Before Milo Yiannopoulos came to Australia, traditionalism wore a pair of muddied Blundstones. Sexism had a firm grip on a Bundy and coke. A rolled cigarette was tucked behind xenophobia's ear as it sipped booze in a pub. This was the “real world” Bob Katter described in his parliamentary address. It was a place inhabited by the white working class, and it was somewhere that the middle and upper stratas claimed to never go.
But then Milo showed up. In a blazer so extravagant it was kitsch, he entered his last Australian show carried atop a jet ski by four topless men. The whole performance looked like a makeshift rendition of Magic Mike. One journalist recounted that “it was as though the personas of Elton John, Andrew Bolt, and Mick Jagger had all combined into one.” Nonetheless, his crowd went wild; flailing their phones and arms about in mad support. And it’s like this was a small crowd. Yiannopoulos insists that outside the US, Australia is home to his largest international audience, with some 10,000 tickets for his tour selling around the country.
Yet with a penchant for both Gucci and inflammatory conservatism, Milo embodies a culture that seems strangely unfamiliar. It’s an angry middle class who might not go for Pauline Hanson’s accent, but have plenty of sympathy for her policies. But with a pair of tan aviators, Yiannopoulos is someone this demographic can get behind.
WATCH: our report from the protest outside Milo's Melbourne appearance.
It would be absurd to claim that Yiannopoulos is the first bourgeois conservative to hurl intolerance into the public sphere. Parliamentarians, corporate pins, and other middle-class traditionalists occupy reputable positions everywhere, many of which have wide-reaching platforms. Tony Abbott certainly got a long way espousing wealth and intolerance. But the racism that pervades much of the everyday middle-class is insidious, whereas Yiannopoulos is not. His insults are explicit, all the while laced in the sort of lingo that has him sounding like the most grandiose of private-school boys.
Canberra Liberals’ spokeswoman for multicultural affairs Elizabeth Kikkert described Yiannopoulos as “very refreshing” in a since deleted Facebook post. Words like “perspicacious” and “witty” were thrown about by Rita Panahi. So while Yiannopoulos’ shtick is plainly unoriginal, he is affectionately considered by his chums as just the opposite: an edgy pioneer, who fires xenophobic witticisms like prizes into an angry crowd.
Pauline Hanson rarely gets described by anyone as “refreshing.” Surely she’s appealingly racist enough, but she’s also a national joke. “Please explain” has become a “legendary phrase” after Hanson went on 60 Minutes in 1996 with a brushed out orange perm and asked what “xenophobe” meant. The “shop in the front, the family in the back” kind of battler, as Sean Scalmer—Associate Professor of History at the University of Melbourne—has described. But Australia’s middle class don’t see Hanson as “witty,” which is her problem. They just see a single mother from the suburbs scrounging her way through politics.
Indeed, what is so dangerous about the white middle-class who journeyed to Yiannopoulos’s shows is their aura of respectability. The Sunday-market-going, weekly-massage-having, stock-market-enthusiasts lined up patiently. Every so often a full-bearded biker or a hot-tempered dude in a hoodie yelled in the protestors' direction, while “unremarkable, suburban folks”—as Jeff Sparrow of The Guardian suitably described—had their tickets scanned.
But perhaps also by shattering Australia’s preconceived archetype for bigotry, Milo also missed some air-time. When discussing why certain media channels cancelled interviews with Yiannopoulos he barked “[it’s because] I wasn’t some redneck”. And he’s entirely right.
Yiannopoulos isn’t the fear-mongering bread-winner who feels disenfranchised by the Australian economy. Yiannopoulos fears nobody. Instead, he is a caricature of class. A middle-class invention with unmistakably whitened teeth in a pair of glistening shoes. Behind the tawdry shades lives a spoilt child. The sort of boy who hates his mother because she’s boring. An entitled juvenile spitting the least poetic diatribe about Hillary Clinton at his friend’s art exhibition. He “is the new cool.”
Milo Yiannopoulos didn’t earn his Australian crowd. They’ve always been here, waiting to be awakened by one of their own.
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