The Censorship of Dapper Laughs

– The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship – George Bernard Shaw

– I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

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In my upcoming book, Porn Panic, I raise a question about the censorship state – specifically the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC), the police and prosecutors – Are They Superhuman? In Britain, all DVD and cinema releases are required, by law, to be certified (and possibly censored) by the BBFC. Obscenity law defines obscene material as that which might “deprave and corrupt” the viewer, listener or reader, and it’s the BBFC’s job to ensure that no such material gets into the public sphere where it might damage our fragile little minds. BBFC examiners watch all submitted material, second-by-second, and recommend cuts if they encounter obscenity. Similarly, police officers who are preparing a case for an obscenity prosecution must sit through hour after hour of depraving and corrupting material. So how is this possible? How can material that depraves and corrupts its audience not deprave and corrupt BBFC examiners, police officers and prosecutors? Are they a different species from us?

I asked the obscenity law specialist, Myles Jackman, for his thoughts on this, and he said: “I’ve have to watch a lot of fairly colourful material in my career, and it doesn’t seem to have had a significant effect on me. Who watches the watchman? Why normal, average members of society are considered to be more sensitive and delicate, I simply can’t answer.”

Censorship is a decision by one group of people to deprive another group of people the right to access some content. At its core, censorship is inherently elitist, and can be nothing else. The censor doesn’t believe that he or she is weak, stupid or brutal enough to be depraved by the material, but believes that other people are. This elitism usually appears in class form, though it can also be linked to sex, sexuality, race or age. Most people don’t think they have the right to censor others, even if they dislike what they watch; but some do. These people, by definition, are elitists.

Elitism rears its head in every single moral panic and act of censorship, without fail. It appears constantly in attempts to censor pornography: “Of course, porn didn’t turn ME into a rapist, but then I’m not one of those people…” It appears among the nice, middle-class ladies of the No More Page 3 campaign, who don’t want to see breasts in a newspaper, and don’t want the Sun’s (mostly working-class) readership to do so either. It appeared in the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial, when the prosecutor asked whether… “you would wish your wife or servants to read”… such books. It appeared during the Video Nasties moral panic, in response to the idea that, thanks to the new VHS technology, ordinary people could now see the kind of uncensored material that had, formerly, only been accessible to the wealthy. It appears now in a new moral panic over computer gaming, in which “the impressionable” are considered at risk of being turned into rapists and murderers.

“The impressionable” are never people like us. They are other. They are poor, or black, or female, or male, or gay, or belong to some other group that we decide to fear or hate. In moral panics, bigotry becomes acceptable – such as this Guardian piece implying that African men don’t have the restraint of white people, and are thus especially prone to being turned into rapists by pornography: “I used to think porn was tremendously good fun… [until in a Ghanaian village, a mud hut is transformed] into an impromptu porn cinema … turning some young men into rapists…” – those primitive Africans, and their rapey ways! And this is in a “liberal” newspaper. As the left has lost touch with its labour roots, it has also become ever more elitist.

Advocates of censorship are certain of their own superiority over those-who-must-be-censored. If they weren’t, it might dawn on them that they don’t have the right to control the behaviour of other people; that they are no better than the people they seek to control. They would instead realise that, while they have the right to boycott material that offends them, the other people also have the right to see it.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the middle and upper classes, already secure in their innate superiority, are the ones who most seek to censor and control the activities of others. Of course, few people ever admit elitism – they instead try to justify their behaviour with spurious claims of harm: “I’m not a prude, but porn turns men into rapists”, “I’m all for free expression, but computer games make people violent”, “Much as I admire the energy and enthusiasm of youth, heavy metal gives power to Satan”, “I’m not a racist, but hip-hop encourages misogynistic attitudes”… “I’m as reasonable as the next person, BUT THOSE PEOPLE ARE DANGEROUS!”

It is a sign of these conservative times that universities, once bastions of free thought and rebellion against the status quo, have become increasingly censored places. The excuses for campus censorship tend to sound vaguely progressive, but (as the quote at the start of this article makes clear) censorship is anathema to progressives. Conservatism in progressive clothing is the order of the day.

The latest target of campus censorship is a comedian called Dapper Laughs (DL), who has a show on ITV2. I hadn’t heard of him until a week or so ago, when an explosion of outrage erupted on Twitter. Personally, I’m of the opinion that “ITV comedy” is an oxymoron. See – I’m an elitist too!

