“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
This quote by Oscar Wilde sums up my feelings on free speech and it is one I feel is particularly relevant in light of Mark Meechan’s conviction.
So often these days we see Twitter ‘politicians’ and ‘celebrities’ proudly exclaiming how they block anyone with a difference of opinion and similar to that, when Meechan’s conviction was announced earlier this week we saw an influx of comedians and activists proudly condemn him for his joke & exclaim that they didn’t care his freedom of speech was being curtailed because a.) The joke wasn’t funny or b.) People such as Tommy Robinson are sticking up for him and they disagree with him politically.
This is concerning for a number of a reasons, firstly because many of these people are comedians and if there is one thing I have always loved about comedy it’s that it should be an arena for free speech. I believe when it comes to comedy, nothing should be off the table. That doesn’t mean there aren’t jokes or subjects that make me uncomfortable, my personal experiences in life have left me feeling uneasy around certain topics however I am very aware that other people find them funny, and that’s okay, it’s good actually. Just because something may cause me to feel that feeling we hate so much: ‘offended’ doesn’t mean I don’t fully believe comedians have the right to joke about such things. This logic is very important when speaking of free speech, it seems so much these days that people are all for free speech until they find something ‘grossly offensive’ and then it becomes hateful, or until someone they find to be morally corrupt says something they don’t like. This attitude shows a huge misunderstanding of the basic concept of free speech as well as the history of those who fought for it. It wasn’t established for one side, or one set of people, it was established for all- even those with the most offensive of ideas.
We have Omid celebrating the fact that Meechan has been convicted because someone he hates has also backed Meechan, either showing wilful ignorance or a complete misunderstanding of why free speech is so important. I’m not a supporter of Tommy Robinson nor do I seem to share all that in common politically with Meechan but that is irrelevant, it wouldn’t matter if the exact same joke had come from someone on the far left or far right, the principle remains the same. This attitude is dangerous not only for one side but for all, I have to ask what Omid and others like him would say if the shoe was on the other foot, if it was his speech being eroded, I have a feeling he would have something very different to say.
Another thing that I would hope comedians would be familiar with is context and although many comedians who have supported Meechan (Ricky Gervais, Jonathon Pie) understand the context, it seems there are many that don’t, (well it’s either that or they’re selectively blocking it out to stick to their own narrative…) Anyone who has seen the video should understand that the joke is meant as an anti-Nazi joke, he wanted to make the pug into the most reprehensible thing he could think of and that’s what he did. Context really fucking matters and context is what was important here although disregarded by many including the court itself.
This guy wrote Father Ted, The IT Crowd & more. Including jokes about trans people, disabled people and more… I’m sure plenty of them could be decontextualized and thought of as offensive.
I hate to sound like a huge cliché but this really shouldn’t be about left or right, this should be about free speech for all. There are plenty of people on both sides that would be happy to see a political echo chamber, plenty of people who when it’s their own side being affected they will shout from the rooftops only to flip their views when it’s the other side being implicated, drowning in their hypocrisy. Likewise, there are many people on both sides who condemn censorship even for people they deem offensive and wrong, many of them have spoken out in light of this conviction, I can only hope this opens the floodgates for discussion and isn’t the start of the new normal in the UK.
‘if all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and one, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind”