So recently there’s been some news out of jolly old England. Well technically Scotland I guess, but who even knows the difference?
A Youtuber and comedian by the name of Mark Meechan, known otherwise by his alias; Count Dankula was recently indicted and convicted of a hate crime and being grossly offensive. He is yet to be sentenced for his actions, and a final verdict is slated for April of 2018.
So, what was his egregious act of hatred you may ask? Well he taught a trick to his girlfriend’s pug. Dankula trained the pooch to respond to the phrase “Sieg Heil” by raising it’s paw in a pantomime of a Nazi salute. He posted the video of the dog’s behavior, which also included him saying, “gas the Jews” to which the dog would seem to get excited. And that’s it, that’s the extent of his “crimes”.
Now as you may have surmised from my tone, I don’t exactly agree with the verdict. Not only due to the fact that there was no victim (aside from an apparently racist pug), but also because apparently it is acceptable to prosecute people for jokes now.
Let’s get this out of the way before going any further: Nazis are bad. I do not like them, #allofthem. Is that a controversial statement? I find them almost as loathsome as people who drive too slow in the fast lane.
This trial however, has very little to do with them aside from the joke itself. The precedent which has now been set is that you can now go to jail for making a joke. Context be damned, free speech be damned, someone was offended for god’s sake! Think of the children! Never mind that the joke was directly making fun of Nazis, it was offensive to some humorless killjoy and must therefore be banned.
Comedians have always pushed boundaries, and always been controversial. There’s an old saying that goes; “to find out who rules you, you need only find out who you cannot joke about.”
I love comedy, and I love to laugh. I can find humor in just about anything. That being said, there are of course jokes which I find in bad taste. Memes at the direct expense of victims of tragedy are one such example, as are jokes at the expense of mentally disabled people. The difference being, I would NEVER try to silence anyone for making them. I would simply cringe and walk away.
Now it’s obvious that this joke was not made to incite racial hatred. It was made, on a whim by a youtuber trying to annoy his girlfriend. Anyone with a remedial modicum of intelligence can understand that the joke was directly at the expense of the Nazi’s, and not in defense of them. Fascism and totalitarianism do not like comedy, because you cannot control what people find to be funny. To take away the ability of one to joke, you silence the ability for all. And you know who else would’ve had a big problem with someone making fun of Nazis? The Nazis.
How does one even quantify the parameters involved with a charge like being “grossly offensive”? Offense; like humor is subjective, and what offends one may not offend another. If we are to write laws based upon taking offense, then no one will ever be able to do anything because there is always someone offended by something. Comedy exists to ridicule and call out bad ideas, which is why it is absolutely essential to a free society.
The United Kingdom is not a free society. There is no charter protecting free speech, and nor does it seem to be upheld by any statutory right. Their police officers regularly patrol Facebook and twitter for hate speech and arrest those who do not conform. Look I get it, people say mean and sometimes hateful things online, but suppressing them by force only strengthens their cause. You want to beat their ideas? Then have better ideas of your own.
The troubling thing is, events like Dankula’s case are nothing new. Citizens are routinely monitored on social media platforms, with many facing criminal charges for things they post. The message is clear: “YOU ARE BEING WATCHED.” Every second of every day while you are online. Make a wrong joke? Well you may just find yourself behind bars in no time at all. For those who do not see the crucial importance of free speech; I pray you never find out what it is like to live without it. A system which prevents you from voicing your opinion and making jokes is tyrannical by nature. Free speech, is the backbone of a free society, and we must accept nothing less than complete free-thinking absolutism.
This is how fascistic regimes rise to prominence. A small isolated event sets a precedent. A comedian makes a controversial joke which rustles some jimmies, so legislation is passed to prevent it. Pretty soon everyone’s rights are restricted by proxy and government power and control increases exponentially. Rights of the individual should never be foregone for the sake of perceived safety.
Since we live in a hyper-partisan political dichotomy, picture it this way. Whatever law you propose must be viewed as if your opposing political party is the one utilizing it. If you don’t like the thought of Obama prosecuting political adversaries, then don’t applaud when Trump does it. Our system is configured in a way which swings the pendulum back every 8 or so years. Whatever power you give to your own political party, could one day be used against you by the other.
I am a writer, and at some point, I’m sure something that I create will rub someone the wrong way. This event is important for anyone who enjoys creating, because if it is not subdued than we are all at risk. Refusal to speak on the issue now only gives the impression that it is okay to repeat it in the future. A society in which free expression and controversial jokes are restricted is an extremely boring society.
The biggest thing to take from all this in my opinion, is that controversy does not warrant criminality. Offense does not equal legal repercussions. Legislative mandate is not necessary to maintain a healthy society, in fact it only undermines it. Government has been, and always will be the single greatest threat to life, liberty and freedom, because the law is always on their side. That is why it must be held to account and restricted within every possible avenue.
Foregoing freedom for the sake of perceived safety gets us only heavily restrictive and draconian laws, and emotion makes terrible legislation. Anything less than complete ability to discuss ideas freely and unhindered is an abject failure by the populace and those entrusted with governing them. The time to speak is now, because individual liberty is a budding rose, and with every second, the wretched weeds of tyrannical government seek to constrict it.