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By Jason Michael
Racist jokes can make us laugh in spite of ourselves, but is a racist joke less racist because it is “a joke?” Mark Meechan certainly thinks so, and right now he is facing a jail sentence for his racist comedic stylings on YouTube.
Mark Meechan, a Coatbridge based YouTuber who goes by the nom de guerre “Count Dankula,” is shortly to be tried in a Scottish court on charges relating to communicating an offensive message and committing a hate crime. His alleged offensive communication and hate crime was, would you believe, training his girlfriend’s pet pug “Buddha” to give a Nazi salute and respond to the phrase “Gas the Jews.” In black and white this reads like the actions of an utterly deplorable human being; the work of a sick and twisted mind – even the infantile antics of a real life racist. But, as is usually the case with such sensationalised stories hopped on by the British tabloid press, there is more to it than this.
Meechan prefaces the video “Nazi Pug” by stating this was a prank intended to annoy his girlfriend by turning her cute and adorable little pug into the “least cute thing” he could think of, and that was a Nazi. The video is puerile, but the repetition of this horrifying phrase and Buddha’s excitement at hearing it, taken with the sight of the podgy little pooch standing at a desk appearing to watch Hitler address a Nuremberg rally, is comical. It did make me laugh.
On a number of occasions in his YouTube videos discussing the case Meechan makes the claim he is a comedian. He’s a comedian if he says he is, and he is frustrated with the law for prosecuting a comedian for doing what comedians do – telling jokes. This is where I part company with Count Dankula. Where he sees this as a challenge to free speech, I am a tad more reticent. In Scotland free speech; that is speech unfettered from responsibility and legal consequences, is not a constitutional right. This may well be the case in the United States and there may be a case that it is a human right under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but no one has the right to shout “fire” in a crowded room. In Scotland, while people may have the right to say what they want, no one is exempt from the legal consequences of what they say.
Bunty King (@realbuntyking) July 18, 2017
What this means is that we are forced to weigh up what people say and publish through the lens of the law and determine whether or not a crime – in this case a racial hate crime – has been committed. We are asked to assess whether or not the accused is indeed a racist guilty of propagating racial hatred. Now, okay, training a dog to give a Nazi salute and respond to a repugnant expression like “Gas the Jews,” especially when it has been made clear this is an attempt at humour to play a prank on someone who it is assumed will get the joke, is hardly a hate crime. Sharing this around the world on YouTube, however, may well be.
After having conceded that I laughed at the video, we are forced to ask ourselves that if by describing a racist or offensive comment as a joke we absolve it of its racism or offensiveness and indeed its criminality. Is it a joke to scrawl “Fuck the Pope” over a whole two pages of your sister’s wedding guestbook, given that she is a Protestant and her husband a Catholic, for example? It’s hard to say. Like all language, such “jokes” are context dependent.
Over the past number of years, very much reflecting the rise of the populist right in the United Kingdom, across Europe, and in the United States, there has been a discernible increase in demand on social media for greater “freedom of speech.” In fact, one of the principal demands of the right has been for more freedom of speech – the right to use racially abusive and inciting language without legal ramifications. Those opposing this demand have been labelled by the right “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors,” among other things.
KayDee (@kbaum1977) January 01, 2018
Writing on the subject of racist jokes in 2001, Loughborough University researcher Michael Billig states that “one should not expect that the propaganda of the extreme right will express a simple position in relation to contemporary constraints against racism. Racist groups might seek to destroy the social basis of such restraints while at the same time they may be operating partly within such restraints.”
This is interesting. The constraints against racism, as Mark Meechan has discovered, are the laws society imposes on such things as speech and other forms of expression as a safeguard against the empowerment and emboldening of racist opinion and groups. Billig’s observation is that racist groups and individuals, while maintaining an outward respect for the law, will at times also work to undermine and remove them. While on the surface the demand for the right to say what one thinks without legal censure sounds like a noble struggle for human rights – and it is always couched in the discourse of rights, when it comes to racists and racism, this demand has a dangerous and pernicious ulterior motive; the right to abuse others on the grounds of their race.
Am I saying that Mr Meechan is one of these ideological racists bent on removing curbs on racially abusive language and expression to further his own racist ends? No, I am not – not yet. Taken in isolation, the video in question is not “racist” qua the work of an ideological white supremacist racist engaged in an overt attempt to racially abuse others. It’s many other things, but it’s not that. Like a lot of comedy – arguably all good comedy, it is on the edge, it is shockingly inappropriate, and it makes us laugh a guilty laugh. It may have racist content, but it is not – as a stand-alone piece – “racist.” On its own, it is hard to see how a judge can convict Meehan of a hate crime.
But… this video is not a stand-alone work. Almost demonstrating the point Billig made in his paper, this video may bend but keep the rules while other videos by the same vlogger do not. Taking this “joke” and the material from other videos and events into consideration, an accumulative and more realistic picture of Mark Meehan as a racist does emerge.
Create a Freedom of Speech act and bring an end to Thought Policing Hate Crime laws. petition.parliament.uk/petitions/2036…—
Count Dankula🏴 (@CountDankulaTV) January 07, 2018
In his parody of the 1993 Animaniacs song, “Nations of the World,” Meechan gives his viewers a run through of the nations with an assortment of the most highly racist names and stereotypes one can imagine, and this time without an I’m-not-a-racist disclaimer. China he describes as “that place that has all the rice,” Ireland as “alcoholism,” Turkey as “filthy cockroaches,” and Romania as “thieving wee Gypsies.” The list goes on. His special ire is reserved for Islam and Muslims, with the countries of the Middle East, together with Germany and London, called “Muslims, and Muslims, and Muslims, and Muslims,” and Pakistan as “the one where they all touch kids.” Southern Africa is “AIDS, AIDS, AIDS.” It certainly doesn’t help that he appears in one part of the video wearing a knight’s helmet – reminiscent of a Crusader.
There is absolutely no question that this video is racist, and it can do nothing but put his motives for teaching his partner’s pug to give a Nazi salute and respond to “Gas the Jews” in a starker, uglier light. Mark Meechan comes across as an expert at doing himself no favours. On the one hand he is trying his best to convince a judge that his video was a joke and that he is a comedian, and then on the other he is making racist parodies and linking up with Tommy Robinson at Rebel Media to advocate freedom of speech. Yes, you read that right – Tommy Robinson.
I don’t want this young man to go to prison. I certainly do not relish the thought of his life being ruined by a criminal conviction for a racist hate crime. No good will come of that. Mark is funny. He is gifted. He has a great deal to offer, but what he has done is racist and offensive. I don’t believe in the same “free speech” he does. We understand this freedom in very different ways. My fear is that he has bought into a fraudulent notion of liberty that is advancing the agenda of dangerous and hateful people, and this is anything but a joke.
Mark Meechan in his own words. Decide for yourself.
This video was removed from the platform for “violating YouTube’s policy on hate speech.” Luckily one of Mark Meechan’s Twitter followers reposted it in response to Mark’s tweet in relation to it being taken down:
Jackie (@urboijackie) January 15, 2018