Kids’ content is becoming a big battleground in the streaming wars, as the major players strive to establish the propriety of their shows and lure parents away from less regulated platforms like Youtube. One can only wonder what these companies make of John Dillermand, a new children’s series from Denmark whose hero interacts with the world via his very long prehensile penis.
The stop-motion show, developed by Jacob Ley, is aired by DR, the country’s public broadcaster, and aimed at kids aged 4–8. Episodes center on the title character (“diller” is Danish slang for “penis”), a hapless everyman in a striped onesie who solves problems in his village by performing acrobatic feats with his member. The show has stirred debate in Denmark about what is suitable for children.
John Dillermand has yet to be subbed or dubbed, but the images largely speak for themselves. In the episodes I watched, Dillermand used his diller to walk the dog, ring neighbors’ doorbells, wield a badminton racket, barbecue sausages (what else?), and — ahem — erect the national flag. You too can watch them: the whole series is available on DR’s website.
To give a sense of the show’s tone, Vulture has supplied a translation of the theme song, which puns on the protagonist’s name: “Hello I am John Johnson / he has the world’s longest johnson / there’s almost nothing he can’t do with it / he can swing it around / he can get a bit embarrassed / he could save the whole world if only he had the chance.”
In its country, John Dillermand has struck a chord — and hit a nerve. Some praise the show’s humorous approach to problem solving, adding that the depiction of the penis is not sexual at all. “John Dillermand talks to children and shares their way of thinking — and kids do find genitals funny,” said Erla Heinesen Højsted, a clinical psychologist specialized in families and children, in comments to The Guardian.
Others believe the premise is inappropriate for kids — particularly now, as Denmark reckons with its own #MeToo movement in the wake of recent revelations of sexism across society.
Christian Groes, an associate professor and gender researcher at Roskilde University, told The Guardian that the show is “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. It’s meant to be funny — so it’s seen as harmless. But it’s not. And we’re teaching this to our kids.”
For its part, DR responded by saying it could have made a program “about a woman with no control over her vagina” and that what mattered most was that children enjoyed the series.
In any case, the controversy hasn’t hurt John Dillermand: on Youtube, the first episode has been watched more than 670,000 times (Denmark’s population is 5.8 million). The show’s very existence reflects a relatively permissive culture at DR and across Danish society in general — last year, The New York Times published an insightful article about a series in which pre-teens discuss body issues with naked adults.
John Dillermand’s popularity prompts the question: will it be exported? Could it ever make it to the U.S.? After all, there’s a cultural gulf here — one which we doubt even John’s long johnson can bridge.