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Just A Joke: How Harmless Is Uni Lad?

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Since its entry into the world of online entertainment, there have been no shortage of articles about the popular student 'lad mag' Uni Lad. It has been condemned for a whole host of offensive articles, most notably those condoning rape and other forms of sexual violence. Editor Alex Partridge states on the homepage that Uni Lad ' isn't out to offend' and that it is 'taking the piss out of the entire (normally female targeted) magazine industry' suggests that Uni Lad was at least originally meant to be a somewhat satirical site, poking fun at mainstream media and presenting a light-hearted view of so-called 'lad culture'. But with tales of misogyny and sexism becoming more prevalent in university news, how harmless can Uni Lad really be?

One major flaw in Uni Lad's self-identified piss-taking is that its content, however lewd and 'outrageous', isn't actually atypical of what really is in established lad mags such as FHM and Zoo. Phrases like 'smash her back doors in' are littered throughout their pages, with one study suggesting that the language in such magazines was indistinguishable to the general public from the language used by convicted sex offenders. While I don't want to suggest that all the contributors to these publications share the same ideology as rapists, there is really no need for Uni Lad to add to an already over-saturated market of misogyny. For 'absolutely inappropriate' humour under the doggedly defended label of 'banter', pretty much any male-targeted magazine will provide the goods - and if there is virtually no difference between the reality and the apparent caricature, then the function of the satire is defunct. In short, Uni Lad fails to provide an amusing alternative to popular media because the difference between one and the other is almost non-existent.

Related to this is the ever-growing issue of creative responsibility. With a following that currently stands at 423,000 on Facebook alone, should Uni Lad hold any blame for their influence over their patronage? I'm inclined to believe that they should. When your audience is close to hitting the half-a-million mark, it would be downright naive to pretend that you have no significant impact on the way that people think and act. Uni Lad's advocates brush off the hateful dialogue spurred by its articles as all part of the humour, which is one of the most convenient accountability-dodging excuses one could go for; nobody wants to be branded a killjoy. The problem with this is that the Uni Lad attitude doesn't end with screencaps stolen from Reddit, but exists in real people. I've met a fair few Uni Lads in my short time at university - I'd be surprised if there was a higher education institution in the country without a handful of them. It used to be easy to tell someone spouting outright racism, homophobia and sexism to shut up, but Uni Lad boys revel in the apparent infallibility of 'banter', a buzzword which seemingly allows anything to be said in the name of fun. Uni Lad itself might be confined only to an online presence, but its ruthless normalization of violence towards women and bigoted attitudes provides idiots not only with a platform to spout their abuse, but an entire culture validating their behaviour.

Sadly, what it comes down to is perspective. Because lad culture is centred around men, those who take part in it will never realise how unnerving it is for women. Since there is no industry built around the degradation and suggestion of sexual violence towards men, it's difficult to explain how a site dedicated to posting images of women with offhand comments about how they would 'destroy' her is often seen not as harmless fun but as a potential catalyst for abusive and dangerous behaviour. Uni Lad likes to think that what it is doing is in some way shocking and new, but it's really just the same old stuff that has been going on for years - predominantly white, straight men ridiculing almost every other demographic and perpetuating a culture that only sees women as sexual objects. They can see it as a joke because it's easy for them to laugh off such behaviour; those who do not have the privilege of being given an equally overpowering voice in society don't always feel the same way. And as long as that communication and equality gap exists - as long as Uni Lads are happy to laugh and joke about humiliating and physically damaging women as if it wasn't an ongoing reality for many - then Uni Lad and it's legion of fans are not harmless.