The words jumped off the page: “Danish cartoon’s heroic penis wows young TV viewers.”
At first, I thought it must have been a coarse attempt at humor, akin to something “Saturday Night Live” might offer. Or clickbait to a porn site. But this was on the site of the respected British newspaper The Times, so I looked closer.
Incredibly, it was an actual news story. “The public service broadcaster in Denmark,” reported The Times, “has scored a ratings hit with an animated series aimed primarily at children aged four to eight about a man with a prodigiously long penis.” Titled after the main character “John Dillermand,” which loosely means “John Willy,” the show revolves around feats of heroism performed with his unnatural endowment.
The first three episodes have been streamed 440,000 times in four days in a country of only 5.8 million people. Again, aimed primarily at an audience aged four to eight, “That is a lot of views and a big success for a children’s TV programme in Denmark.”
It’s hard to know where to begin.
One Danish media presenter, Maria Jencel, said that that she could not understand why children were being encouraged to take an interest in a “grown man’s huge magical penis.”
That’s a start.
Critics understandably suggest this is going to prove “a boon to paedophiles.” Morten Messerschmidt, a politician with the Danish People’s Party, said: “I don’t think looking at adult men’s genitalia should be turned into something normal for children. Is this what you call public service?”
But just as absurd are those who find no problem with the program beyond the fact that it is sexist. And sexist only in the sense that it focuses on a penis. In other words, where is the magical vagina program for children? As poet and novelist Anne Lise Marstrand-Jorgensen wrote on Facebook: “Is it just willies that are funny?... I’m incredibly tired of this penis world domination.”
How can any of this possibly be defended by the producer DR Ramasjang, which is the Danish equivalent to the Sesame Street producer Children’s Television Workshop? As the Times reports:
“DR argues that the programme fits into a long tradition of frank and anarchic Scandinavian children’s television stretching as far back as the 1969 Swedish adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books.
“Presenters on DR Ramasjang have been known to swear or break wind while on air. Last summer Google briefly withdrew the channel’s app, apparently because of its mascot, a piratical figure called Onkel Reje (Uncle Shrimp) who has in the past made a scatological joke about the Danish queen, implied that God was in a homosexual relationship with Father Christmas and handed out imitation pipes to children.”
But it was the final justification that stood out to my thinking the most. The producers of the children’s program said, “At DR we have a 50-year tradition of making content for children that takes [them] very seriously.”
No, you do not.
In fact, you do not even take them as children.
One of sociologist Neil Postman’s most provocative works was titled The Disappearance of Childhood. His thesis was that children are being robbed of their innocence, their naiveté, their ability to even be children. He contended that in our world, we ask children to embrace mature issues and themes, experiences and issues, long before they are ready.
Postman argued that the very idea of childhood is that there is a time when a young person is sheltered from certain ideas, experiences, practices, expectations and knowledge. They are sheltered from adult secrets, particularly sexual ones. Certain facets of life – its mysteries, contradictions, tragedies, violence – are not considered suitable for children to know. Only as children grow into adulthood are mature themes revealed in ways that children can assimilate psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
Postman’s analysis, first offered in 1982, was prescient. Today, 12- and 13-year-old girls are among the highest paid models in America, presented to us as knowing and sexually enticing adults.
Children’s literature no longer exists. Young Adult fiction is as mature in its themes as anything on the adult lists. The language of adults and children, including what they address in life, has become the same.
It is virtually uncontested among sociologists that the behavior, language, attitudes and desires – and even the physical appearance – of adults and children are becoming indistinguishable. Even the children on TV act like adults. They do not differ significantly in their interests, language, dress or sexuality from the adults on the show, making the same knowing wisecracks and tossing out the same sexual innuendos.
But when the line between the adult world and the child’s world becomes blurred (or no longer exists), childhood disappears. So no, making a television program about a grown man’s oversized penis for a four-year-old is not taking a child seriously. It is ripping their childhood from them; it is making them even more vulnerable to preying pedophiles; it is inviting them into adult sexuality. It is vile.
It is also dangerous.
Jesus once said, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV).
I think we can leave it at that.
James Emery White
Oliver Moody, “Danish Cartoon’s Heroic Penis Wows Young TV Viewers,” The Times UK, January 7, 2021, read online.
Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His forthcoming book After “I Believe” is now available for preorder on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.