Well, as you’ve no doubt already heard, a Scottish YouTube comedian known as “Count Dankula” has been convicted of inciting racial hatred for a video he uploaded. He has yet to be sentenced, but it is possible that he will go to prison. His crime was to upload a video called M8 Yer Dugs A Naazi, in which he trains his girlfriend’s pug to raise its front leg in a vague approximation of a Nazi salute.
Much of the discussion about the video focuses on the pug and its “salute”, but this is a bit of a red herring. The crux of the matter is clearly Dankula’s speech. During the course of the video, much of his voiceover consists of “do you wanna gas the Jews? Do you wanna gas the Jews? Do you wanna gas the Jews? Go and gas the Jews, son! Go and gas the Jews, son! Gas the Jews! Gas the Jews!” as he tries to train the dog.
Squirm-inducing? Definitely. But let’s have a reality check here. The whole scenario is clearly established as a comedy skit. This is how Dankula introduces the video:
My girlfriend is always rant and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is, so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.
And this is the ending:
I’m not a racist, by the way. I just really wanted to piss her off.
At which point a warning siren sounds while an image of Hitler is superimposed over the pug’s face. Hardly something that can be construed as serious Nazi propaganda.
Okay, I’m not Jewish. But I’m mentally replacing “wanna gas the Jews?” with an equivalent slur directed at transgender people and still not really feeling a desire to see the guy locked up.
I suspect that, on some level, the conviction is the result of a cultural gap. Those of us who grew up surrounded by the culture of 4chan and its ilk should be utterly unsurprised that someone, somewhere, finds it thigh-slappingly hilarious to train a dog to respond to the phrase “wanna gas the Jews, boy?” Dankula’s opponents, on the other hand, appear to hail from a more sober-minded culture where jokes involving the Holocaust are off-limits — to the extent that they apparently can’t recognise one even when it’s clearly labelled. This is compounded by the fact that, because of its cheap-as-chips production values, M8 Yer Dugs A Naazi sits in a limbo between scripted comedy skit and home video.
Hence, a video of a man humorously inciting a pug to commit genocide is taken as something that might incite actual human beings to commit racist acts.
I’d never heard of Count Dankula before this incident, and I can’t vouch for his character. I understand that a number of far-right types have come out in support of him (I looked through some of the Twitter discussion, a chunk of which expressed the nonsensical belief that Islam was somehow responsible for the conviction). I am also aware that a climate of ironic bigotry is just perfect for breeding unironic bigotry. But treating M8 Yer Dugs A Naazi as a criminal offence is not the answer.
Oh, well. If nothing else, history books of the future will devote many a fascinating chapter to the puzzling era when a frog came to represent neo-Nazism, and a pug became an icon of free speech.