This latest moral panic began when a Cardiff University student, Vicky Chandler, began a petition to block DL from performing at the university, based on the fact that he’d been recorded telling jokes about rape. No evidence has been presented – it should go without saying by now – that men hear jokes about rape, and then go on to commit rape. The beer sold in the Cardiff student union bar is far more likely to have been involved in sexual assaults than any comedy act. But to call for alcohol to be banned from campus would a truly brave act*, whereas calling for a “sexist” comedian to be banned is guaranteed to win applause and admiration for Chandler from those looking for the next pro-censorship hero.

So the students that might have wanted to see DL, and decide for themselves, are told they’re not allowed to. Because they’re not clever enough to see (alleged) sexism without endangering the female population of Cardiff. Only the elite can decide what is suitable for the entire Cardiff student body to see or hear, and the elite have signed Chandler’s petition. Game over. Predictably, once a few-hundred signatures had been received, the gig was cancelled. Then ITV announced DL would not have another series. But the witch-hunt was just beginning.

The Twitter hysteria followed a pattern which has become tediously familiar: person found guilty of “hate speech” (without the need for a messy trial – who needs due process?); those that question the verdict are accused of supporting hate speech, as are those who defend the right to free speech on principle. Attempts at reasoned discussion are futile (OMG I can’t fucking believe you support violence against women!!!, etc.) Lynch-mobs have no need to hear alternative viewpoints, and the risk of being publicly branded a misogynist is enough of a deterrent for most people to keep quiet.

Supporters of the ban tried to deny this act of censorship was, in fact. censorship, and claimed this had been a democratic process, because everybody had the right to sign the petition, or organise a counter-petition. If this is democracy, it’s an ugly variety – more commonly known as tyranny of the majority. And not even a true majority – just the small number of elitists that decided they should have control over the viewing habits of the quiet majority. This is a fascistic interpretation of democracy, and has chilling implications for all the minorities that might next face censorship-by-petition. As a Jew (we make up 0.3% of the UK population) with mixed-race kids (they constitute 2%), this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. But hey – the elite would never turn on us, would they?

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This country, once the birthplace of Enlightenment values, has lost touch with the meaning and purpose of liberal thought. Free speech must, by definition, include bad speech, and (as the old saying goes) the antidote to bad speech is good speech. Allow an elite to deem (without a hint of due process) certain speech to be unacceptable, and freedom is fundamentally lost.

Chandler herself has showed a deep ignorance of liberal values by declaring herself qualified to determine the limits of free speech for everybody. While justifying herself, she tweeted “offending a religion isn’t freedom of speech, it’s hate”. But to offend is a basic right. I find Chandler’s utterances offensive in their dangerous ignorance as to what constitutes free speech, but still, I defend her right to her ignorance, and her right to shout it from the rooftops. All speech that has any value will offend somebody; without the right to offend majority values, the feminist and civil rights movements would have been crushed before they had begun.

But many of today’s “progressives” come from a different school. They use liberal language to cloak the fascistic idea that some viewpoints can be crushed by a small, active group. The censorship of Dapper Laughs is a victory for a censorious elite that is growing in strength by the day.

* For clarity: no, I don’t support bans on alcohol either.

PS: a quick look at Dapper Laughs’ Twitter mentions reveals more people (male and female) regretting the closure of his career than rejoicing in it. But sorry folks, you can’t enjoy your comedy. The elite have spoken.

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20 thoughts on “The Censorship of Dapper Laughs”

  1. “Dapper Laughs is a victory for a censorious elite that is growing in strength by the day”

    I don’t think there growing in strength they just make it look like that

    1. They may not be strong in number, but they have power. They’ve just trashed someone’s career. Witch hunts are addictive – once you’ve lynched one, you keep on going

  2. Chandler’s comments on religion left me stunned. For a feminist to declare offending religion is hate speech is extraordinary. I guess all those feminists who attacked the Catholic church’s position on abortion and contraception must be guilty of hate speech for offending religion.

