Pug-off: is the case of the Nazi-saluting Pug offensive?

By Guy Reynolds

Political correctness has gone mad. It’s a phrase that is thrown about constantly – sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously. Obviously, the political correctness movement has achieved some great things in its time. However, with the recent case of Mark Meechan, an amateur comedian who goes by the name “Count Dankula” online (that name, alongside his self-given tag of “professional shitposter” is really all you need to know to realise this is a man who enjoys taking the piss), the issue of political correctness being taken to the Nth degree once again rears its head.

In 2016, Meechan uploaded a video to YouTube which shows a pug raising its paw in an imitation of the Nazi salute, responding to the Meechan’s command “Sieg Heil!”. This video, which was removed from YouTube after reaching over 3 million views, has resulted in a 2-year court case for Meechan. The trial has recently concluded with the verdict that Meechan was guilty of a hate-crime and fined £800.

To break down the video, Meechan asks his dog if it wants to gas the Jews, to which the dog stares blankly at the camera with the uniquely vacant eyes of a pug. Meechan then repeats the phrase “Sieg Heil!”, to which the dog raises a paw in a Nazi salute (To be honest, if viewed without the sound and no knowledge of the context, it looks more like the dog is having a fit than throwing a Nazi salute). That’s pretty much it. Now the Oxford dictionary defines a hate-crime as “a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.” Given this definition, how is Meechan guilty of a hate-crime? The pug has no idea what it is doing – it’s just doing what Meechan trained it to do, and the context under which Meechan is doing it– to annoy his girlfriend, the pug’s owner – is harmless.

Obviously, posting a video in which someone asks a dog “do you want to gas the Jews?” is offensive. That was the point of the video; to annoy Meechan’s girlfriend. But does being offensive make it a hate-crime?

The answer is of course not.

The Holocaust was horrific. Unquestionably so. But does that mean we can’t joke about it? Quite frankly, no, it doesn’t. Anything can be made humorous, anything can be laughed about, and for many people, the blacker the comedy, the funnier it is, and a pug doing a Nazi salute is quite funny. Furthermore, being “offensive” is an extremely bad argument to use. Meechan could well argue that he is offended by people being offended by his video – offense is entirely subjective, and to start to fit the legal language and proceedings of the country around subjective opinions is a bad precedence to set. Ricky Gervais, perhaps the figurehead of comedians who dance gleefully in the dark territory of the “politically incorrect” has supported Meechan, tweeting “If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive’, then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech.”

All in all, the entire situation is a bit stupid. Meechan probably shouldn’t have uploaded the video in the first place, but all that makes Meechan guilty of is a bit of attention-seeking. The resulting two-year trial is also stupid, surely the Crown Prosecution Service has something better to do?

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