Danish kids' show about man with magic penis is 'innocent and goofy,' says TV critic
John Dillermand — which roughly translates to 'John Wienerman' — is sparking controversy in Denmark
A children's TV show about a man whose unnaturally long and magic penis gets him into all sorts of trouble is "very Danish" and nothing to fret over, says a TV critic who watched every episode.
The claymation show John Dillermand, which airs on the Danish public broadcaster, is aimed at children ages four through eight.
So far, it's proved popular. But, according to the Guardian, it's also causing a stir in the country among those who think it's inappropriate for young people, or that it sends the wrong message in the Me Too era.
But Ida Rud, a freelance film and TV critic, has seen every episode of John Dillermand and says it's just good, silly fun. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.
How on Earth does a TV show for preschoolers about a man who cannot control his magic penis ... even get past the pitch stage?
I think it's a very Danish way of making children television where there's kind of no rules as long as no one is getting hurt. And if it's silly also, I mean, that's just the plus.
People were just like, this is courageous and silly, so why not do it? I mean, it's totally innocent and goofy.
And very Danish, as you say.
It is very Danish. We're kind of laid back in some ways, and also like to have like a dark sense of humour and also to cause a bit of an uproar. So, of course, I don't think anyone is surprised that this show caused an outrage, but maybe the criticism, that it was so huge, was a bit of a surprise.
And speaking of huge, this is the issue, right? Can you describe this character? First of all, his name's John Dillermand, the character in the show. And this is a cartoon. What does that mean?
Like a childish term for "penis" with the "man" attached. So Wienerman. So the name itself is enough to make children laugh, because any time you say wiener, it's funny.
He lives with his great-grandmother, who's this old, conservative, a bit scared, lady. Like, "Put that away, John. You can't go showing your penis. You can't use that to pick apples. You can't use that to walk the dog."
But the penis has the mind of its own.
I'm a feminist myself. But when I saw the show, I didn't think of this at all. I just thought it was hilarious and silly.- Ida Rud, TV critic
Oh, gosh... What does his penis look like?
If you don't understand the language and you just saw, like, a trailer for this show, I don't think you would know it was a penis. You would think it was a tail of some sort, because it's just red and white stripes, just like his bathing suit. And it's just very long, slim tail. There's no scrotum, there's no pubic hair. There's nothing realistic about this penis.
It's short and long, and sometime you can't see it. And it can pick the apples from the tree and pick up the neighbour if he's being a pain ... in the butt.
OK, so he does some heroic — or his penis does some heroic things. But, well, the penis gets him into trouble from time to time, doesn't it?
For instance, the penis wants an ice cream. And the great-grandmother says, "No, you can't take an ice cream." And then they go to the zoo and it sees an ice cream truck and it steals an ice cream.
And because of this, a lion gets out and chases the children around. And John is about to say, "Oh, I can't handle this. I'll just go away and leave it to someone else." But then he's like, "No, I have to handle this. I have to take care of this problem." And then the penis is slapping the lion, so it goes back in.
I know there are people in Canada and the United States are listening to this and thinking there is no way this could be made anyplace else. But it is true that there are people in Denmark who think that this shouldn't be made. What ... criticisms of this show have you seen?
There's, like, two camps. And the one is the obvious one with parents who are appalled that someone would have a grown man's penis on a kid's show.... They think it's perverse and they think it's a gateway for pedophiles to groom their children and teaching children that, oh, the male penis is not something you should be scared of. So if someone comes into the playground and pulls it out, it's just fun and games.
Recently we had like a second wave, a second discussion/debate, about Me Too. And because of this, people are like ... why do we always have men like, "Oh, the penis is doing it. It's not my fault. The penis has a mind of its own. I shouldn't be at fault for this." Kind of like maybe grown men abusing their power in Me Too relations.
I'm a feminist myself. But when I saw the show, I didn't think of this at all. I just thought it was hilarious and silly. But I get that it's bad timing that there's a show about a male character with a big penis. But I'm just hoping that that the second season or the first season of a completely new show would have a female lead character with a vulva or long titties or something like that.
But as you point out, there's nothing sexual about this, and ... kids that age especially think that penises and vaginas and vulvas are hilarious, right?
Yeah, exactly that's what I'm thinking. And I also think it's important that children don't feel inhibited by their body, their sexuality. I mean, it's too early for children that age to to feel awkward about having a penis or having a vagina. But in time, we have a lot of problems with children and young adults who feel insecure about their bodies. They don't shower after having gym in school because they don't want to be seen naked. And I think this show is actually helping in that regard because it's nothing to be ashamed of being naked.
I've also been debating maybe this criticism about John Dillermand being offensive, being bad, then maybe small boys will hear about this — because children pick up things like this — and maybe think, "Oh, I am bad for having a penis. My penis is bad." That would be the worst thing to happen from from this debate.
But this is not the first time that Denmark's public broadcaster has made a show with controversial children's show, right?
No, we have that often. We have a guy called Uncle Reje who likes to play heavy metal and who at some point encouraged children to become Satanists ... and people were very offended by that as well.
And also with nudity, we have a show where grown-ups take off their clothes in front ... children [older] than four to eight. But they bring school classes in and then people with maybe disfigurements or who are transgender or obese or something like that, they take off their clothes and then the children are allowed to ask them anything they want.
Wow, the Danish way.
The Danish way. To show them basically that there's nothing wrong with the way you look ... and that's one of the things that the Danish television wants to tell these kids.
Do you think that they will make another season, then, of John Dillermand?
I think so. It's been quite popular. I mean, we're not a large country, so I heard it had been seen 86,000 in the first weekend here.
And [after] all this debate, I'm sure a lot of people will find it.... Sometimes it works for you, having all this lively debate.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.