It’s really hard to know how to put this, but: In Denmark, kids are kicking off the new year with a brand-new animated TV show called John Dillermand, which is a show about a man with an astonishingly long, misbehaving penis.
John Dillermand (diller is a Danish word for penis) is a hapless, generally well-intentioned Everyman character who wears a red-and-white-striped onesie and just wants to go about his day doing regular chores. He wants to buy some groceries, go to the zoo, and do a little light gardening. Alas for poor Dillermand, at every turn, his penis gets in the way. It snakes through the hedges, where his neighbor nearly trims it with a pair of clippers. It grabs an ice-cream cone and then drops the ice cream on top of a traffic light, causing the light to short-circuit and snarl up traffic. In one alarming scene, Dillermand goes hunting, and his extraordinarily long member grabs a gun and waves it around the forest.
To the surprise of absolutely no one who just read that description of John Dillermand, it has been a somewhat controversial new programming choice for the children of Denmark. The Guardian’s coverage of the show includes several quotes from Danish academics and psychologists, which range from “‘it’s perpetuating the standard idea of a patriarchal society and normalising ‘locker room culture’” to “‘kids do find genitals funny.’” And as The Guardian piece notes, John Dillermand’s remarkable member is firmly asexual. Although he does react when it gets hurt, John’s diller has nothing to do with pleasure or even with peeing, at least in the several episodes I watched. It’s more like an ever-present, often mortifying pet.
Yes, I did watch several episodes. They’re only five minutes! And however weird you’re imagining this show is? It’s much weirder than that. It’s done in a blocky Claymation style, with John and other figures tilting around the world with stiff limbs and crude, stark facial expressions. Few characters even have much of a face, actually — almost all of the emotion comes from John, who has two plastic googly eyes that register his continued dismay at the actions of his penis. The penis looks quite distinct against the otherwise stilted, broad-strokes animation. It moves lithely and unpredictably around John’s world. It telescopes outward to grab the handle of a lawn mower, it sneaks into a snake enclosure at the zoo, and it steals a hatful of coins from a street busker when John doesn’t have enough money for lunch. (He’s trying to buy a sausage, of course.)
I’m sure there’s lots of nuance I’m missing in John Dillermand. All the narration is in Danish, and the internet hasn’t yet gotten around to easily accessible English subtitles for this particular title. I did post a request for any Danish speakers willing to translate a children’s show about a man with a giant penis in our company’s main Slack channel, but, oddly, there were no immediate responses. Happily, though, the story is pretty accessible with just the visuals. Plus, Google Translate does well with the episode descriptions. For instance, episode nine, “John on a Fishing Trip”:
“John is going fishing, but he has no fishing rod. Then he can in turn fish with the diller. Unfortunately, it’s just so embarrassing, because it just catches old junk. And the others on the dock laugh so much at him that the diller pushes kids into the water. But John saves the day with his diller-copter and gets the kids fishing ashore again. All is well until John gets the right bite.”
Just as I’d given up hope on obtaining a fuller translation of John Dillermand, my journey took one final turn. Editor Madeline Leung Coleman took pity on my lonely Slack-channel request and asked a friend in Copenhagen to translate the lyrics of John Dillermand’s opening-credits song. The friend explained that “John Dillermand” could also be translated as a slightly different dick joke: John Johnson. This makes the lyrics of the opening song “Hello I am John Johnson / he has the world’s longest johnson / there’s almost nothing he can’t do with it / he can swing it around / he can get a bit embarrassed / he could save the whole world if only he had the chance.”
That’s really the message of John Dillermand, at the end of the day. As troubling as it might seem to watch a show about a man with a giant, uncontrollable penis, it’s really a story about a guy just doing his best to make it in a world that is not designed for his particular body. It’s also a story of hope. John’s penis saves children from drowning! Surely, somewhere in there, John Dillermand has a lesson for us all about bodies, loving oneself, and the joy of watching a man who can use his large penis to play badminton with himself.