The curious case of the Nazi pug
A man is being put on trial for teaching a dog to Sieg Heil.
It’s strange how it happened. One day I was casually browsing through videos on YouTube, wasting valuable hours of my life as usual, when I came across the image of a pug giving what looked like a Nazi salute. At the time I thought nothing of it. Just a harmless joke, I said to myself, possibly intended to send up the ludicrous herd-like mentality inherent in neo-fascism. But days later the image of the canine Nazi had not dislodged from my impressionable mind. Before long, I was ordering copies of Mein Kampf as gifts for friends and relatives, and cropping my moustache into a perfect square. My fate was sealed. I had succumbed to the power of the pug.
This is the kind of scenario that police in Scotland are now taking seriously. A YouTube comedian known as Count Dankula (real name Markus Meechan) will soon stand trial for creating the contentious video. For those who haven’t seen it, the pug in question belongs to Meechan’s girlfriend, and in an effort to undermine how supposedly ‘cute and adorable her wee dog is’, he trained the animal to react excitedly to the phrase ‘gas the Jews’, and to lift its paw in response to ‘Sieg Heil’. At one point, the pug is seen at a computer screen, apparently enjoying a filmed excerpt from one of Hitler’s speeches.
Does the concept of a Nazi pug really have to be explained? Have we reached the point where such a self-evidently absurd premise is interpreted as anything other than comedic? You needn’t even watch the video, the phrase ‘Nazi pug’ should be enough of a hint, let alone that it was created by one ‘Count Dankula’. Yet last week Meechan was informed that his application for legal aid has been denied. If the police get their way, he will be the latest in a growing list of citizens who have been jailed for making jokes.
Whether the video is funny or not is a matter of opinion. That its intention was to be funny is beyond doubt. But this, evidently, is not a view shared by the Lanarkshire police. According to one of Meechan’s recent tweets, the officer who arrested him did so ‘with gusto’ and said that he ‘was an actual Nazi trying to inspire people to become Nazis’. I hadn’t thought that such stupidity was even possible outside of the animal kingdom, let alone in the upper echelons of our law-enforcement agencies.
Detective inspector David Cockburn of Lanarkshire CID echoed this sentiment in an official statement. ‘The clip is deeply offensive’, he said, ‘and no reasonable person can possibly find the content acceptable in today’s society. This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone posting such material online, or in any other capacity, that such views will not be tolerated.’
Others have weighed in to the debate in a similarly cack-handed manner. A spokesperson for the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities said that ‘anti-Semitism is not something that can in any degree be regarded as a joke’. I think we can all agree on that. But where I part company from Meechan’s critics is in their insistence that the video is in any way anti-Semitic. Surely if Meechan was actually attempting to propagate the tenets of National Socialism, he could have found a more effective medium than pugs?
It should go without saying, but jokes about anti-Semitism or neo-Nazism are almost invariably a means through which such pernicious ideas can be denigrated. When Eric Cartman in South Park refers to Jews as ‘shapeshifters’ and ‘a race of beady-eyed thieves’, you can rest assured that we’re not seeing the rise of the Fourth Reich. Cartman is a petulant child who uses anti-Semitic language to taunt his Jewish friend Kyle. As a role model for would-be fascists, he has about as much potency as Meechan’s pug.
What is most striking about this case is the sheer number of people who appear to believe that joking about a topic is a form of endorsement. We see the same literal-mindedness in the now regular outbursts over cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine. ‘Charlie Hebdo beheads Theresa May and mocks London Bridge terror victims’, claimed a headline in the Metro. Perhaps those who are incapable of understanding satire shouldn’t be writing about it. Or arresting people, for that matter.
The Nazi pug controversy would be funny were it not for the sinister authoritarian implications of a joke leading to a custodial sentence for hate crime. Thanks to crowdfunding, Meechan’s failure to secure legal aid will not necessarily mean that he is forced to defend himself at his trial. But the very idea of this case making it to court should trouble anyone who regards freedom of speech to be an inviolable principle of our society.
As for the video itself, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly falls into a long tradition of degrading fascism through ridicule. ‘The greatest enemy of authority’, wrote Hannah Arendt, ‘is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter’. Those of us who are sincerely concerned about the rise of the far right should be the first to share the pug video. Believe me, neo-Nazis won’t thank us for it.
Andrew Doyle is a stand-up comedian and spiked columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewdoyle_com
Andrew’s new stand up show, Thought Crimes, will be running at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Tickets available here.
Picture by: Getty