Image: Shutterstock

Reddit’s r/MadLads Captures the End of British Lad Culture

Is the Bantersaurus rex approaching extinction?

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Jul 15 2016, 9:00am

Image: Shutterstock

A warning: This article will feature rampant drug use, reckless abuse of kitchen utensils, and blatant disregard for social mores and the health of the human liver. It will feature absolute raving maniacs and wanton mishandling of various foodstuffs. It's about lads living on the edge, who stay up until insane hours and drink orange juice immediately after they've brushed their teeth. They might even occasionally take selfies wearing towel turbans.

If none of this shocks you or even sounds remotely edgy, then perhaps you're a Mad Lad too. Perhaps you've gone completely off the rails. Perhaps you're a legend, a banter king, or an absolute maniac.

Welcome to /r/madlads, home of the mildest, "maddest" young men on Reddit.

Much has been made of the death of British lad culture: If this is the case, then /r/madlads records its afterlife. The subreddit catalogues the lives of the last remaining #TrueLads, their "banter" and "cheeky Nandos" and underwhelming nights out: It's a joke on the Mad Lads, masquerading as a community for them. The running joke is that nothing pictured is as extreme as the lads believe it to be, all excitement evaporated in front of the camera's flash. Yet still the result is exhibited on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, as proof of the subject's "madness."

This absolute madman is cycling in inappropriate footwear. Image: Reddit

When I spoke over Skype with /r/madlads' creator, known by the nom de lad "ANUS_CAPTAIN," I was surprised by his Irish accent; this study of British masculinity at its weirdest was compiled by a relative outsider. Philip, his real name, is a student based in Dublin. "I've only been to Nando's once, I'm ashamed to admit," he said. He admitted that he regrets his scatalogical Reddit username, but is now stuck with it as a moderator.

Philip sees himself as slightly outside lad culture—most of his friends are computer scientists, and their nights out are tame even by Mad Lad standards. He was inspired to start /r/madlads after noticing the phrase "absolute madman" popping up on Reddit under pictures of dismal nights out, including the well-known image of "Dean lying on the floor." He noticed a common theme—"British lads overreacting to something normal"—and decided to start a subreddit specifically for that.

"The one that always stands out to me is that guy saying 'Never let me drink and have a broom'"

Monthly visitor figures have skyrocketed. According to Reddit Traffic, the subreddit is now at 500k pageviews, from fewer than 300k in June and nearly zero back in December. Last week they made the top five subreddits site-wide. "That was the first time we had comments like 'what the hell is this sub?'" Philip said. "A lot of the time, people will be led to us by an 'absolute madman' comment, and they'll understand pretty quickly that it's a parody of lad humour."

"Dean lying on the floor" is the ur-Lad, the original "nutter" whose picture graces the sidebar of /r/madlads and whose decision to splay out on the tiles and mug for a picture set a standard for Mad Lad behaviour. Other key figures include Ruari in the bath and Owen with a pen in his hair, their dignity valiantly sacrificed for the lad cause. "The one that always stands out to me is that guy saying 'Never let me drink and have a broom,'" Philip said. "It's just so perfect. He's cleaning up, doing something quite positive, while probably very drunk. And the description implies he's doing something completely mad."

Another Mad Lad tendency is to take awkward selfies—this man with a flower behind his ear comes to mind—bravely confronting traditional male discomfort in front of the camera by arming oneself with a prop. Often these pictures have the subtitle, "This is what happens when…" as if to say it's not their fault, it simply happens: They had to pose, they're just that mad...

What strikes the viewer as more mad than the behaviour of those photographed, however, is the way they share it online. Social media has done odd things to the lad: Apps appeal to his exhibitionism, a vanity long dormant, but the true lad can't be arsed to pose with any skill, or to side-scroll for a suitable filter. The Mad Lad nights out remind me of photographs of food taken in bad lighting, so that meals captioned "#cleaneating" and "#blessed" come out as uniform mush. These "mad" nights out are similar: You had to have been there at the time...

The Mad Lad is, ultimately, the Mild Lad; the kind of guy who'll willingly look like a tool for his mates, and who is uncomfortable even admitting to enjoying a meal unless it is prefixed with "cheeky"

Over the years, mainstream lad media has mellowed rather than declined. Magazines like Arena, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo are long shuttered, and those still alive, like Maxim, aim for a more female-friendly approach and even, in Playboy's case, no longer run pictures of naked women. Their online replacements, the lad-centric content farms, attracted controversy at first: Early proponents such as Unilad (there is now a different site with the same name) were known for overtly misogynistic stories, including guides on how to pull vulnerable fresher girls and even barely-concealed instructions for rape.

Those sites which have endured have been chastened: The Lad Bible currently ranks as the 13th most popular site in the UK after making a switch to more inclusive content (its founder claimed in an interview with the Guardian that half of all 18-30 year old men in the UK, and 20 percent of women, follow the Lad Bible on Facebook). The new Unilad's chief executive, meanwhile, has vehemently denied that it is a "lad's mag" and emphasised a move into socially conscious stories. In the age of real-time feedback and targeted advertising, lad media now tries be all things to all readers.

Where does /r/madlads factor into this ecosystem, and what does it say about the State of the Lad? The day I approached Philip for an interview, a listicle appeared on Buzzfeed which drew largely on the subreddit, crediting it in a note at the end. While some Reddit users were scathing, Philip feels complacent: "Honestly, I'm not making money off Reddit, so the only thing it'll do is give me traffic." Still, it's odd to see /r/madlads take a place in the lad content cycle as both its reflection and its source. The post titles on /r/madlads openly mock the bluster of clickbait—"Mad lad does something UNSPEAKABLE with bread"—but already they risk being drawn into the Lad Industrial Complex, the subject of their own satire.

Surely not sweets from a glass. Image: Imgur

The Mad Lad is, ultimately, the Mild Lad; the kind of guy who'll willingly look like a tool for his mates, and who is uncomfortable even admitting to enjoying a meal unless it is prefixed with "cheeky." He represents the harmless tail-end of a culture which at its worst has been criticised for perpetuating rape culture, but which is at other times no more threatening than Dennis the Menace.

The Mad Lad is the product of a masculinity in crisis since its inception—the only difference is that now there are more ways for the sufferer to document his symptoms. "I think it's the same as ever, really," said Philip. "People have always wanted to be this vain and self-absorbed, they just lacked an outlet for it."

The popularity of the mocking /r/madlads might imply that laddism is on the wane: Are we moving towards a post-lad future? Is the "Bantersaurus rex" threatened with extinction? "It's like the golden age of the lad," said Philip. "In comedy terms, not in terms of its original meaning. I'm loving the stuff on the subreddit. There are so many images on the subreddit now that I've never seen before."

So many of the "lads" in the pictures look movingly, shockingly young. It's easy to picture them all growing up soon and moving on, renouncing lad culture when they get girlfriends and leaving behind only these pictures as proof. Philip agreed. "It's one of those things where teenagers will look back in five years and think, why did I post that?" he said. "They don't 100% have a grasp on social media yet."

This lends something rather poignant to the Mad Lads, with their air of ephemeral idiocy and fun. They only went and did it, the madmen. Absolute nutters, the lot of them.

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