    1. Feminism and the Church are closer than they once were. The ban on prostitution in N Ireland was a collaboration between the two

  3. I once booked an act who blacked up on stage infront of a black man. It wasn’t what I expected. The whole thing was awful …particularly when the man concerned explained the 10 year campaign to get the Black and White Minstrels off TV. A deserving cause of censorship if ever there was one but it shows how things have changed. Today it takes 2 weeks to get a show off TV not 10 years. Why? Well, if it has only 100,000 viewers and you can get 66,000 people to complain then from a business point of view it’s easiest for the promoter to think “I’m losing more than I’m gaining”. As the number of platforms has increased (the number of channels is just the product of the digital alogrithum) the ease with which you can get a program dropped has increased but the chances of keeping that type of program off TV have dwindled to near nothing. So what we end up with are a series of symoblic witch hunts against those who are the most offensive and least funny.

    http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com/Lads.html

    The thing is Dapper’s show would probably have died anyway as it was rubbish and the shelf life of his 2D character would probably have been very short. I dont see where you could go with it? The thing is the reason he was so successful so fast in the first place is that he has been treading taboo ground without knowing it.

    What is really interesting is what this tells us about the power of words over images. Fellini’s Satyricon, Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou have all been on late night TV with little or no protest. And of course you can see the working classes actually having casual sex on Big Brother. But talk about pulling and the sky falls in on the middle classes. Greatly enjoying the arguments of the feeble guilty campaigners of why this isn’t censorship.

    1. The issue of race and comedy is an interesting one. I’ve found very few black people object to material that “offends” white liberals. As ever, a middle-class elite has appointed itself the defender of black people, without checking if black people actually want to be defended. I’ve also attended a lot of black comedy events, and a lot of the material could be construed as racist towards whites and Asians. Inevitably, censorship designed to defend minorities will end up being used to attack minorities. Banning Louise Farrakhan from the UK under hate speech rules is one example.

  4. I’ve never heard of this Dapper Laughs chap and given all the buzz about it I’m keen to see what the fuss is about.

    The main reason is the rape jokes. I wouldve thought a TV focus group that greenlights productions wouldnt have had anything to do with a show that had a man joking about rapes but I agree that I dont agree with this at all but I wouldnt call for him to be banned either.

    In fact I wouldve put him to a panel of women and have him be accountable for what he said. It would make for a lively discussion as women tore him to shreds…But I wouldnt have banned him. I guess I cant find any examples of what all this is all about now right?

    Maybe I can if someones recorded it or its a download on the internet

    That’s censorship in effect if you have to go underground or through an illegal channel to obtain it…Oh but wait, there censorship, regulation and new laws coming in to outlaw that too right?

    1. The rape jokes are just the easiest angle to promote censorship from. He told a rape joke, this might incite real rape – we should take him off air. It’s the simplest argument you can come up with. Explaining the complex ways in which such jokes may fragment society in other ways takes too long.

      But the truth is that they disagree politically with his message to a profound degree. The feminist lobby disagrees that there is anything to be “learned” about pulling – and they may be right. A large section (though not all) of them disagree with the promotion of casual sex. Then there’s the ethical issues of catcalling. The program trod through all these minefields like an elephant carrying a block of concrete and the mines exploded.

      Someone at ITV compared him to Cila Black. What they’ve done is taken the format of Blind Date and invert it. So instead of having a woman chatting up men she cant see they have a man pulling a woman he’s hardly spoken to. Although they did try to even this out by having Dapper take a woman on the pull. Amazing you can put so much else on reality TV but the subject of how men and women get together for casual sex is one taboo too far.

      The campaign against Daniel O’Reilly started as far as my research shows long before he got to TV. A small subsection of viewers really objected to some of his vines. Once the show started the campaign snowballed. Indeed if you look at Lee Kern’s letter it is written almost as soon as Episode 1 has gone out. There is a large feminist lobby who have been looking for someone to make an example of and “take down” for some time…

      http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/17/heard-one-about-rape-funny-now

      …without realising it Daniel was made-to-measure for the role of the target of their ire as unlike other comedians who do similarly offensive jokes sex and casual sex were not just part of but the central theme of his act. As the campaign against him continued to grow both sides became ever more entrenched and I believe Daniel really just thought that the problem people had with his act was just jealousy of some kind but it is much much more complicated than that. Has to be said too he handled some of the criticism very badly allowing his critics to wind him up into angry outbursts and then use the responses to stereotype his audience as bigots, thugs and the thick … which to be fair they may have been but …

    1. “Leaving aside everything else, do you think it’s right for any male to say to a woman that she’s “gagging for a rape”?”

