Comment: Dire Dyer? No, far from it…




Channel 4 is the latest vehicle for soap star, Danny Dyer, who has created a very watchable two-part series about men. Tony Yorke discovers whether the cockney rebel cuts the mustard as he explores the controversial subject of toxic masculinity.

Tony writes: Danny Dyer. Star of Eastenders. A fella with the odd film credit to his name. An avid West Ham United fan. And now, having embraced the joys of a middle age spread, he’s branching out into the world of hard-hitting, thought-provoking television documentaries.

Personally, I have never been a great fan of Danny. For me, his penchant for effing and jeffing every 15 seconds, and seemingly producing OTT TV that appeals to the lowest common denominator, has often made me switch to another channel when his mug has popped up on my telly.

But I might be forced to revise my opinion of the 45-year-old (a descendant of Henry VIII, no less) if he continues to make programmes like How To Be A Man, which has recently aired on Channel 4, and can currently be viewed on its online demand service.

Don’t be fooled by the programme’s title: this is no self-help guide to being a bloke. Nope. Set over two episodes, this is raw exploration of the growing phenomenon known as ‘toxic masculinity’ – and, I must confess, it makes for absorbing viewing. But it comes with a health warning: I counted the f-word being used more than 100 times, as well as the full catalogue of other unrestrained expletives.

A key part of its watchability is Dyer’s very own vulnerability when it comes to examining the twin subjects he’s trying to address, namely ‘exploring if there has been a rise in toxic masculinity’ and ‘can men evolve masculinity rather than abandon it?’.

If you’re like me, you may not have an absolute understanding of what ‘toxic masculinity’ is all about. Indeed, I had to search online, and according to google the definition is: “Manliness perpetuating domination, homophobia and aggression, and imposing cultural pressures to behave on men in a certain way.”

In truth, I have only come into contact once with this term being directly being used, when, several years ago, someone told me they wouldn’t be coming along to a Christian men’s breakfast I was organising because it “reeked” of toxic masculinity. At the time, I took that as a reference to the fact those attending unashamedly believed the Bible is the word of God! I have certainly now been put in my place.

From the outset of the series, which projects no overt Christian messages, Danny’s perceptions about himself are shattered when he takes an Internet-based toxic masculinity test. To his horror, he discovers he is 12% more ‘toxic’ than the average respondent, which comes as a surprise to him. His answer of ‘yes’ to the question ‘is a guy who doesn’t fight back weak?’, was one of several that contributed to his online downfall.

Yet Dyer, however much of a ‘bloke’s bloke’ you might find him, is a saint compared to some of the people he puts under the microscope.

He meets 20-year-old influencer, Ed Matthews, who thinks it’s okay to insult anyone who doesn’t confirm to his idea of what ‘normal is.

“If you’re overweight and I’ve called you fat, then what’s wrong with that?” enquires Matthews, with a genuine look of bewilderment on his face (this was the politest question he posed I can cite in this column).

Andrew Tate, the controversial social media star and a man currently under police investigation, also comes under scrutiny. Dyer visits a school to discuss Tate with several young male students. While there is revulsion at much of what Tate promotes on the Internet, some of the students admit to supporting a number of things he states publicly – not least in relation to the rise of feminism.

Balancing things up is an interview with Mansfield Labour MP, Ben Bradley, who unashamedly uses his influence in Parliament to stand up for the rights of men, often being ridiculed and shouted down by fellow socialists for openly asking questions of importance and revealing an alternative picture of life in the shires.

Dyer also showcases a domestic violence refuge in Powys, where he meets men who have been subjected to sustained violence at the hands of wives and female partners. According to the programme, 29% of all domestic abuse cases in the UK in 2023 involved men being the victims of sustained assaults by women. This doesn’t in any way detract from the overwhelming instances of men being the perpetrators of violence, but it is an interesting realisation, nonetheless.  

The interviews certainly make for compelling viewing. For me, they demonstrate that gender toxicity is not exclusive to men alone. Women are increasingly capable of displaying similar traits. In truth though, I don’t think Danny Dyer really gets to the heart of answering the two questions posed by the programme. But that doesn’t matter, and that’s because they delve quite deeply into a number of related subjects, albeit not too deeply, and make it crystal clear where Dyer, Channel 4 and the vast majority of people stand.

Ordinarily, and prior to watching these series, I would have said most men would reject this radical and unhealthy form of gender identity. Yet it’s apparent I am wrong, as the testimonies of Ed Matthews and the school pupils demonstrate. The issue is particularly problematic for young men from working class backgrounds – “too many are lost,” states Danny – and youngsters whose education was badly affected by the isolation imposed on them through the pandemic. “They’re the ones who are really caught in the grinder,” he adds.

As for whether masculinity can evolve, Dyer certainly does his best to answer this question in programme two as he talks to stay-at-home dads, psychologists, Jungian retreaters and a sex therapist (I am not going to spoil things by revealing all. You need to watch the series). It’s a question I often ask of myself, usually at the prompting of my wife, or one of my four daughters. I haven’t yet found an answer that reassures the growing number of male detractors I know. But I pray regularly, and I live in absolute hope.

Check out the How To Be A Man series on the Channel 4 website.

Main Photo Credit: Courtesy of Channel Four

Tony Yorke

Tony Yorke is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Hacker Chronicles, a series of novels about the three British Civil Wars of the seventeenth century. He is also a committed Christian.

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