Milo Yiannopoulos is reaching his saturation point. Since Gamergate, the alt-right’s paradoxical poster boy has been on a steady incline. He got kicked off Twitter (“free speech” martyr status: check), people riot and/or protest when he’s invited to speak at colleges (“left-wing violence and censorship”: check) and was just a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher (Normalization Status: Unlocked). His voice has gotten louder and louder, despite many attempts to shut him down, and it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to him.
Well, one of the worst things. It’s tied with Donald Trump becoming President of the United States. In order for Milo to thrive, he needs to be iconoclastic and a rattler of sacred cows. His anti-feminist, anti-Islam, anti-left rhetoric stood out during the Obama years because the backdrop was much different. What he said stood in firm opposition to the powers that be and the overall sense there were things you couldn’t say in a progressive, liberal democracy.
Milo hit peak popularity (an appearance on HBO, headlines about Berkeley riots and protests, etc) at a time when his words function as little more than propaganda for the new establishment. His former boss, Steve Bannon, has the president’s ear and the president himself already seems to believe just about everything Milo says anyway. With Trump in the White House, he’s no longer an iconoclast at all. He’s a boring echo of the new authority, a predictable propagandist unable to admit “Daddy”—his name for Trump—is more capable and guilty of authoritarian rhetoric and action than the social justice warriors ever were.
It’s unfortunate time ran out before he could explain how Trump is compatible with his supposed libertarian views to Bill Maher. My guess is it wouldn’t have been a very good answer because he never really has good answers. A huge amount of his usual talking points are bunk and he even irrationally used a statistic about transgendered people in the Maher interview itself. He’s more flash grenade than drone strike; there’s nothing precise about his speech and debate strategy, it’s all just triggering and discombobulation. As long as people are obsessed with how offensive or unexplainable he is as a person, they won’t see how banal and middling he really is behind all the glitz. When the rubber meets the road, he’s Mike Pence with marginally better jokes and mid-2000s H&M style.
He thrives on being singular, on shocking people who can’t believe he’d say the things he does. How can a gay man insult transgendered people? How can a Catholic deride all Muslims out of hand? How can a person of Jewish descent with a black boyfriend spout such awful generalizing rhetoric about entire people groups? Well, the answer is simple: because you can cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s on the identity politics spectrum and still be a colossal asshole.
One thing I hope he, Bannon and their fellow ghouls force the left to do is rethink their own strategies going forward. Clearly, our outrage culture wasn’t enough to stop Milo from getting on Bill Maher or Trump getting into the Oval Office. Milo is only notable because, according to certain strains of liberal ideology, he shouldn’t exist. His identity shouldn’t be able to produce his ideology. This sort of thinking rightfully needs to be reevaluated.
By no means should we stop thinking in terms of identity issues! The great fallacy of the right is that every single person is invariably at the same starting line no matter what. But that doesn’t necessitate the left is correct to subtract any amount of individualism from the equation. Milo should be more than enough proof people do not fit into easily labeled groups and the longer liberals pander to groups on the basis of collectivist logic, the longer people like him can thrive. We should acknowledge systemic and entrenched oppression toward certain groups without losing sight that the individuals making up these groups are of many different stripes.
This is one of Milo’s more valid arguments: that identity shouldn’t protect anyone from criticism. He uses this to slam Black Lives Matter, the Muslim community, feminists and all sorts of other people but he’d be his own best target. Let’s say we concede his point here and say he’s right the left has gotten too whiny and reliant on shibboleths of identity. This implicates him as much as any social justice warrior. His whole M.O. is to whine and rely on identity as his best argument.
That’s the trap: he can only win as long as you’re offended and surprised by him. There’s no reason his viewpoints should be treated any differently than Rick Santorum or Michelle Malkin’s. If he wins this big fight against identity politics, he’ll have rendered himself irrelevant. What I’m trying to say is: he already is irrelevant. He’s just another Trump supporter. He’s just another bigot. He’s just another charlatan.
When Bill Maher said he was a young Christopher Hitchens, it’s an insult to Hitch’s memory. Hitchens was a rational contrarian with a “Women Aren’t Funny” essay and some late-period neoconservatism to dint his progressive pedigree. Milo is a reactionary, partisan hack who’s only as contrarian as Tucker Carlson or Megyn Kelly. Identity issues are important to take into account so long as the person in question isn’t a lying, blathering jerk. If you want to use your words to bully and oppress people, it doesn’t matter who you sleep with, how you dress, what color your skin is or where you land on the right/left/libertarian/authoritarian chart. At that point, your main identity is as a scumbag. Identity is important but a bankrupt sense of moral character can still cancel out all other signifiers.
And make no mistake: Milo isn’t just a mischievous troll, he’s a scumbag. He’s made light of pedophilia and recently walked it back. He’s singled out transgendered people for exposure, made statements about Black Lives Matter directly contradicted by the movement’s own FAQ page, circulated revenge porn and lit the fuse for a barrage of racist abuse against Leslie Jones. He is not the “virtuous troll” he claims to be at all. In this way, he is also unoriginal. Villains always claim virtue is on their side.
So sure, Milo. The misinformed college students shouting social justice platitudes before knowing what they’re talking about should shut the hell up for once and they shouldn’t have set stuff on fire or assaulted people at your Berkeley speech. I wish more people would protest you through conversation than through censorship because I think they’d see you and the SJWs aren’t that different after all.
When Lena Dunham says she wishes she had an abortion or you say feminism is cancer, you both sound like insensitive, ignorant morons. You’ve used false information to further your narrative just like they have. You’re as party-line as any of them even if you’re on a different team. You can hold your own against YouTube personalities and impressionable college students but I’d love to see you in the same room as Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky or Ta-Nehisi Coates. After all, you got pretty quiet when you came face to face with a former counterterrorism official at Bill Maher’s desk.
All America needs to see of Milo Yiannopolous is this interview on HBO. Watch him for ten minutes and you’ve got the gist of everything he’ll ever say after. The shock value wears off when you realize how unoriginal he is. One of the most telling moments of his interview with Maher is when Milo agrees he’s just at the beginning of his career and has years of being hated ahead of him. I’m already starting to doubt it. Society will outgrow him because he now represents the authoritarian Trumpist establishment. He’s not fabulous, he’s not a special snowflake, he’s just another shitty dude with shitty ideas working for a shitty system. How edgy, punk rock and dangerous of him.