The Sad Truth About Milo Yiannopoulos
As his career falls apart, there's one thing we need to remember.
(Top photo: Milo Yiannopoulos speaks at a press conference, on Tuesday the 21st of February, 2017. Photo: Mary Altaffer AP/Press Association Images)
Milo Yiannopoulos has a secret he's spent his whole life trying to conceal. It's not his recently uncovered defence of child abuse – a video in which he dismisses the "arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent" – which is now rapidly destroying his career, leading to his resignation from Breitbart and the cancellation of both his keynote speech at the conservative CPAC conference and his book with Simon & Schuster. It's not his terrible book of poetry (some lines, from a poem titled Psychosis Manifest: "My suffering / enables the serpent").
No: Milo's secret is that he's one of the most boring people on the planet.
He spends every waking second trying to hide this fact. It's why an adult man who used to dress exactly like the awkward tech journalist he was now swans around in costumes ranging from "Poochie the dog" to "the binbags behind Asda" to "scene-filler from Triumph of the Will". It's why, like every other failed reactionary loser to get bored of these pissy islands, he went off to seek fame in America, where people confuse our accents for wit and our humdrum sex lives for personality. It's why he won't stop running up and down in front of the world, screaming "look at me!" He needs to keep it up forever, because as soon as he stops, people will realise there's nothing to see.
Listen to what Milo actually says, beyond all the teenage showiness about how many cocks he's sucked and how great his clothes are. He thinks Islam is "sinister", feminism is stupid and the world revolves around him. He's someone's Home Counties dad, a spluttering retired colonel full of gravy and defeat, spraying little specks of Brussels sprouts from his mouth as he drones on about immigrants at the dinner table, while the kids roll their eyes and push their peas forlornly from one side of the plate to the other.
The reason Milo's comments on paedophilia have done him so much damage is that they're the only opinions he holds – including those that are outrightly fascist – that wouldn't also be held by any ordinary middle-aged pub bore. He's built an entire career on claiming to be a "dangerous faggot", the supervillain of the internet, a man who says the things that people aren't meant to say – but speaking the forbidden truth will only get you on all the TV channels if your forbidden truth is actually just the boring old conventional wisdom. Milo has since denied defending paedophilia, claiming of the videos: "If it somehow comes across (through my own sloppy phrasing or through deceptive editing) that I meant any of the ugly things alleged, let me set the record straight: I am completely disgusted by the abuse of children."
For a brief moment, just after half the world heard him say that "you can get quite hung up on this child abuse thing", he really was everything he claimed to be. And look where that got him. Audiences are fine with racism or misogyny; people were prepared to forgive him for throwing a big online tantrum over a film he didn't like; plenty of stuffy columnists didn't mind him encouraging American college students to inform the immigration authorities on any suspiciously Mexican-seeming classmates. But appearing to be relaxed about fucking kids is a step too far. And so he lost his book deal, and his big speech, and his Breitbart post, and he'll probably lose much more besides. For a university to invite a fascist to their campus might just be free expression, but nobody wants to open their doors to someone who thinks the idea of consent is "arbitrary and oppressive".
There's no point trying to ignore Milo now that he's here; it'd be like a TV station only deciding to stop giving free airtime to Donald Trump once he's already pissing triumphantly from the White House balcony.
Milo's fanboys – and there are a lot of them, even now; sad scrawny men whose hairs jostle with pimples across an always strangely damp face – usually have two lines of argument when it comes to their hero. First, he's just trolling. Milo is a jester and an ironist, he says things for attention and shock value, and if you let yourself get upset by them you've just proven yourself to be his plaything. Second, and closely related, any criticism of the man just gives him more attention: if it weren't for all the outrage he'd still be just another sad dweeb reviewing pencils for the Telegraph, and every time you make fun of his flimsy pretensions you're just helping him get more famous and feeding the vast churning mill of his ego. Luckily, these are both bullshit.
One of those strange journalistic codes – the same ones that require the redtops to describe any sexual act as a "romp" and the New York Times to mangle all its headlines into syntactic dog food – demands that no newspaper describe Milo Yiannopoulos as anything other than a "provocateur". He's not. He's not a provocateur, or a satirist, or a trickster, or a troll; he's an idiot. Milo has no sense for irony whatsoever; he's far too vain for the long, patient game of saying anything other than what he thinks. Look at his old columns for the Catholic Herald – since deleted, but nothing on the internet is ever really gone forever – and it's all drearily familiar: protesters are bad, the left are bullies, the media is biased, everyone's mean to me; all delivered without a moment of deftness or play, and all in the grim throttled tones of any mouldering and moribund conservative hack.
The second line is at least a little more interesting, if only because the left has somehow been suckered into it. There's a strange taboo that's grown around Milo: don't write about him, don't even say his name, because every time you do he grows stronger. Milo's supporters tell us that the left created him by disliking him, and we glibly nod along. But what really created him was an American public that treats a private-school accent as if it were mind-control wizardry, and a conservative establishment so intellectually famished that they'd promote an acrylic-painted mannequin doing its best Hitchens impression as their greatest living mind.
There's no point trying to ignore Milo now that he's here; it'd be like a TV station only deciding to stop giving free airtime to Donald Trump once he's already pissing triumphantly from the White House balcony. But it's getting harder to pretend that any mention of Milo's name is only driving his book sales, now that his book is no longer a going concern. Paying attention to Milo – not just lazily agreeing with him that he's ever so daring and ever so dangerous, but really paying attention – has worked. Milo is fading fast: he's with us now, but not for long. And soon he can go back to being what he always was: another bloviating dunce obsessed with his own importance, one more whiny voice in the vast chorus of the dull.
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