What Dapper Laughs didn't realise: on TV he was playing by new rules

Ed Williamson

15th November 2014

Probably the easiest way to turn yourself into an online pariah or to bait hate-clickers right now is to say you feel sorry for Dapper Laughs, so it's a good job I don't. Fifteen minutes of fame is as much as his act merited. But I did get the sense, watching him being skewered by Emily Maitliss on Newsnight this week, that he hadn't quite appreciated that there's a difference between being an internet star and a TV personality, and that the two arenas have different rules.

There he was, a clean-shaven, turtlenecked rabbit in headlights, trying - without, it must be said, much opportunity afforded him - to explain himself. On Newsnight. This was some serious shit. And when you looked into his eyes, you thought, he knows. Finally. He knows that there's a difference between mugging about on the internet and doing it on TV, and that now he's playing with another deck.

You couldn't blame him for failing to realise it for so long, in a sense. Enough people have called him out on his sexism already that adding my own voice achieves little; I won't bother other than to say I agree and I never found him funny. OK, OK, I watched a 25-minute YouTube compilation of his Vines while writing this and I laughed at two.

But imagine: you start doing a daft thing on the internet. In terms of the culture of social sharing that perpetuates online success - whereby ubiquity is rewarded, and is its own reward, along majoritarian principles, irrespective of merit - it does well. You do more. That does well. You set up accounts on all the other social networks. All your followers join you there, too. Shit, this might be a thing.

By now the fact that a lot of what you do is unpleasant and sexist is being noticed, and you cop some flak for it on social media. A few people blog about you. But there's no need for you to respond or acknowledge this. You're not accountable to these people. You don't have to answer to an employer, or shareholders, or commissioning editors. The internet is the ultimate free market, wholly self-governed. Besides, everyone who hate-blogs about you links to your Twitter page anyway.

Then someone offers you a TV show. And a live tour. Of course, you say yes. Who wouldn't? You don't have a lot of ideas, so you just do the same thing on the show as you did online. Then the trouble starts. You're accountable to TV executives, tour managers, money people. And if people in the public sphere complain about you, now they have to be listened to. In the cold light of day, your act is indefensible. Of course it is, just look at it. You try to go back to the internet, but now you're a TV star with a Twitter account, and the dynamic has shifted. Two months later, Emily Maitliss is having a pop at you on live telly. She doesn't let you get much of a word in, but it's probably for the best. You'd only hang yourself further.

Here's where I verge on sympathy for Dapper Laughs: most of us creating stuff on the internet would like it to lead to something. It's not why we do it necessarily, but we wouldn't say no. In the enormously unlikely event that someone offered me a regular broadsheet TV column off the back of this website I'd snap it up, then start work on the excuses for when I ran out of ideas three weeks in. Anyone who read that column could come here and, if they had the patience, search the site and probably turn up ten things I've written in jest that are indefensible out of context. If one of them caught a bit of traction - say, when I said Gary Barlow was a Holocaust denier - maybe a campaign would get going to get the paper to sack me. Now, I stand by everything I've written and put my name to, because you should, and in any case the vast majority of it is pointless ephemera. But maybe I'd have to write a piece about how sorry I am. Maybe I'd wear a turtleneck while I did.

And all the while I'd be thinking, shit, I thought I was just writing daft stuff on the internet. What changed?

What changed is the playing field. Whether someone is offended by something I or Dapper Laughs create is subjective (OB from Hollyoaks once blocked me on Twitter for writing something I thought, and still think, innocuous) but I'd probably be equally unable to defend some of it if the cultural goalposts suddenly shifted.

As much as we're told that the internet is the new TV, the stakes are higher when you make the leap into the mainstream, and you're operating in a public sphere where you have to answer to someone. The sheer weight of numbers isn't enough anymore; likes and shares are no longer a currency you can spend. And maybe, just maybe, they were never worth much in the first place.

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