Who’s afraid of teenage lads’ mags?

The Danny Dyer controversy is based on a view of working-class youth as easily brainwashed monkeys.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Topics Free Speech

Why has there been such a storm over cockney actor Danny Dyer’s daft advice column in Zoo magazine? After Dyer (or possibly some lowly hack at Zoo) told a jilted man who wrote in for advice that he should cut his ex’s face ‘and then no one will want her’, the reaction was so instantaneous and heated that it was almost as if Dyer had bowled around to the jilted man’s house, handed him a Stanley knife, and goaded him to get on with it.

Anti-domestic violence campaigners said Dyer’s column was ‘truly stomach churning’. Broadsheet commentators said it reflected ‘a wider culture that depicts women as meat’. Dyer was given the boot from Zoo. And in this week’s issue, Zoo plans to publish an anti-domestic violence ad where Dyer’s column would have appeared, just to make it crystal clear to Zoo readers that it is NOT OKAY to chop up women as if they were meat. If it wasn’t for the fact that he (whoever he turns out to be) is currently holed up in coalition negotiations, I’m sure even the prime minister of Britain would have issued a statement denouncing Dyer’s dire behaviour.

Of course the comment in Dyer’s column was stupid (whether it originated with him or with someone else at Zoo), but that is all it was: stupid. It was not a threat to the women of the nation. It will not make the young men who read Zoo think: ‘You know what, I think I will give that cow Julie a nick with a knife.’ And it will not, despite what one mortally offended columnist claimed, give rise to an ethos of ‘repellent misogyny’. Some Zoo readers will have laughed at it, others will have winced, but I bet you my subscription to The Economist that none of them will have internalised it and then transformed, at King Cockney’s command, into a knife-wielding brute in the image of Peter Sutcliffe.

Yet this is what has driven the feverish response to Dyergate: an elitist belief that there are some people out there (whisper it: working-class lads) who cannot distinguish a good idea from a bad one and therefore must have their eyes and ears protected against poisonous, possibly violent words and images. It is a modern version of the paternalistic ‘effects theory’, only it has been given a feminist twist, so that young men must be protected from violent ideas not in case they turn into gun-wielding serial killers – Don’t be silly! That is so 1980s… – but in case they turn into unthinking misogynists who treat their girlfriends badly.

However much anti-violence campaigners and broadsheet writers try to doll up their Dyer-outrage as a feministic concern with women’s safety, there’s no escaping the fact that their disgust is underpinned by the same censorious impulse that has driven every modern moral campaign against ‘despicable’ words and images. From the censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (‘Would you let your wife or servant read it?’) to the blacklisting of video nasties in the 1980s (‘What if unhinged individuals see these films?’), censorious moralism has been driven by a view of other people, not Us but Them, as unpredictable, volatile and thus not as entitled to freedom of speech and belief as the more enlightened sections of society.

It’s just that the people who are said to be more susceptible to brutality than us Educated Ones change over time. Back in 1960 BC (Before Counterculture), it was wives and servants who apparently had to have their fragile/volatile nature protected from saucy books such as those written by DH Lawrence. Then we grew up and realised how patronising that was. More recently, lone men in bedsits with caliginous thoughts bouncing around their brains were cited as the justification for banning films like Driller Killer. Then most of us realised this was just Thatcherite censorship built on a moral panic about easily brainwashed loners. Yet today, the same ideas have made a comeback, only this time the purveyors are feminists rather than helmet-haired prime ministers, and the target is that one section of society it is still acceptable to fear: unpredictable, un-PC, trousers-hanging-down, foul-mouthed, Page 3-ogling working-class boys-to-men. The kind of people who read Zoo.

That Dyergate is really being driven by an elitist fear of young blokes in suburbs and council estates is clear from the most bizarre aspect of this controversy: the fact that some commentators are harking back to the days when lads’ mags were ironic and tongue-in-cheek rather than evil and misogynistic. That is, when they were aimed at those middle-class, trustworthy soft lads and media blokes who hung around Clerkenwell and wore Levi’s and Ben Sherman shirts (but strictly ironically, of course, not because they were racists). Jenny McCartney at the Telegraph misses the ‘cheeky irony’ of early lads’ mags and laments the fact that as the ‘soft porn and casual misogyny proliferated, the irony evaporated’. Barbara Ellen at the Observer pines for the days of Loaded, which was about ‘goddess worship’ and giving ‘the ordinary struggling male back his spine and heart’.

Eeurgh. Not only does this help to explain why, despite being 20 years old when Loaded first launched, I never, ever felt compelled to buy that daft mag – it also effectively says that what young men really need is magazines that can help boost their self-esteem and make them respect women/goddesses and turn them into well-rounded, sedate and decent chaps. Excuse my lad-speak, but bollocks. If you’re going to have lads’ mags, they might as well be full of T&A, knob jokes, crude humour and even outrageous ‘advice pages’. After all, that is clearly what some young men like. And they will grow out of it, completely unharmed, before long.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

Previously on spiked

Patrick West looked at the online mockery of Danny Dyer. Graham Barnfield criticised the footerati’s response to The Football Factory. Andrew Calcutt looked at the significance of young men wearing their trousers below their bums. And Brendan O’Neill criticised Donkey Punch, a middle-class morality tale about bad young men. Or read more at spiked issue: Modern life.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Free Speech

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