I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about Denmark, I think about happy people. That’s probably because the Danes were declared the happiest people in the world back in 2012, 2013, and 2016. Currently, it ranks #2 just behind Finland. Plus, I’ve read some great articles about how Danish schools put in a real effort to teach kids empathy.
Then, of course, there’s hygge ( say "hooga") lifestyle, and I think, oh yeah. I’m largely Scandinavian. So, I suppose I do have a strong inclination to link Danish and happiness.
But after today, whenever I think about Denmark, I will also think about an absurdly long and magical dick.
What a world.
This is a new claymation show airing on DRTV — what is essentially Denmark’s PBS station — and it’s geared for children aged 4 to 8. Yup. Four to eight.
Oof. I think if this was airing in America, most people would expect it to be something on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. But no, in this case, we’re really talking about a Danish children’s show featuring a man with an extra, extra, extra lengthy penis for little kids and I’m just trying to wrap my head around that one. Heh.
Let me be very honest. My initial reaction was so negative, like it brought out my inner prude and the angry feminist in me and I just couldn’t deal. Some of you who know me through my work understand that I grew up in a very strict, very suppressive evangelical bubble. The purity culture of the 90s and 00s deeply shaped my life. Worse yet, my own mom saw sexual abuse everywhere — and she still does — so, I really do have to take a step back every now and then to ensure my thoughts and feelings about morality or family values are truly my own.
As an exvangelical, I know how important it is to give kids positive messages about sex instead of the garbage that I grew up with about it being evil and dirty.
Which means I want to keep an open mind. And a penis is not inherently sexual, right? Just like breasts, or vulvas are not exclusively for sex.
But I’m also a serious feminist, so, my other knee-jerk reaction was to think, really? A magic penis? As if far too many men don’t already think with their dicks?
Off the cuff, the idea of a show all about a man and his penis feels so… sexist. And so bloody tone-deaf post #MeToo. I saw flashbacks of my younger years with boyfriends who complained about being blue-balled or expecting a blow job on every single date.
And then it hit me.
I was sexualizing a children’s show by assuming it was somehow offensive without knowing the full story. In other words, I was doing the same thing QAnon followers did to the Cuties film on Netflix, which was actually quite insightful, by the way.
So, I unclutched my pearls, took a step back, and watched the show.
It’s worth noting that Denmark’s #MeToo movement is only in its infancy. Just a few months ago, X-Factor (DR) host Sofie Linde announced that she’d been sexually harassed by a network heavyweight who demanded oral sex and threatened to ruin her career.
She was just 18.
“We can pretend there is no difference between men and women in Denmark. It’s just not true.”
So, the new children’s show, called “John Dillermand,” certainly has its critics in Denmark. The title roughly translates to John Peepee-man or John Weinerman, and the show in no way shies away from the fact that it is indeed about a man’s penis.
Some feminists feel that the show will only reinforce the patriarchy and undesirable behavior like, “locker room talk.”
One clinical psychologist, Erla Heinesen Højsted, has defended the show. “But this is categorically not a show about sex,” she said. “To pretend it is projects adult ideas on it.”
“John Dillermand talks to children and shares their way of thinking — and kids do find genitals funny,” Højsted explained.
“The show depicts a man who is impulsive and not always in control, who makes mistakes — like kids do, but crucially, Dillermand always makes it right. 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.”
Højsted has defended other controversial children’s shows on the Danish network, including “Ultra Smider Tøjet” (aka Ultra Strips Down). That show is geared for kids in the 11 to 13 age bracket, and in it, adults stand nude before a live audience where the children ask the grownups questions. You might have caught one of the many YouTube videos about it where people proclaimed that the show embraces pedophilia and in essence, is grooming kids to feel comfortable around naked strangers.
According to the network, however, the point is to promote body positivity and show kids that their bodies aren’t supposed to be perfect. While “Ultra Strips Down” shows naked adults, its creators make a point to display a variety of body types, different ages, varying skin tones, and those with disabilities.
“What kind of culture are we creating for our children if it’s OK for them to see ‘perfect’ bodies on Instagram — enhanced, digitally or cosmetically — but not ‘real bodies’?” Højsted asked.
Upon hearing the arguments and watching a few episodes of DRTV children’s programming, I’m inclined to agree. That doesn’t mean I’m not a bit awkward or that I don’t feel a bit silly watching any of it. But I’m also aware that the European viewpoint on nudity is typically much different than the American one.
I know that much of the world thinks we’re a bit “uptight,” and considering what seems to be widespread sexual abuse, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way.
At home, I make a point to never make bodies seem shameful or bad for my 6-year-old. Sure, I talk about boundaries. We discuss what she should do if anyone ever touches her inappropriately, and how to respect other people’s boundaries too.
But I never speak negatively about our bodies, and we still change clothes or use the bathroom around each other without making it weird. We close doors and speak up when we each want privacy. I figure this is such an important part of my job as a single mom to a daughter — to help my kid enjoy a healthy relationship with her body. And to not press my own unhealthy body conflicts upon her.
In a similar vein, I suppose then that the thirteen 5-minute episodes (there’s more on the way) of “John Dillermand” are attempting to do much of the same thing. Make no mistake, even watching without understanding Danish, I can see there’s nothing sexual about the show. I daresay Animaniacs and a thousand other American children’s shows have been much more sexual with particular innuendo and pre-pubescent boys ogling big-busted women in tight clothes.
To be fair, Dillermand’s ridiculously long and absurdly posable penis acts more like a tail than any real-world genitalia. It remains fully clothed by John’s old-fashioned swimsuit — which reminds me of Where’s Waldo. And there’s no hint of a penile head or scrotum. Honestly. From end to end, it behaves more like a monkey’s tail than anything else.
For the most part? It seems that John’s dick tends to get him into lots of trouble, but to his credit, he really does try to use it for good. Like an unlikely superhero, I suppose.
After a few episodes, I began to think, maybe this isn’t so ridiculous. Perhaps it marks a better direction for television, even if it seems a little wild. Even while researching the new show, I was introduced to dozens of other projects, like The Fat Front, a documentary about fat acceptance in the Nordic countries.
Watch Fat Front (ENG) Online | Vimeo On Demand
A new documentary film following the fat-activist movement in the Nordics that is taking the world by storm! "Fat…
It’s funny because I always felt a bit like the Nordic girl who didn’t belong. I am mostly Norwegian and Swedish, and I don’t think I ever really considered visiting those countries because I sort of just figured I’d never be beautiful enough. Or even “normal.” As if people would only see me as some lazy American.
Perhaps I was wrong, or perhaps the tide is simply turning. At either rate, I just realized that a ridiculous children’s program about a long schlong actually did make me feel a little bit more comfortable in my own skin.
Maybe that means there’s a bit of magic here after all. I suppose that makes sense, since empathy is its own kind of magic. I’m okay with that.
And if you’d like to watch a few episodes for yourself?
Well, I won’t judge.