This month has dumped a truckload of media coverage of Dapper Laughs and Julien Blanc on us all, fuelled to some extent by Change.Org petitions which are aimed at silencing their (admittedly venomous) voices.
Misogyny like the stuff peddled by Dapper Laughs and Julien Blanc is not in any doubt – it’s undeniable, hateful, toxic shite. Clearly, it belongs in the most profound depths of the cultural sewage system.
But I am not convinced that we are going about flushing it in the right way.
It’s one of those traumatically massive spiders which just keeps crawling back out of the plughole: we need to make sure it’s fully dead, legs stiff in the air, before we flush it away, or it’s just going to keep scuttling revoltingly back into our lives.
Last week, Daniel O’Reilly officially retired the character of ‘Dapper Laughs’ (professional promoter of rape culture and casual woman-hating), cancelling his tour. Good News. – Ish.
O’Reilly’s reasoning was not that he had realised that he was selling a particularly virulent strain of woman-hating filth, or that the population of the UK wasn’t buying tickets, or even that his agency had dropped him. It was pressure from a very vocal set of people across various online media and from the mainstream press.
So Dapper Laughs no longer has a series on ITV2, and will not be going on tour this year, next year, or ever. The Change.Org campaign to have his show taken off the air had 68, 000 signatures, which is many. But not as many as follow him on Twitter (370, 000) or Vine (590, 000) – he has uploaded videos and vines which have nearly as many ‘likes’ as the petition itself.
It seems to me fairly dangerous to imagine that cutting someone like Dapper Laughs out of the mainstream will have any effect: thousands of people, particularly young men were laughing along with his sense of humour before he came to the attention of ITV2, and will continue to do so after he himself is silenced. Why is the focus on the man himself and not the culture which produced him? The same culture which has given him thousands upon thousands of chortling fans? The value of controversy is that it demands a discussion – do we now silence the discussion in the process of silencing the controversial view?
The sudden transfer of attention onto Julien Blanc as the next (apparently sole) source of misogyny seems to be equally wide of the mark.
This time without a hint of humour, Blanc describes himself as a ‘pickup artist’ and gives the sort of advice which negates women as agents not merely as an inherent state of heterosexual politics, but as a desirable dynamic to work towards. The exact sort of toxic waste I was talking about before. A Change.Org Petition campaigned to have him excluded from the UK by the arbitrary power held by the Home Secretary, followed by an outcry about misogyny in the mainstream media, without any concrete or even legitimate argument for a logical link between misogyny and visa-denial. The Home Secretary has denied him a visa.
As with O’Reilly, keeping Blanc out of the UK as an aim seems completely futile: a flailingly melodramatic (not to mention arguably unconstitutional) gesture of disapproval, completely ignoring the crucial aspect of media in this century: global access.
What the mainstream media does by this behaviour, instead of silencing this voice, is shout over it. If you listen carefully, it can still be heard – on other platforms: on Vine, Facebook and Twitter, if not by Blanc or O’Reilly, by any number of others.
The treatment of the Barbican’s ‘Exhibit B’ earlier this year (a performance exhibition centred around the Human Zoo tradition) was an act of censorship which has echoes in this month’s events. A Change.Org campaign demanded that the Barbican refuse to display the ‘outrageous act of complicit racism’ which (supposedly) amounted to ‘mental terrorism’. Not only was the petition itself full of entirely facetious arguments, but included the (chilling) statement:
‘”Art” is not beyond censorship’.
Sara Myers, who wrote the petition, has never seen the exhibition, which was subsequently shut down due to protest which threatened the safety of performers and others involved. Little real debate followed: somehow enough satisfaction was taken in the silencing of the performance.
This is all wastefully misplaced energy: why have the voice silenced in the mainstream rather than examine the issues which have allowed it to get there? Why not have an open debate which the issue demands by its very presence? Shouting down these voices fails to address how they came about in the first place, and fails entirely to ask of what they are symptomatic in culture and society. Perhaps those questions are frightening, but they need to be faced.
Change.Org is in danger of abuse, of becoming an online centre for smug, shouty self-righteousness rather than a force for democratic and popular expression: Dapper Laughs and now Julien Blanc have been subject to its glare, but how much does this format bring to the table in terms of encouraging in-depth, detailed and sensible debate?
Cutting off the head from a Hydra does nothing towards the elimination of the beast itself: our gendered culture will continue producing (and popularising) toxic misogyny while it retains its inequalities in politics, traditional culture and the media.