‘satire’. “They were laughing at the fact that I was laughing at people thinking that I’m trying to incite rape,” he told Maitlis, a sentence which takes longer to parse than it does to watch an entire compilation of his Vine clips.

Now, Ali G is satire. Ali G is satire because, through embodying an outrageous persona and exposing people’s reactions, Sacha Baron-Cohen was taking aim at their underlying bigotry. Dapper Laughs is not satire because, although he embodies an outrageous persona, this appears to be little more than a megaphone for his own views. He is trying to win laughs from fans who, to some extent and probably less boldly, hold those opinions themselves.

Take these three exchanges from his show:

1) Dapper Laughs: “Where would you put her, on a scale of one to ten?”

Impressionable Young Casanova: “What, based on looks?”

DL: “You’re not going to shag her personality, are you Faris?”

2) DL: “You should listen to what women are saying. This is where a lot of men go wrong. And the best thing about listening to what a woman says is it gives you stuff to talk about.”

IYC: “But you’re not actually listening to pay attention to their lives, it’s just to use to make them think you’re interested.”

DL: “When you say it like that it seems horrible, but yeah.”

3) DL: “So that laughter, that banter, between you lads, do the same with the girls. What you’ve got to imagine, in the straightest way possible, when you’re talking to them this evening, pretend that they have penises.”

IYC: “Why would I pretend they have penises?”

DL: “So you can act the same way with the banter.”

Is this satirical, all this stuff about feigning interest in women’s lives? All this stuff about treating their conversation as a necessary evil, their personalities as an irrelevance at best? Well, it might be, if there was anything to suggest O’Reilly thinks women have value as actual people. It might be, if we didn’t have a culture in which so many young men do think like this, and if that pool of men didn’t overlap so closely with Dapper Laughs’ fanbase.

For the most part, they’re not even men – they’re teenage boys – and the last thing teenage boys need is somebody on TV telling them that sexual harassment is proper bantz.

‘Banter’ has always struck me as a kind of postmodernist logic-shredding machine, which gives the banterer carte blanche to say anything he likes under the guise of edgy humour. This both excuses some genuinely questionable attitudes and provides a weapon – the accusation of humorlessness – to use against those who disagree.

Having forced myself through a full five episodes, I was not particularly scandalised by anything on Dapper Laughs’ show. I don’t think anyone would be who’s been to a freshers’ week, West End nightclub, small-town Wetherspoons or Friday night nightbus at any point within at least the last decade. ‘Lad culture’ was live and kicking when I started uni ten years ago and it has barely mutated since.

Ten years ago, I might even have been a Dapper Laughs fan myself. Lots of girls are, presumably because they’d rather be in on the joke than the butt of it.

But just because Dapper Laughs isn’t saying anything out of the ordinary, doesn’t mean he should have been given a TV show. TV is running scared – scared of losing its audience share, and therefore advertising revenue, as younger viewers abandon ship for digital channels. Poaching O’Reilly in the first place smacks of desperation, and I’m sure it’s a sign of things to come, as TV execs continue to think with their ker-ching receptors.

In the meantime, I am glad the character has been laid to rest. Let’s hope the tired sexism-as-satire trope, long cherished by lad culture, will die a death too.


Categories: Gender politics Media fails

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Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands

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