“You can’t say that!” is now ratified in legal precedent, placing countless comedians and artists grappling with taboo at risk of a visit from The Good Taste Unit.
Police in Glasgow, the most dangerous city in the UK, hit paws on the unsolved murders and rapes to deal with the man who taught his pug to Sieg Heil. For fear he offends… someone. Meanwhile the pug walks free.
Despite the various UK statutes repeatedly calling on prosecutors to demonstrate “intent” as though they need evidence of wrong-doing or something, the Judge decreed that “context and intent are irrelevant.”
Wait a minute. “Context and intent are irrelevant”? Consider the far-reaching implications of that ruling. That doesn’t just impact comedians, but artists, writers, philosophers – anyone exploring taboo subjects through their creative practice.
To get to that point you have to deny the inherent humour of a Nazi pug. We have to agree the mere evocation of Nazi violence is too abhorrent to bear.
Now we’re going to have to re-appraise every artwork and concept succeeding Expressionism, which is going to be tough; conceptual art, having done away with beauty and craftsmanship, is almost entirely made out of context and intent!
There you have it. Jake and Dinos Chapman must be Nazis. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, 100% Nazi. Stephen Spielberg? Who directed a 195 minute film about the holocaust? Mega-Nazi. (Remember, context and intent are irrelevant!) Nazis are strictly off-limits because someone, somewhere is bound to find looking at, thinking about, and encountering any aspect of that period of our history upsetting.
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Meechan, like many meme lords, is not a comedian. He’s a rather ordinary, if not somewhat repellent Glaswegian specimen. He’s not my cup of tea. The point is he doesn’t sit in writers’ rooms. There was no one around to reign him in, to stop him going over the glorious edge. “Gas the Jews!” was a misstep; it’s a pretty stomach-churning choice of words.
However M8 Yr Dugs A Nazi, 2016 does stand up to comedic scrutiny. It’s funny for exactly the same reasons Doug the Pug’s homages to Stranger Things and the like are funny. Animals are unknowing. Animals acting like people is funny. The juxtaposition of cute and callous is extra funny.
A pug pawing over footage of Hitler is hilarious. A pug, who understands not the language of humans or Nazis, is rapt by Hitler’s oratorical prowess. The pug’s doe-eyed, vacant expression as he raises his paw in response to cries of “Seig Heil!” could be seen as a satirical take on the unthinking inhumanity that once gripped Germany, serving as a warning to us all not to blindly follow ideological imperatives…
In times of crisis I always like to consider Aristotle’s theory of comedy, but that’s probably because I’m a Western chauvinist… let’s just pretend that old white man had something to say, for the sake of the argument?
In Poetics, Aristotle argues that comedy imitates “the action of men worse than ourselves” to produce catharsis, the release of negative emotion. He argued that only “the ridiculous, which is a species of the ugly” should be imitated.
Sensitive bloke that he was, Aristotle included the caveat that comedy “should not be painful or destructive.” and this is where we’re running into problems.
Who gets to decide what’s painful or destructive? The men worse than ourselves, the subjects of our comic imitation? They can probably handle it. Should it be defined by groups affected by the actions of those men? Not everyone in that group is going to feel the same way.
This is beautifully illustrated in a Curb… skit where Larry David whistles Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll; written as a romantic gesture to his wife Cosima. A fellow Jew overhears Larry’s idle whistling and, interrupting a rare moment of affection between him and Cheryl, angrily confronts our hero – accusing him of being a self-loathing Jew. The jerk thinks that any positive regard for Wagner is an automatic endorsement of anti-Semitism, thus hurling the baby out with the bathwater.
The thing that’s truly worrying about political correctness is its imperviousness to nuance. Wagner was an anti-Semite, but not everything he did was anti-Semitic. So too is Count Dankula a nuanced being. His material needed some work, but it showed promise – room to make mistakes is crucial to freedom of expression and we should not see it as appropriate to imprison people who make an ouch-my-feelings-! faux-pas.
Let the audience be the judges in the realms of art and comedy, they’re the arbiters of taste (good and bad) after all.
When it comes to feelings, insult, and offense, legislators should keep their big noses out of it. The measures they’ll take to enforce political correctness are disproportionate, extreme and limiting to freedom of expression. The incarceration of Count Dankula makes the UK the official home of the humourless. Congratulations, you fucks.
Psssst! Are you a comic worried about hurting people’s feelings? Read our Top Ten Tips for Safe Stand-Up.