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In Praise of Clicktivism: Dapper Laughs and People Power

13/11/2014 11:12 GMT | Updated 12/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The past fortnight has been a whirlwind of events in the life of Daniel O'Reilly, the man now formerly known as Dapper Laughs. The supposed comedian's brand of 'comedy' had focused around a propagation of misogynistic, in your face sexism, centred around the Casanovaesque abilities of, and tips from Mr Laughs himself. This particularly pernicious attempt at humour was delivered in handily short bursts on the video-sharing network, Vine, and through minimalistic bursts of 'banter' on Twitter.

O'Reillys online celebrity and popularity led to a huge number of followers and fans, live PAs at club nights, and eventually to his own television show on ITV2, Dapper Laughs - On The Pull. As a result, swathes of people composed, at least partially, of some vague decency and moral fibre launched a campaign of awareness around old Dapper. Although in fact, contrary to popular opinion, awareness of O'Reilly's problematic sexism has not surfaced only in the last two weeks. His misogyny and vile promotion of male on female violence did not simply go unnoticed. While it is true that the larger mainstream media had ignored his online presence, one champion of the new era of Journalism, namely Vice's Clive Martin wrote a rather brilliant and scathing piece back in June bemoaning the appallingly base level of humour that centred itself around various forms of discrimination and a projection of O'Reilly's own insecurity.

Amongst the most problematic aspects of Dapper Laughs' comedy was its role in the enforcement of rape culture. The normalisation and trivialisation of sickening acts does not go un-missed in a post Blurred Lines world, and many pointed to O'Reilly's Robin Thicke like chauvinism in the wilful misunderstanding of consent:

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As Thicke found out after a campaign to disestablish the misunderstandings he was proposing in the now infamous Blurred Lines, consent is not a wishy-washy act of persuasion or presumption. No does not mean yes. It really does mean no. O'Reilly, or as he purports in his Newsnight Interview, his character - who is now 'gone' - had failed to understand that. There have been some who have defended his line of comedy as satire. Unfortunately, when a member of the male-dominated hegemony, making cheap jokes about women that have actively encouraged hundreds, if not thousands of other men to internalize misogynistic attitudes, such defences crumble.

Others leapt to defend his work, citing the potential elitism in dismissing this working-class comedian's proletarian humour. However, as Martin wrote, rather than this working class comedic hero, Dapper Laughs represented more a 'missed opportunity' to turn away from the often stale comedy on Dave's reruns of Mock The Week or Russell Howard's Good New's Youtube clips with an easily digested, multi-voiced commentary. I like to take the piss out of the Daily Mail as much as anyone, but there is sometimes a rather bitter taste in the mouth to the dismissal of comedy from people from the non-political Guardian readers' favourites. Thankfully, the idea that this is the authentic brand of comedy from working class Britain was unravelled by Martin and insightfully, and totally demolished by Lee Kern in one of the best dissections of a character I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

The biggest reaction to Dapper Laughs stemmed from ITV's choice to give him his own show and platform. Since then, there has been a vast online mobilisation against his outdated sexism masquerading poorly as harmless banter. Many people, including feminists, womens' rights campaigners and pretty much any one with a basic understanding of how sexism and discrimination work took to their keyboards. On the Website usVSth3m, Abi Wilkinson began to detail what happened when she challenged Dapper Laughs and his fans through Twitter. She promptly received hurlings of abuse after criticising his comedic approach to 'helping' homeless people. This help had included kind acts of charity such as directly insulting rough sleepers for their smell, and denigrating them to the mere objects of cheap baseless humour. In 2014, the internet and its power are inescapable: articles can be shared many thousands of times, far quicker than they can be read in print, and the tide of opinion can change when problematic behaviour enters general discourse. It was in this way that the campaign really took off.

A petition on Change.org started on the 7th of November was quickly shared, spread and signed by more than 60,000 people. Very quickly, ITV began to sit up and pay attention as the vitriol disavowing the Television channel's involvement and endorsement of the supposedly risqué comedian hit the headlines online and in print. The viral nature of hashtag movements has allowed for a world with greater accountability. In this new age of internet activism, there are many whose fingers are itching at the ready to participate in clicking their way to equality and freedom. And, in the new age of internet feminism, you simply cannot get away with no-one noticing that you are being a sexist prick. Whilst such clicktivism does have its drawbacks, such as the frenzied storm many can be caught up in (see #StopKony in 2012 ), there certainly has been a transferral of power.

This power is now in our hands, or more precisely, at our fingertips. In sharing and commenting on these articles and petitions, we have begun to do away with the idea that we are unable to help or to change things. Internet activism and these hashtag movements are a new and powerful tool against large corporations, against governments and individuals. A new generation of social media savvy people have entered into political discourse with a will to being involved and doing something, even if it is with the click of a button from behind a screen. Whether or not O'Reilly's remorse is sincere remains to be seen. Whatever happens, it is certainly rather fitting that in much the same way that Dapper Laughs' comedy became viral, so too did the backlash against it.