Denmark’s state broadcaster is facing backlash over a new cartoon about a man who follows his giant penis into trouble, amid a #MeToo reckoning in the Nordic country.
The controversy blew up this week after DR, Denmark’s equivalent of the CBC, aired the first episode of John Dillermand on its Ramasjang kids’ channel. The show’s title translates to “John Penis Man,” and the five-minute episodes follow the exploits of a clumsy man with a firehose-sized phallus.
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John’s seemingly retractable, prehensile penis gets him into all sorts of trouble in the first episode of the show. He uses it to cook sausages, walk dogs, whip a lion and impress the neighbours, though most of his antics end in slapstick disasters.
The penis is depicted as a long red-and-white striped cord that extends through the fabric of John’s pants. It’s never fully exposed, but it’s almost always poking or slapping something in its reach.
DR says the show is meant to be a light-hearted comedy targeted at children between the ages of four and eight.
“In the series, we recognize (young children’s) growing curiosity about their bodies and genitals, as well as embarrassment and pleasure in the body.”
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Critics say the show is in poor taste, especially in light of a #MeToo reckoning that has enveloped DR itself.
Danish TV host Sofie Linde kicked off that reckoning in September, when she accused a DR executive of demanding oral sex from her when she was 18 years old. Linde made the accusation during a televised appearance, and thousands soon spoke up to reveal their own experiences.
“Is this really the message we want to send to children while we are in the middle of a huge #MeToo wave?” Danish author Anne Lise Marstrand-Jørgensen said, according to The Guardian.
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Morten Skov Hansen, head of DR Ramasjang, tried to distance the show from the #MeToo criticism in a statement earlier this week.
“We want to stay out of that,” he said, in a story published on DR’s website. “The series is made for our target audience, consisting of children age 4-8 and it must be at their level. The series is not about sexualizing the body.”
Far-right Danish MP Morten Messerschmidt also blasted the show on Facebook.
“I don’t think looking at adult men’s genitalia should be turned into something normal for children,” he wrote. “Is this what you call public service?”
Clinical psychologist Erla Heinesen Højsted told the AFP that the show is not harmful to children.
“John Dillermand talks to children and shares their way of thinking — and kids do find genitals funny,” she said. “He takes responsibility for his actions. When a woman in the show tells him that he should keep his penis in his pants, for instance, he listens. Which is nice. He is accountable.”
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Education expert Sophie Munster also downplayed the controversy in a separate interview with the AFP.
“It’s a very Danish show,” she said. “We have a tradition to push the limits and use humour and we think it’s totally normal.”
Norms on Danish television are very different from those in North America. Last year, for example, international audiences were shocked to learn about Ultra Strips Down, a show that put naked adults on display in front of 11-to-13-year-old children. DR broadcast the show on its children’s channel, and won an award for best children’s program of 2019 at the Danish TV Festival.
The entire first season of John Dillermand is available for free on DR’s website.
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