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Danny Dyer: How to Be a Man review – come on, geezer, is this really the best you can do?
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Danny Dyer: How to Be a Man review – come on, geezer, is this really the best you can do?

‘With traditional gender roles a thing of the past, what does it mean to be a man in modern Britain? Danny Dyer explores modern masculinity, men’s health and male identity.” So says Channel 4 in its publicity for the hour-long documentary Danny Dyer: How to Be a Man. Run through the Dyertron at the top of the programme, Danny has it thus: “Channel 4 bunged me a few quid to talk to geezers up and down the country. Is there really a war on men? ‘Fuck knows’ would be my initial reaction to that. But there’s a lotta shit going down and perhaps some men – maybe a lot of men – are resenting that.”

By the end of a superficial, overstuffed, chaotic hour it’s hard to feel that either we or Dyer are much the wiser. It begins promisingly with Dyer taking us back to his childhood home on an east London council estate and meeting his brother Tony. They remember the joy and sadness of their violent father eventually leaving the family, the deep-seated belief in their community that men were providers and protectors and women nurturers and the treatment Tony got for being gentle, for not liking football and for preferring to play with their sister’s toys to his own. “I’ve got so much respect for him. Never in a million years would I have had the bollocks to pick up a doll,” says Dyer. But just as it looks as though we are setting up for an interesting look at the nature v nurture elements of masculinity, or where the strength to resist peer pressure comes from, or how the boys negotiated their differences as they grew up and they – surely? – became more meaningful or problematic, we are off to something new.

It is a pattern that repeats thereafter and only gets faster. By the end, we are skimming surfaces like a skipped stone and galloping through material that could have furnished a dozen documentary series.

Dyer interviews the Andrew Tate-lite influencer Ed Matthews, 21, who holds forth, from his parents’ garage in Brentwood, to what was at its peak an 800,000 strong army of followers about the media’s news blackout on misandry, the horror of the non-virgin woman (“Imagine your future wife had 30 other willies inside her. Even, like, five or seven, I ain’t involved”) and the growing oppression of men (“You got 25-year-olds now with no beards!”). But there is no real pushback from Dyer, unless you count his baffled-to-disgusted expressions as Matthews talks. It’s a shame as Dyer has been bunged that few quid by Channel 4 precisely because he, as a working-class man with a populist touch, is one of those best placed in the current landscape to engage in honest discussion with people like Matthews.

A group of teenage schoolboys don’t like feminists “classing all men as this terrible thing” and Dyer reckons it’s all down to phones and it was much better in the 80s when your friends had to come round and you all went out on your bikes. That box ticked, we are off to interview Ben Bradley, once mocked for suggesting that in light of sky-high suicide rates, homelessness and assorted other miseries among the male demographic there should be a minister for men as well as one for women. He makes the extremely valid point that if you don’t discuss things sensibly, extremists rush into the void and everything falls apart. But – ironically – we’ve no time to do so because Danny is off to a rare men’s refuge for male victims of domestic violence: 29% of DV sufferers are men, we are told. But there is no time to ask whether – as I suspect it does – this figure includes those who are abused by male partners, and we are left with the impression that they are all victims of women. The points made about the difficulty in being believed and the humiliation of confessing are, of course, important, but the lack of clarity elsewhere obscures any possible answer to Dyer’s original question. Can it be a war on men if men are mostly warring with other men?

Then to the Gay Men’s Chorus in Brighton, who extol the virtues of talking to each other after choir. This doesn’t really shed any light on straight or toxic masculinity and what we need to encourage, alter or eradicate about it. Then a brief chat with his daughter, who says he’s always crying and likes a cuddle. So … ? He asserts that young women ignore nice boyfriends and “always want the fucking arsehole” and speaks to a couple of scientific types who say men are better off doing something (with a bit of talking alongside) than sitting face to face with a therapist (I think – we really are working at speed by now). Then Dyer goes to a men’s retreat, and The End. Nothing is properly understood, explored, no conclusions beyond platitudes reached. A frustrating waste of Dyer, of time and of Channel 4’s few quid.

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Source: theguardian.com