      Not in real life. But this stand up is not real life. The problem with Dapper Laughs is (as with Towie and ITV’s other semi-“reality” products) it blurs the line between reality and fantasy. And that’s a large part of the problem… because it removes the conceit of “this is all a joke”.

      In the context of what is going on in that clip he is trying to explain to the audience that his show is not “all about rape” because Kern has written a letter saying his show is all about rape so he is trying to defend himself … but it’s all gone a bit pear shaped when he says “it’s not okay to rape someone” and someone shouts back “yes, it is” … “no, it’s not” … shouts back someone and we descend into panto. Is he a rapist? Oh no he isn’t. Oh yes he is. Is it “okay”? well, it depends on the context but it’s quite hard to see how you could contextualise that statement. Then again stand up isn’t in real time, is it? It happens in the moment and you’re expected to say something funny about every 20 to 40 seconds so deconstructing it on Newsnight as if it’s a pre-written speech by the Prime Minister to the TUC conference is slightly farcical.

      But I don’t think he’s for example burying rape jokes in the middle of his set in the same way Manning used to bury a few solid old racist jokes in the middle of his set for the far right supporters. He’s just stupid, irresponsible and way way out of his depth…

      http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com/Dapper.html

      Really though in the irresponsibility stakes I still don’t think he’s that far off Borat. The difference is that you can do that on film and so long as there’s no hardcore porn there’s nothing the BBFC can do. However, TV censorship is far more stringent and doing this sort of thing on TV Offcom / the BBC Trust are likely to crucify the producers … which I’m sure they will.

    2. My personal opinion: No, it’s not right. But does one line, out of context, sum up everything he says? Also no. A female friend went to have a look and see for herself (rather than follow the crowd) and thinks he’s quite funny.

      But all of that aside, it’s important to make clear: defending free speech doesn’t mean you have to agree with what everybody says. This is about whether his fans have the right to hear him, not whether everybody thinks he’s acceptable or funny.

  5. I don’t believe it’s right or acceptable to say that immigrants are swamping this country. But I defend the right of racist morons to say it.

  6. Cutting through some of the nonsense here…. Why if they have a no “lad culture policy” did say Cardif Uni take the booking in the first place? They wanted the money from hiring out their venue which would have resulted in them pocketing a nice hire fee. Then they find out they have booked the wrong type of act. Then they launch a petition to unbook him because if the Union staff do it with no mandate they look draconian. They then pull him and it looks draconian. The whole episode could have been avoided. It’s a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

    If they wanted to book comedy without those risks you go through a promoter or a booker (there are many I wont name them all) who’s job it is to filter the acts for you and know the type of act suitable to the venue. But, of course, that is more expensive and involves parting with a booking fee and not raking in as much from venue hire. Really you get what you pay for with comedy. Pay peanuts get Dapper Laughs.

  7. Does anyone really believe that banning someone from saying something changes their opinion? All that happens is that it goes underground. If you really object to someone’s opinion then you should convince them they are wrong on the evidence not by curtailing their right to say it. You never know they may convince you they are right, or is that what you are afraid of? And I have news for the “moral majority liberal left” who object to all these things; you don’t hold the monopoly on being right. Everyone has the right to say what they want to say, I don’t have to agree with them or act on what they say.
    Additionally it’s unbalanced, for example, I don’t support the BNP but they are subject to so called “hate speech” by all mainstream politicians, but that’s ok because it’s ok to hate them, but if you uttered similar things about Islam or Immigrants (and here I mean condemning them all for the actions of a few) you could expect a visit from the police.
    Democracy is a terrible form of government but it is better than all the rest.
    One final question; was Emily Thornberry really expressing snobbery or was it something much more sinister?

  8. It’s not actually true to say that Islamic bigots are free from prosecution under hate legislation. There are plenty of examples of the authorities acting – Abu Hamza? The problem is the case for incitement is much more subtle with sexism. It’s easy to show people left Manning’s club and collectively went ****-bashing as it’s a collective crime. Rape is a crime people usually engage in on their own therefore the incitement arguments are harder to prove. The problem is how do you ban sexist material without stopping people talking about sex. Everyone knew for example Manning was a racist and his comments are well documented but the authorities did not have the bottle to prosecute fearing creating a far right martyr.

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