Nazi Pug Mauls Free Speech in the UK
A young Scottish YouTube comedian was found guilty today of making a joke online, and with this verdict comes a damning indication that true freedom of speech is no longer protected in the UK. Perhaps the most important cornerstone of democracy, a safeguard against tyranny and totalitarianism that Western civilisation has prized above all else is now a luxury that the UK does not afford its citizens.
Is this statement hyperbolic? Who can decide? What one person sees as a gross exaggeration, another sees as hitting the nail right on the head, and applauds the speaker for bringing that hammer down. This is precisely the point – the forum of open communication must be maintained for the dissemination of ideas and arguments that are necessary in the pursuit of truth.
Mark Meechan, a 30-year-old YouTuber from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, was prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act for a short video he posted online that showed his girlfriend's dog reacting to comments of “Want to go gas the Jews?” and raising his paw when hearing “Seig Heil.”
Sheriff Derek O'Carroll at Airdrie Sheriff Court commented during the guilty verdict's delivery that: “In my view it is a reasonable conclusion that the video is grossly offensive.”
Being offensive is now a crime in the UK, and this should terrify every single person in the country. Being offensive is something that we're all guilty of, because every single person in the country is offended by something that another person is not. Today's ruling sets a reckless precedent in British law that the definition of 'offensive' is now at the subjective whim of hysterical online reaction to distasteful jokes.
A joke is exactly what this video was. The concept of a pug invading Poland under the banner of tyrannical fascism is so absurd that it is funny. Pugs don't blitzkrieg their way across Europe, bringing with them ethic cleansing and the relentless oppression of the Third Reich. The fact that this matter went to court would be hysterical if its implications for the UK weren't so grave.
Mark Meechan did not produce this video in his bedroom to stir up racial hatred. The man is clearly not a Nazi, which is evident in the video itself. When introducing the video, he states that his goal is to wind up his girlfriend, mainly because she is always proclaiming how cute and adorable her dog is. It is at this point that Mark reinforces what he, along with the viewer, already knows:
He's right; Nazis are the least cute thing you could possibly parody your girlfriend's pug into portraying. Nazis represent an example of the very worst in humanity, and, by the resistance they were met with from the Allies, the very best that mankind can achieve in safeguarding the freedom of others.
With their defeat at the end of WWII, Nazis were left at the mercy of an eternity of relentless ribbing and mockery from the rest of the world. This includes having their revered leader and ideology reduced to a portrayal by a fluffy little pug named Buddha. Surely there's no greater insult.
Similarly, there's no greater insult to Western civilisation than to impose arbitrary limitations on what can be mocked. When John Cleese hilariously goose-stepped in front of German tourists in an episode of Fawlty Towers, that was Nazi imagery being used in one of British comedy's most iconic moments.
Father Ted went one better, with a full-blown representation of Adolf Hitler by the late, great Dermot Morgan:
Of course, Meechan's now infamous Nazi Pug video pushed the boundaries of taste far more than anything that has been on TV, but it has every right to. This was not an incitement to commit violence through the medium of an online fascist manifesto. This was a small dog being used as a prop in a way that many saw to be distasteful and offensive.
The absolute insanity of the precedent being set here should be clear. If you offend someone, you can be prosecuted for it. Hiding behind the excuse of protecting the public from hate crimes and racial harassment is an odious tactic that exploits a people's religion as a means of targetting the right to offend. In the case of Mark Meechan, his attempt at humour used the Holocaust and the Jewish faith as its subject matter. This was deemed 'offensive' and was therefore a crime. What about Frankie Boyle's use of a disabled child as subject matter for one of his jokes?
Even for Frankie Boyle, a comedian known for his grossly offensive humour, that joke is uncomfortable, but it is a joke nonetheless. Professional comedians have used every uncomfortable topic out there to craft a sliver of humour from – 9/11, rape, murder, bestiality and pedophilia have all been used as an engine to make people laugh at the darkest elements of humanity. With this judgement today, we are opening the doors to spurious policing of what we can and can't say. Frankie Boyle's joke about a disabled boy easily falls under the umbrella of 'offensive,' and could therefore be labelled a hate crime against disabled people.
The matter of objective free speech vs subjective emotions came up recently in a Channel 4 debate between clinical psychologist and professor Jordan B Peterson, and journalist Cathy Newman. If the video does not load at the moment at question, skip to 22:12 in:
As Peterson points out, the very nature of free thought requires the risk of offending someone. As such, no one has an unchallengeable right to not be offended, because if this were the case then dissenting opinions and theories would not be voiced. Societal progress as a whole would grind to a halt because the risk in voicing new thoughts would not be worth the risk of offending even a single person who did not agree with them.
The very core of this UK court case is not centred on racial discrimination, but rather the moving of the goalposts for what constitutes free speech. Mark Meechan was found guilty not by a jury, but a single judge whose subjective opinion was that a video that featured a ludicrous concept like a Nazi pug was offensive. If one man can decide what is offensive and set a legal precedent, then what is to stop another person down the line deciding that another word or subject matter is offensive and therefore illegal?
Being offended is unpleasant, but our civilisation is built upon our collective ability to shoulder individual emotional slights for the continued foundation of open discussion. Opening this piece with a quote by Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise might seem odd to some, but that was a show focused on ethical dilemmas just at prevalent in deep space as they are on earth. Picard's lament to the erosion of free speech closes with a cautionary truth: “The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged.”
Please do comment below - a topic such as this needs debate more than ever.