Harriet Walker: A joke that blows the cover of lad culture


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Where did people make their hideous gaffes and idiotic faux pas before social media? Were there fewer, or did they just happen in the privacy of one's own home and no one ever found out? No wonder some tabloids had to resort to hacking phones. Thankfully, these days you can monitor online every single meandering thought from any boob who signs up (I include myself in that), from those who will bore you to sobs, to others who will make you grit your teeth in fury.

My favourite "I'm-so-slow-my-thoughts-couldn't-catch-up-with-my-typing-fingers" tweet this week comes from US Esquire: "How to get a better blowjob than #DSK", whanged up on the world's biggest noticeboard the same day that Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, was breaking her silence. Cute.

The link supplied by the magazine alongside this twaddle took us to an article debating the etiquette of receiving the said sexual act – not something I would naturally have read, but equally not something I'm going to be priggish about or offended by. Some men need to read things like that; many women will be glad those men did.

No, what I'm going to get priggish about and offended by is the follow-up, after many people had registered their distaste: "Sometimes our sense of humour doesn't come out the way we intend. Sorry if we offended anyone." The classically absent apology, like someone with a clothes peg on their nose handing you a stinkbomb, and normally uttered by sulky teenagers or bitey shop assistants. It means this: "I'm sorry that you have found some silly little issue with this thing that I think matters not a jot. How boring you are." As a wise man once said, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

But the easiest way to deal with this, thought Esquire, is to blame it on our loveably cheeky persona. "Oops! We offended some people because we're such sparkly-eyed little mischief-makers." Oh please. Are we supposed to be charmed? It was like tagging an article about an all-new gas chamber with: "How Hitler could have been more efficient." And the curt little retort is a cross between belligerence and bravura, the same heady combination you get for ignoring the advances of some horny little genome-void in the pub.

The lads' mag era is over. Gone are the days of lairy bombast and charmless slickers; most normal men now treat women with respect. And if they joke about rape, they sure as hell don't do it in front of 60,000 people or under the aegis of an international publication known to be fond of scantily-clad women. We've been hit over the head with the men's mag moral dichotomy for so long – yes, they're full of boobs but yes, they also promote gender equality – that we almost believed it.

This episode is proof enough of the sort of attitudes rampant at these magazines. So let's lampoon the myth of cheeky chappies and winking rascals, rather than playing up to them with gutter culture designed to titillate morons. I'm all for gags that blur the boundaries between humour and harsh humanity. There's something warm and soothing about serious matters being treated in a light-hearted way: it reduces them to things we can grapple with. But people have started giving up meat to try and clear the atmosphere of excess methane – if only half the men who thought they were funny stopped making crass jokes, there'd be far less guff around and we could celebrate with a burger.

And before you say it: yes, I can take a joke – just look at my byline picture.

Waking the grateful dead

I'm horrified and intrigued by the story of a South African man who woke up in a morgue this week. His family hadn't been able to rouse him, so they handed him over to the mortuary without further ado. What they didn't do was consult a doctor about this plan of action. The living-dead man awoke and shouted for help, promptly scaring away the attendants, and when he was eventually rescued after 24 hours in the mausoleum, he was treated for dehydration.

There is so much wrong with this story. How hard did they try to wake the guy, for starters? And when they couldn't, did they not wonder what was wrong? And, finally, call me a cynic, but isn't a crucial question during the job interview for any new morgue attendant, "Are you scared of ghosts?"

In the Victorian age, when people were beset with anxieties over being buried alive, it was possible to buy a safety coffin equipped with flares, whistles and a little shovel to dig oneself out. Bavarians were so worried about it that they hooked corpses up to the church organ for a few days before burial, so that if they woke up, a string would sound a note on the venerated instrument. Pity those poor watchmen, who regularly jumped at the faint hoots and peeps made by stiffening, bloating bodies on slabs.

And pity also, of course, the man who was put in the morgue in the first place; all he did was have a good lie-in. You can guarantee he'll be sleeping with one eye open from now on.

A reminder of why rock stars like Camden

Camden lost a luminary with the death of native singer Amy Winehouse, and broadcasters were quick to report the Princess Di-esque grief circus occurring outside her house and around some of her favourite local haunts. But, beyond the square she lived in, the only traces are a brief monochrome graffiti tag by the lock and a row of flickering tea lights at her favourite pub, The Hawley Arms. Camden doesn't howl for its lost sons and daughters for the cameras or by light of day; it serenades them at night, with grungy basslines and beer cans, with fag ash and falafel. Life just goes on in Camden, which is why all the rock stars like it in the first place.

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