Based on the description of FX’s new series Dave, you’d have no idea about the heart behind the show.
The series follows Dave, aka Lil Dicky, a white Jewish rapper trying to break into the music industry. Correction: a very white rapper. Like, the whitest. Even whiter than Macklemore.
When Dave is in Lil Dicky mode, he’s all about that toxic masculinity. He tweets about his girlfriend giving him head and raps about eating his girlfriend’s ass.
But when Dave is himself, he’s the complete opposite. He’s shy and uncomfortable talking about sex. When his girlfriend does actually ask him to eat her ass, he freaks out. He tries to please her appetite for kinky sex by dirty talking but tells her afterwards that it was “unbearable.”
Dave is not Lil Dicky. And Lil Dicky is not Dave.
Lil Dicky is who Dave thinks he needs to be to succeed in the rapping world, to fit in. It’s who he thinks the other rappers want him to be. And the stark difference between the two personalities serves to show just how performative gender is. Because toxic masculinity is the ultimate performance. It’s a show that men put on for other men, for women, for society, and even for themselves. Their clothes, their posture, the way they speak, what they say — it’s all just a carefully calculated performance to ensure that they’re seen how they want to be seen.
But even as Lil Dicky, Dave is challenging that narrative. Yes, he makes crude raps to impress other rappers in an attempt to gain street cred. Yet he also named himself “Lil Dicky” — a direct nod to his small penis (which he loves to rap about as well).
As a baby, Dave had to have surgery on his penis, which led to significant scarring and, ultimately, a small dick. By calling himself Lil Dicky, Dave is satirizing the idea that a big penis is correlated with masculinity.
But Dave isn’t the only character challenging the idea of stereotypical masculinity. Perhaps the best example is Dave’s new friend GaTa, who is portrayed as your typical rapper: a black man with dreads, tattoos, baggy clothes, and the “hood” attitude we’ve come to associate with the musical genre.
In an episode devoted to telling GaTa’s story, we learn that he is so much more than this. He struggles with severe bipolar disorder and was even hospitalized. He lost most of his friends because of it and never felt comfortable opening up to anyone.
But when practicing for their gig opening for Meek Mill, the gang can’t help but notice that GaTa is acting strange — one day he’s hyper, fast-talking, and crazy-eyed. The next, he can barely keep his eyes open.
When Dave calls him out on it, GaTa breaks down. He tells the group about his bipolar diagnosis and his medication. He says,
“I never tell nobody this type of shit, bro. Never, ever. Shit’s embarrassing, bro. Like, I’ve been like this for a while.”
He then starts crying as he thanks them for being so understanding, for being the opposite of everyone else in his life. He says,
“I love y’all, man, and you guys make me feel comfortable. You guys are weirdos just like me, bro. This bro rapping about having a small dick all the time. This dude right here rubs acne on his back, no problem. This dude back here dresses cool as fuck. He knows all the hip-hop urban lingo but pronounces all of his words properly. And I’m really bipolar, bruh. Like, really bipolar.”
It’s emotional and incredibly sweet. But most importantly, it’s groundbreaking. We get to watch as this black man, who is supposed to be a stereotype, breaks down and opens up about his mental health, something that’s particularly stigmatized in the black community.
But Dave goes there. It’s truly amazing to see writers take a show that’s supposed to be about a goofy white guy trying to rap and turn it into an endearing show about male friendships and vulnerability.
Dave is nothing like I expected it to be. And that’s perhaps what makes it so great. It subverts your expectations at every turn. The writers give every character emotional depth, especially the male characters. It’s somehow funny, absurd, and touching, all at the same time. And to watch the writers break down stereotypical masculinity is truly a pleasure.