Issue 203 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1996 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the Back

Pat Stack

My favourite moment in Euro 96 was when England had just lost the semi-final penalty shootout to Germany and the camera panned to Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, bedecked in their England shirts, weeping forlornly on the terrace. For these two personify one of the more unsavoury features of modern fashion the `new lad'.

The new lad is apparently harmless. Unlike the traditional `working class lad', the new lad is not violent, nor is he racist. He is an educated, middle class, witty character who is only reclaiming parts of harmless masculinity from the horrors of feminism and the terrible wimpishness of the `new man' era.

The new lad is, according to his defenders, only reaffirming the fact that men like a pint, like their sport, and find women sexually attractive. The new lad is still `alternative' when it comes to comedy, but is free of the sexual prudishness of the original alternative comedy scene.

All of which makes you wonder. The alternative comedy scene developed as a scathing rebuttal to years of comedic tradition, where the easiest way to get a laugh was to poke fun at those in society who were different or seen as outsiders. Blacks, Asians, Irish people, gays, were all there to be laughed at as of course were women.

Women were either awful dragon like mothers-in-law or ugly wives, or they were `glamorous' objects who existed merely to provide sexual titillation and crude jokes for us all to laugh at. Now new lad comedians are saying, `What's wrong with acknowledging that men fancy women?' Alternative comedy also tended to reject patriotic chauvinism, but the new lad wears his three lions on his shirt with pride.

Skinner and Baddiel's Fantasy Football show represents all this very well, and is opening the door to many similar shows. I am told by many that Men Behaving Badly (recently, and absurdly, voted best BBC comedy programme ever) pokes fun at this new laddishness. I must say that is not the way I see the programme. A string of sexist jokes and fairly basic lavatory humour seem to me only to be part of the new lad onslaught. Interestingly, the two women stars in the programme were paid far less than their male counterparts.

Nor is it just television comedy which is rehabilitating sexism (and at bottom line this is precisely what new laddism is about). Jasper Carrott used to use much of his show to poke fun at Sun readers. They were ignorant, yobbish idiots who read a paper which based its appeal on the lowest common denominator of humour and prejudice.

Obviously, the Sun would be an inappropriate forum for new lad because apart from when under a table after twelve pints of lager, or chanting, `We're going to Wembley. We're going to Wembley. You're not. You're not,' on a football terrace new lad is an intelligent, well educated human being. So new laddism has given birth to a whole variety of glossy men's magazines that give new lad what he wants: booze, football, cars, computers and, of course, pictures of semi-naked women, without the unsavoury stigma of actually buying something classed as porn.

Magazine racks now bulge with these things, there's FHM (For Him Magazine), Maxim and, of course, Loaded. Loaded bills itself as the magazine `for men who should know better'. With charming little front page intros like `George Dawes fingers Ulrika. Blimey!' and `Wouldn't touch yours with a bargepole Loaded goes up a canal', you can see that this is a better class of reading than the Sun.

What's more, as a bit of harmless fun, Loaded can combine naked women with football. A monthly feature is a blonde woman who strips off an item of underwear every time Coventry City loses, while the team manager takes off a cufflink or whatever whenever the team wins.

Ah yes, all good harmless fun. What sort of prude could object to it? Degrading to women? Don't be stupid new lads love women. Funny, I think I heard that somewhere before.

One subject does remain taboo for new lad comedians, and new lad magazines, however. That subject is racism. New lad is not, I repeat not, a racist (unless you count Germans who are fair game, apparently, because they're better than England at football). Yet I wonder how long it will be before those who have rediscovered the humour in women's breasts will begin to find that Pakistani accents or the Jewish lack of a foreskin have to be reclaimed from the `killjoys'.

What increased my speculation on this subject was a recent piece in the Guardian. The article was an attempt to rehabilitate that foul mouthed racist yob Bernard Manning. The piece retold a Manning joke about Auschwitz, which the author of the piece, although Jewish, had no problem with. He also explained (without a hint of irony) that although Manning frequently refers to blacks as `coons' and `niggers', he never uses the word `wogs' because it's a `horrible, insulting's obscene'.

I'm afraid the subtlety is lost on me, but don't be too surprised if the new lads spot it sooner or later.

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