Those bereft of a vested interest would probably agree war is a pretty offensive thing. Edwin Starr certainly did. We’ve been bombarded with the centenary of the First World War’s outbreak this year and the general tone of events marking the occasion has not been celebratory, but mournful over the seemingly needless slaughter. Yet, whilst we’ve been looking over our shoulders at 1914, seemingly needless slaughter has continued to be played out in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and Gaza. And that’s also pretty offensive.
In fact, there are few things more offensive than war – an omnipotent source of offence, one might say, as it never really takes a day-off. However, detached from the battlefield, there are other examples of man’s inhumanity to man that have also always been with us and seem unlikely to ever go away as long as we avoid the fate of the dinosaurs. Civilian murder, molestation, rape, torture and physical violence are all as irredeemably offensive as war and have never gone out of fashion. We attempt to curb them, we devise punishments for them, we try to educate against them and we engage in relentless pre-emptive prevention before they surface in the next generation; but they carry on regardless.
Beneath these universal sources of what could be termed ‘common sense offence’ are labyrinthine layers of individual, personal offence, each of which offer different viewpoints to the respective beholders, the old ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ argument. And this is where offence becomes less a shared response to something indisputably horrible and more a gauntlet thrown down by one set of beliefs to the feet of another. It’s also where the whole business starts to get mired in the murky waters of prejudice and petty grievances.
I’m not a particular fan of Jeremy Clarkson. Personally, I think he’s a bit of a prat. Whenever he opens his mouth, he says something ill-informed and stupid. I don’t like ‘Top Gear’ so I don’t watch it. But millions of people do and enjoy it. Millions of people also read his newspaper columns and enjoy them. I’m not a particular fan of Coldplay; in actual fact, I want to throw my radio out of the window whenever I hear Chris Martin’s voice and want to throw my TV set out of the window every time his face appears on-screen. But millions of people have bought Coldplay albums and have queued up in the rain to see the band in concert. Am I in the right or are they? I don’t find ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ funny, so I don’t watch it; millions of viewers would vehemently disagree with me. I’m not remotely interested in the ‘Bake-Off/Apprentice/X-Factor/Strictly Come Dancing/I’m A Nonentity Get Me out of Here’ strain of populist light-entertainment television; but millions are. What am I to do?
Well, one thing I wouldn’t do is attempt to ban them. I wouldn’t start a petition to remove things from radio or television because I personally cannot abide them. Who I am to dictate? What right have I to demand the employment of censorship? I can say they suck, such is my right; but that’s not a statement I expect to carry any weight beyond my own four walls or my own circle of friends. These sentiments might find empathy with other commentators on here, but I’m sure some would argue that they don’t mind or even quite like some of the things I’ve listed as my personal dislikes; and I’m equally sure dozens of others could be put forward in true ‘Grumpy Old Men’ style. But what good would that really do? After all, isn’t that what Twitter is for, the digital inheritor of a stiff letter to the Times?
Which brings us around to Dapper Laughs. I had never even heard of Dapper Laughs until a couple of days ago, probably because I’m not on Twitter and I have little interest in the here-today/gone-tomorrow fads that preoccupy ‘The Kids’. I saw a clip of this chap on TV the other night and I didn’t find him very funny, which is surely a failing where a comedian is concerned. He seemed to me like a cross between a real-life Nathan Barley and a Cockernee version of the 80s American comic, Andrew ‘Diceman’ Clay, someone else who didn’t make me laugh. As his actual name is Daniel O’Reilly, I wondered if this character was a clever parody of a particular breed of bloke, in the same way that Ali G, Alf Garnett, Alan Partridge and Al Murray’s Pub Landlord are. His humour was a tedious brand of frat-boy grossness that appeals to few over the age of 25, a juvenile strand of comedy not a million miles from something like ‘The Inbetweeners’, if lacking the deftly observed writing of that series and its painfully accurate portrayal of adolescent inadequacy. In other words, he’s not especially important and was probably destined to be an irrelevance within a year or two as his audience moved on and grew up.
The strange thing is that Dapper Laughs has suddenly become the most notorious comedian in the country overnight – a Bernard Manning or Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown for the 2010s. Why? Well, an online campaign to have him taken off our TV screens and censored indefinitely has pushed this obscure and unfunny funny-man onto the front pages of everyone’s lives, at least those lives governed by the frenetic pass-the-moral-parcel panic of social networking. At one time, it only ever seemed to be the purveyors of challenging, artistic merit that were targeted by campaigns, whether the television plays of Dennis Potter, movies such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ or bands such as The Sex Pistols – and opposition to them was largely restricted to the parents of the generation they were aimed at or to those of an immovable religious bent, adrift in the beguiling Sodom of the Permissive Society. Not so now. Not only is it difficult to discern any challenging artistic merit in Dapper Laughs, but had those who have inadvertently turned the star of a minor cult on ITV2 into a household name been the age they are now in 1971, they would have been protesting against censorship outside the Old Bailey when the editors of ‘Oz’ magazine were tried in the greatest generational conflict of the era.
Accused of objectifying women, belittling the horrors of rape and pandering to the worst elements of Lad culture, Dapper Laughs is as much an idiotic product of his age as those who seek to censor him, a graduate of social networking sites rather than the stand-up circuit. His charmless lingo is no different from the lyrical content of numerous male and female R&B acts that are sold to an audience far younger than that which watches late-night ITV2. His act is also representative of the shows that regularly clog-up the schedules of minority channels targeting a teenage audience, usually centred in Ibiza or Magaluf or a Northern English city, ones in which girls ‘gagging for it’ are hardly shrinking violets when it comes to sex; has anyone ever campaigned for an unedifying exhibition of crass vulgarity such as ‘Geordie Shore’ to be banned? Or is it perfectly acceptable if it is young women self-objectifying? Hysterical overreactions to anything designed to cause offence are commonplace in cyberspace; ‘Off with his (or her) head’ is now the kneejerk response to anyone who says or does anything perceived as offensive, as though being on Twitter is today’s equivalent of being the Chairman of the IBA and everyone has the authority to ban something they don’t like. But is Dapper Laughs really Peter Sutcliffe clad in Max Miller’s jacket?
The trouble with Twitter is that the opinions we all express when confronted by the sight of someone who gets our backs up on TV, ones that usually go no further than our living rooms, can now be shared amongst a community that thrives on brewing up storms in their online teacups, convinced what they have to say carries weight. Rather scarily, it would appear they’re right, if the reaction to Dapper Laughs is anything to go by. Perhaps I should acquire a Twitter account and then I can finally do something about Jeremy Clarkson. And Coldplay. And ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’. And…