| by Mitchell Blatt |
You know someone isn’t funny when they have to explain their own jokes on a late night comedy show. When Bill Maher asked his guest Milo Yiannopoulos during the “Overtime” panel discussion why he had referred to a trans woman as “he,” Yiannopoulos responded, “Yeah, I did that on purpose,” nodding his head along to himself. Raising his hands in mock outrage, he continued, “I misgendered… this person.”
The new wave intersectional post-human activists watching in a safe space at home let out a gasp of outrage, and everyone else yawned.
The most objectionable thing about Yiannopoulos isn’t his casual expression of bigoted viewpoints, his patty-cakes game with professional racists, or even his personal attacks on random people. What makes Yiannopoulos so objectionable is that he’s so damn boring.
His words are utterly unfunny, trite blather reheated from angry Twitter hashtags. On the rare occasions he makes half a point (about radical Islam or free speech, for example), others smarter than him have already done so more eloquently, with more nuance and wit, and without his insincerity.
Maher insulted Christopher Hitchens when he compared Yiannopoulos to “a young, gay, alive Hitchens.” When Chris Hedges said to Hitchens at a debate, “I feel like I should be reading Kipling’s ‘White Man’s Burden,'” Hitchens shot back, “What you mean to say is you wish you had read it.” When Yiannopoulos tried to think of an insult to lob at his sparring partners on Real Time, he went right out and said, “They’re so stupid.”
Comparing Yiannopoulos to Hitchens is like comparing Trump’s inaugural speech to the Gettysburg Address. Yes, they were both speeches by presidents, but that’s where the comparisons end.
Hitchens, moreover, knew the value of words and the import of ideas — as do even less articulate writers and debaters. These writers carefully considered their arguments and put effort into making them. Even disagreeing with Larry Willmore on many issues and finding his sense of humor only a few floors higher than that of Yiannopoulos, one can clearly see he takes debate seriously. When Maher and guests asked for evidence supporting Yiannopolous’s claim that trans people commit sexual assault at a disproportionately high rate, Yiannopoulos refused to cite any sources. Yiannopoulos, laughing along with himself through the whole discussion, has no higher calling than creating controversy.
So when videos of Yiannopoulos defending pederasty and admitting to failing to report sex crimes he claimed to have witnessed went viral on February 20, Yiannopoulos denied holding the views he claimed to hold and said that he was only being “edgy.” Since the videos have gained momentum, Yiannopoulos has been disinvited by CPAC and had his book deal with Simon & Schuster canceled.
Much as Yiannopoulos’s fans want to make this about free speech, the decisions were made by private entities, which don’t have the obligation to give anyone a platform, not because of violence or physical disruption. Both entities canceled him only after they became aware that he had referred to the statutory rape of minors so off handedly, which is quite a different thing than simply expressing controversial political views.
In his “guide to the alt-Right,” Yiannopoulos defended the promulgation of racist “memes” on the grounds that they are meaningless jokes — “they do it to get a reaction.” But there’s nothing challenging about getting a reaction from an uptight Oberlin student. These same college protesters and paragons of politicall correctness get offended by jalapeno peppers on the cover of the Economist, General Tso’s chicken on offer at the school cafeteria, the use of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn, the Women’s March having too many white women, not enough references to trans women, and the Vagina Monologues “excluding” women without vaginas. The conversation the Left and alt-Right wants to have is about feelings, personal experiences, and minor issues that affect a minuscule amount of the population.
If you search the Huffington Post for “Milo transgender,” there are a whole bunch of sanctimonious outrage pieces about Yiannopoulos’s latest sequence of words, and there’s also a piece about a trans child named Milo who shared pictures of himself eating pancakes in the shape of a number every year on his birthday. This story about a “journey to living openly as his authentic self,” was judged to be so inspiring it warranted exclusives on BuzzFeed, MTV News, Towleroad, Mic, and the usual cultural-politics blogs of the Left as well as an interview with the HuffPo.
At the end of the day, the two Milos are the same. They’re both yearning for public affirmation and acceptance, going about it in their own separate ways. It’s just that one of them wants you to cry with him, and the other wants you to cry about him. Trans Milo’s story about eating pancakes is just as interesting as Troll Milo’s stories about having sex with Black men and Catholic pastors. It’s the stuff of sensitive young girls writing for XOJane and obese self-styled models who want us to see them without makeup. Yiannopoulos is more Tumblr than 4chan.
Yiannopoulos has indicated as much in his writings and appearances. His 2007 book of poetry, self-published under the name Milo Andreas Wagner, includes a poem about bullying:
Boys came. They took my things
They broke two of my teeth
But they could only beat me up
They could not do me any real harm
On Real Time, Yiannopoulos hinted at his own ordeal: “Most gays have a long road with coming to terms with their sexuality.”
Then there’s the video of his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience in 2015, in which he said, “When I was 14, I was the predator. I was chasing everybody. I was aggressively seeking out sexual company of adults because I knew it would horrify people, because I wanted a sort of power over them. It was my way of rebelling.”
Now that he’s grown up, he’s still the same insecure child who does “edgy” things as a way of rebelling.
The truth is, he needs campus protesters and rioters even more than they need him. He wouldn’t be where he is today without SJWs protesting him and making him into something bigger than he is. The College Republicans, for their part, need to wise up, as they’re being taken for a ride. Someone who feels an urge to “break all the rules, and say the unsayable” just “because it’s funny” isn’t interested in “having a debate.” Someone who resorts to ad hominems and sophistry in the face of debate and then argues that we should take his words as a kind of joke or performance art isn’t someone who has much to contribute to the discussion if invited to a place of learning.
Yiannopoulos is using conservatives for his own self-aggrandizement. He is just as invested in keeping social-political discourse focused on non-issues as the anarchists who rioted against him at Berkeley. Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Ghostbusters, and Shaun King would not be nearly as famous without Yiannopoulos and the alt-Right obsessively outraging against them. And now SJWs may be elevating PewDiePie, who is undoubtedly successful in his medium as the most subscribed vlogger on YouTube, but who is not so well known outside of YouTube, with boycott campaigns.
Please, let’s stop giving both sides the affirmation they crave.
Mitchell Blatt is a columnist and travel writer who has been published in National Review, Acculturated, Roads & Kingdoms, The World of Chinese, The Federalist, and The Hill.com. He has written two guidebooks, including Panda Guides Hong Kong. You can read his indepth cultural dispatches from East Asia at www.ChinaTravelWriter.com/blog and connect with him on Twitter @MitchBlatt