A man whose penis is always getting him into trouble! If it’s not the most original theme, a new animated interpretation by a Danish production company is probably unusual in aiming its version, John Dillermand, at an audience aged between four and eight.
As reported in the Guardian, John Dillermand (to date, suggested translations include “John Penisman” and “John Willy”) is a picaresque series featuring the adventures of a faintly creepy, blubbery cartoon man whose serpentine “diller”, being prehensile, retractable and (although sensitive) heroically extensible, is really the star of the show. Picture something red-striped, to signal clownish harmlessness, with qualities of both the Noo Noo and Mr Tickle; in fact, you could see John Penisman as the missing Mr Man story, the ur-text the late Roger Hargreaves tastefully chose to suppress.
In Denmark, objections seem to have focused on the programme’s determined rehabilitation of the diller from the centuries of semi-concealment and repeated disgrace that followed phallic ubiquity in ancient Greece. Some critics, possibly not au fait with recent statements from US professor of literature Judith Butler, argue that enduring phallocentrism and unflagging male predation make John Dillermand’s exploits unwelcome. “It’s perpetuating the standard idea of a patriarchal society and normalising ‘locker-room culture’… that’s been used to excuse a lot of bad behaviour from men,” Christian Gross, an associate professor and gender researcher at Roskilde University told the Guardian. “It’s meant to be funny – so it’s seen as harmless, but it’s not. And we’re teaching this to our kids.”
The programme’s broadcaster, DR Ramasjang, responded that it could just as easily have made a programme “about a woman with no control over her vagina”. So maybe, if they absolutely had to animate an adult’s private parts for junior entertainment, the children’s broadcaster should have done that? It would certainl y have made it easier, given the historic shortage of cruel vaginocracies and vaginocrats and of relentless real-life assaults by contemporary vaginas, for the producers to defend themselves from parallel criticism.
As for John Dillermand, the accident-prone diller reportedly took shape in his creator’s bedtime stories. And what could be more enchanting when Squirrel Nutkin loses his edge than the giant willy of Daddy’s imagination? Various episodes from a selection online show this now-animated part as sometimes controlled by and sometimes in control of its supposed owner, a careless man-child who likes to strike bodybuilder poses. One moment, the penis obediently promotes John’s interests by helping him to, say, save kiddies; another, it behaves so badly that… well, it seems mean spirited to spoil things when supplies of tense online drama are already approaching exhaustion. In general though, these genital achievements do seem more calculated to cultivate than to dispel long-advertised female envy, since episodes often end with the double act saving the day, their inadvertent triumphs acclaimed in television reports complacently viewed by John Dillermand.
From a local perspective then, it seems almost incredible that this character is not a sustained parody of Boris Johnson – and therefore exposed to unremitting competition from its real-life subject. If the series is ever shown in the UK, much of its intended absurdity will surely be vulnerable, when not lost in translation, to being overshadowed by the doings of the UK’s premier man-child, someone long given to body-builder posing and whose surname similarly, as noted by Zac Goldsmith with his ear for US slang, means penis.
Even without that happy coincidence, it is hard to believe that the Danish cartoon duo could ever look sillier than the UK’s own Dillermand, for instance when he dangled by his crotch from a zip wire, or naughtier, than when he defaced London with gigantic willies. What could be more mischievous than sneaking out of work, as we know Johnson’s world-beating appendage used to do, to impregnate friends and co-workers he has met along the way and then, even more satisfactorily for its owner, not just getting away with it, but actually being made a party leader? And not of just any party, either, but one about as phallocratic as is legal these days, whose luminaries enjoy joking about which of them has the biggest diller.
Some of us are still trying to forget the bit in Sasha Swire’s diaries where David Cameron’s favourites gossip about their colleagues’ genitalia, notably Michael Gove’s. “Like a slinky that comes down the stairs before the rest of the body,” according to Swire’s husband, a comment Cameron found “hilarious”. Under Johnson’s leadership, the Conservative party is, of course, intent on more systematically phallocratic advances, from the steady eviction of non-males from the cabinet to the equality-denying profusion of single-sex sub-groups – “the quad”, “the save the summer six”, for which the single mandatory qualification appears, given the irrelevance of competence or intelligence, to be male anatomy. Though some additional manly posturing – thumbs up, here’s my bullwhip/boxing gloves/black belt, look I can run – is considered an advantage.
The exclusively male team assembled for next autumn’s critical UN Cop26 summit confirms that, beyond assistant, sex provider or profiteer, Johnson’s inept phallocracy still recoils from female recruitment, even when this degree of overt aversion suggests something darker than traditional Westminster misogyny or the lingering impact of male boarding schools. Is there really no woman politician as meritorious as the UK’s lead host, Alok Sharma (the minister conventionally prefixed “hapless”)? The same goes for Lord Callanan (a Brexit nonentity), the publicly rejected Zac Goldsmith and that useful Etonian, Kwasi Kwarteng, along with Mark Carney, a Mr Nigel Topping and an all-male collection of negotiators and civil servants. Does climate crisis only affect one sex – or are we blessed in the UK, as the other men admiring these men imply, with not one but an entire brotherhood of heroic Dillermands?
Watch out, anyway, for the episode in which the prime minister sends a battalion of his most talented penises to save the world. Will he succeed? What do you expect from Boris Penisman!
• Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist