Posts Tagged ‘Unilads’

Unilad, a website that became notorious this week and has now been taken down. I don’t know who spotted it first, but it quickly entered the social network sphere via women who were outraged by it. I didn’t get to see a great deal of it before it was taken down after a deluge of complaints, but what I did see warranted a few raised eyebrows, to say the least. Advertising itself as a guide to being a successful ‘lad’ in university, it seemed mainly dedicated to the degradation of women, disabled people and pretty much anyone who doesn’t conform to their masculine ideal. One of the passages I read was a bizarrely detailed mathematical analysis of how many women are sluts and how to have sex with one, and ended with the observation that 85% of rapes go unreported, so you’re likely to get away with it if you force yourself on a slut if she ends up rejecting you.
Or something like that. I may be mistaken, it’s hard to read clearly when you’re brain is trying escape through your eye sockets.
Obviously, once it became known about, a lot of people had some serious complaints about the Unilad website, and complain they did. From what I saw, the Unilad team, demonstrating reasoning skills in-keeping with their writing skills, seemingly resorted to one of 3 responses to these complaints.
1. Accuse the complainer of being a lesbian.
2. Accuse the complainer of being a feminist
3. Accuse the complainer of having no sense of humour.
Undeniably, a lot of those complaining were women. This is understandable, seeing as it was largely women who were being denigrated and degraded by Unilad. If you break into someone’s home, it’s usually the home owners who end up calling the police. Cause and effect, that is.
So, as a heterosexual white male non-feminist, non-lesbian, working class background comedian who’s been a member of a university for over 10 years, I’m clearly part of Unilad’s target demographic. And they claimed it was all for comedy, all a collection of jokes and ‘banter’. If we accept this claim at face value, then those who object to it are ‘wrong’ to do so as it’s not serious. Any criticism for it should be delivered in the context of comedy and humour, not political ideology and serious stuff like that.
So, taking this into account, as a comedian with a sense of humour, what reason do I have for not liking the Unilad website?
In a nutshell, it’s crap. From a purely comedic perspective, viewing the whole thing as one big collection of jokes as they assured us it is/was, all the jokes are very poorly thought out and lacking in any element of subtlety or nuance that elevates crude jackass level physicality to genuinely good comedy.
The argument Unilad use that those who don’t like their site lack a sense of humour seems very counter-intuitive to me. Only someone with only the most basic sense of what humour actually is could find their work genuinely funny. Anyone who has a working sense of humour and appreciation of good comedy would find the Unilad website as painful as Unilad’s theoretical targets would find the consequences of their advice.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, perhaps there are many men who found Unilad funny, but I’d imagine they’re not the sort of people I’d want to share a night out with. I’d probably prefer not to share a country with them, if that was possible, but that’s just me. ‘It’s funny because it’s a good joke’ is a very different thing to ‘it’s funny because it agrees with my prejudices’, and I distrust anyone who champions something based on the latter.
I should clarify that I’m not reflexively offended by the subject matter in principle. I’ve heard many feminist friends say that rape jokes are never acceptable, and I respectfully disagree. I see the arguments for this, but I don’t believe there is such a thing as a subject unsuitable for comedy, as long as it’s done right. Undeniably, it’s never pleasant to hear someone make crass jokes about a subject that’s emotive and painful for you, believe me I’ve experienced it myself, but a blanket ban is a level of censorship usually employed by totalitarian regimes, and it only ever gives power to those willing to make the jokes anyway. But that’s a discussion for another time.
My point was, making jokes about any controversial subject can be funny if it’s done well. Unilad, for all their bluster at being humorous and just ‘banter’, do not do it well. It’s seen as fashionable in comedy these days to be deliberately dark and bad taste, but this isn’t that. This is just bad.
The paragraphs above are the response of a great blogger to the recent Unilads furore. I had a lot of problems with the reactions overall, to this online ‘student’ forum, and its ‘misogyny’. However, I found the above blogpost and this video by bearded eloise (aka!/rey_z) more worthwhile than most of the feminist whining about  Uni Lads.  Because they are personal, measured responses and they don’t use dogma to make their points.

One of my main problems with the feminist reactions, which led to the student site taking down all its content, was that they did not seem to consider the views of the young men involved, or any young men for that matter. On twitter, Petra Boynton the sex educator/academic, made quite a meal out of how bad she thought UniLads were. She pointed out, rightly, that feminists were concentrating on the ‘rape jokes’ on the website and ignoring e.g. anti-disability comments, and posts that denigrated men’s sexuality.
But her conclusion that the site was ‘anti-men’ did not seem to be based on actually talking to men!

I DID talk to some men about Uni Lads. The overwhelming majority of those I spoke to thought the site was unimpressive, included some very nasty comments, and, as the blogger above says, its jokes were UNFUNNY. I agree with him and other men I spoke to, that ‘banning’ jokes about sensitive subjects such as rape is ridiculous and censorious. Especially when there are some very funny jokes around, about subjects including murder and violence.

Not so long ago I argued with a feminist blogger about this subject. Her view that rape jokes are always unacceptable annoyed me. Partly because, as you can see I said in the comments, as a ‘survivor’ of ‘intimate partner violence’ I have found the use of humour very cathartic. And if I can justify  using it, why can’t anyone else?

So I liked the men’s more sensible comment that when it comes to humour, being funny, or at least competent at telling jokes, matters. And Uni Lads were not funny. One of the men I talked to, who is in his twenties and a student himself, did not defend the Unilads. But he did argue eloquently that maybe we should consider WHY men make jokes in this way, especially in groups.

He said:

‘I’ve seen many people, even the usually great Dr Petra, saying that they don’t need to understand ‘banter’ to know what the ‘lads’ are saying is disgusting and awful. That is wrong in my opinion. A big part of what banter is (or at least has been for me) is saying the unsayable. I have said things in the company of other guys which I don’t believe, and would never dream of saying in real life. That is sort of the point. The aim is to get a rise out of each other, or to out do each other. It is that horribly guilty pleasure of laughing at something you shouldn’t. The main problem is that Unilads made it public, and it slots right into a ready made feminist narrative.’

It sounds a bit more complex now doesn’t it, than just being anti-women, or even anti-men humour?

This person’s astute analysis reminded me of the work of Mark Simpson. He writes about how when men are in all male homosocial groups, which could be perceived as heading scarily towards ‘homosexual’ groups, they put a lot of effort into reinforcing their sense of being ‘men’. And heterosexual men at that.

But Simpson has pointed out how this attempt always fails. He explains that machismo is in fact incredibly camp. And, inspired by his idea for using the term ‘fag’ in place of ‘manly strap ons’ (e.g. Manfood manscara manbags) I came up with the term Fag Up.

So I think the Unilads Lads need to fag up. They have tried very hard to emphasise what big MEN they are, but have just come across as slightly pathetic. I don’t know if I think they should have taken down their content. I do think people who criticised them might have been a bit less shrill, and maybe even talked to them about their site, and their writing.

The fact is the scandal meant the Unilads got thousands of new followers on facebook and twitter and I expect it hasn’t dampened their spirits at all.

But maybe if they read this they will get the hint. And maybe the feminists will learn the art of nuance.

Well, a girl can only dream.


Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion.