Making Milo: The Big Liberal Hand In Creating A Monster of the People
We shoulda seen it coming. He was the bastard son haunting all of us libertines in our darkest nightmares, the mutant offspring of the last 20 years of pop culture and “eat it, squares” smart-ass progressivism. And now, in great company with Pauly D and Puck, with all the “Real Housewives” and Flavor Flav 2.0, Milo Yiannopoulos is discovering the final stage of being a creature formed by the whims of a gossip-hungry public fueled by instant outrage and a great delight in shocking the squares: Milo’s 15 minutes is up. Those who created him are finally appeased by the death of their monster at the hands of the villains who completed his rise and then sent him to be their own private Robespierre. His only hope is for a swift death and a few years of space, after which he can, with a little luck and a lot of humility, perhaps sneak back into the public conscience miles away from the rare air he’d breathed so deep for the last few months.
Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!” – Frankenstein’s monster
Milo has been called by many the heir apparent to rot-spraying conservatives like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, the 21st-century incarnation of the atavistic rightist blowhards who’d made careers courting popular outrage. But to chalk his hate-filled ride atop the political zeitgeist up to commentary precedent is a fools’ errand. All of us are to blame for the creature that was Milo. And none much more guilty than us hyperbolic liberals and celebrity worshipers who taught the world that shaming, exaggeration and offense are kingmakers.
Milo, Worshiper of The Church of Snark
The first moment I saw Milo with his bleach blond flop, I was reminded of a media personality who built a career by insulting and demeaning people, especially women. I was reminded of Perez Hilton, the first uber-successful blogger in my memory (and no, not becasuse they’re both gay, because I didn’t even know Milo was gay until he launched his “Dangerous Faggot” tour). Milo didn’t even remind me of Perez himself but actually the blond cartoon doppelganger topping his website; the caricature of Perez. A shit-talking gossip columnist embraced by the entertainment folks who, as we all know, are mostly liberal.
Perez’s site rose to the top with pictures of Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears or Paris Hilton with crude drawings of white trailing out of their noses. I swear I saw some crude white trailing off celebutante’s lips, hinting at their whorishness. Here were young women, some battling serious mental illnesses, in the pangs of addiction and forced to endure coming of age with too much money and too much access to excess under the watchful eyes of photographic parasites, and this man was mocking their addictions, their sexual calls for attention, their public breakdowns. Everybody fucking loved it. We joked about it when we saw their crotches stepping out of cars. We cackled when late-night hosts made fun of Amy Winehouse’s battles with addiction and madness. We tuned in to watch Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne make fun of the physical appearance of actresses (women who, by the very nature of their vocations are already battling demons of insecurity and unreal body image expectations). This was innocent fun, going back to poking fun at Oprah’s weight ups and downs. And then we wonder why this Milo takes it slightly a step further to demeaning the ugly, the overweight? When he saw empires built on the snarky insult of vulnerable women, why not see how much bigger he could go crossing the line between gossip and insult? Heckling as a public medium to fame and ratings? Check.
Milo, the Reality King
If you were born in the 80s, you remember “Puck.” The first bonafide celebrity to come out of the MTV “Real World” experiments, Puck was a takes-no-prisoners street rat who loved sowing discontent and tearing into his roommates. Puck became a central figure of reality TV: The offensive misfit who didn’t care who he insulted or how. Reality casting execs woud go on to find that person for every show. People who would get drunk and call their female roommates fat, call their black roommates’ friends miscreants from “ghetto blackville.” We kept tuning in.
“Real Housewives” exploded, fake friends thrown together to air their catty grievances on national television, then build on those hatreds through scenes of gossip and backstabbing whispers, full of jokes about weight problems and golddigging and failed ambitions. When our attention made the improbable jump from Orange County to New Jersey, we worshiped 7 superficial millenials claiming the keys to life were gym, tanning and laundry. The heroes of this crew were a couple yoked-out bros who went out every night looking to find girls who were DTF (“Down To Fuck,” jabroney), then called the girls a cab after the copulation around 3, 4 in the AM and sent them on their way. This was a full reduction of people to little more than piles of boozey flesh, reduction of girls to little more than fuckbots to be gamed, bedded and then gotten rid of with the least amount of drama. Of course there were fat jokes. Occasionally they’d chase around their female roommates, threatening to tell their boyfriends about the time the girl had given them head.
So racism. Sexism. Scathing, petty judgments. Rewarding of the ones most willing to insult and offend. A “guilty pleasure” in seeing who was best able to manipulate others. Shows where men try on women like pairs of pants, and then others where women try on men like prom dresses to claim it was even. And again, a whole series of shows that worshiped the idea that men were to wear suits and go to work while a woman’s truly great aspiration was to be taken care of in suburban gated-community palaces sipping cosmopolitans out of reach of the proletariat and talking behind each others’ backs; golden bubbles lined with plastic surgery and occasionally real estate sales. For all its talk about being aimed at female fans, reality TV is some of the most degrading entertainment I’ve ever seen. And we ate it up. Milo just digested it and shat it back out.
Politics As Comedy for Milo
Comedians are outrageous. That’s been a central part of comedy since Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce discovered that by saying the most offensive things you’d get the most laughs. Hell since Shakespeare’s timeless ribaldry that today only, like, 50 English professors and a couple dozen drama geeks understand (and find riotously offensively hilarious). But while George Carlin’s political wisdoms are still heralded the world over, he never went so far as to become a political commentator. Perhaps he saw the dangers of what would happen when a culture centered around controversy and insulting in jest became a member of our ruling talking heads. When people started taking the jesters seriously.
Along came Jon Stewart (actually first came Craig Kilborn but he hasn’t been relevant since “Old School” and let’s be honest, does anybody even remember him anymore?) and Bill Maher and suddenly the comedic political pundit was born.
There was a phenomenon I read about a few years back called “Daily Show Republicans,” a twist on conservatism where all these young reds grew up laughing at the man who poked fun mostly at the right. I think that’s probably why many of the educated conservatives in their 30s I’ve spoken with identify more with current libertarianism over current republicanism. Stewart’s satire (and the many to follow in his footsteps) helped break down complex issues and educate my generation of short attention spans and constant calls for entertainment. But he also created a paradigm whereby poking holes in opposing public figures’ statements and ideologies could be easy, fun and profitable. Just like many center-left democrats wouldn’t ever go so far as to make some of the statements made by Stewart, Milo took conservative ideals to the far right and made it scathing by saying what the buttoned-down professionals couldn’t. Though maybe in that way he’s closer to Bill Maher.
Bill Maher was the darker side of liberal satire. He was fired for saying that the 9/11 terrorists were brave for flying 747s into the Trade Towers. He wore a Halloween costume poking fun at the deceased crock hunter. And his many statements against religion are hilarious if not as “Politically Incorrect” as it gets. In “Religulous,” he talks about how Islam is a danger to us since the Koran speaks highly of destruction of infidels. He also talks about how all other religions are stupid, full of hatred and liars; a crutch for the weak and the dreamers. This is offensive to many people but for some reason their concerns weren’t seen as deserving liberal offense because we on the left have decided that religion needs to be knocked down a peg or two. Only a small leap from there to insulting Jews and, well, saying Muslims are a threat to all Americans because their book calls them to Jihad.
So following in the tradition of the liberal comedian pundits, Milo and Tomi “Milo-light” Lahren have specialized in finding what would rile up the other side and poking fun at the flaws and foibles made by the other side’s political heroes. While they left behind the stringent fact-checking that Maher and Stewart adhere to (and I saw the Maher research team a few years back when I interviewed to join them, they’re as professional and in-depth as it comes), they saw the strategy and ran with it (and in his defense, Milo seemingly never really seemed to claim to be speaking facts, accepting his role as tongue-in-cheek propaganda machine, even if he was the only one in on that hypothetical joke). And it was easy. After seeing the value of outrage in drawing attention and ratings, and watching the speed with which liberal America jumps to conclusions after 8 years of watching the right do so over gun rights and Obama’s pacifist “weakness” (and also after 8 years of near-unprecedented progressive success), they — Milo especially — knew it was time to strike at the oilwell of liberal outrage.
Milo vs. Liberal Outrage
They were Nazis dude?”
“Oh come on, Donny, they were threatening castration, what are we gonna split hairs?” — “The Big Lebowski”
Let’s get something out of the way — Milo is not a Nazi. Trump is not a Nazi. Bannon may want to be a Nazi but he isn’t one yet. There has been a lot of hateful talk about sequestering people, about the evil of the media; a lot of denials of the Holocaust and the denigration of the Jewish struggle. But until we see actual legislation rounding up people based on religion, see actual incarceration of the media, until we see every Muslim (and Jewish) shop torn apart by para-military forces, Team Trump and their former-fair-haired gay man aren’t Nazis.
Let me clarify before you claim I’m jumping ship to the “fake news” train. They share a lot of views espoused by Nazis. A lot of their calls for purity and ignorance of the multiculturalism that truly makes America great echo Hitler and his ilk. But let’s save the Nazi label for when we really need to start an armed uprising against the powers that be to prevent government-sanctioned institutional bigotry. Until then, they’re just racist white men, as has been par for the course for most of American history. Even when we were fighting the actual Nazis, anti-Semitism was still very rampant in America.
Hemingway supposedly said a person is only alotted a few exclamation points over his or her lifetime. Right now, we in liberal America are jumping forward with as many exclamation points as we can muster every second we can. And Milo saw this, realized how easy it was to get some exclamation points raised against him, and used it to build street cred with a political party that hasn’t exactly warmed to his sexuality. If you troll Leslie Jones on twitter and nobody’s around to get offended, does it make a sound with the reactionary right?
I’m a white male and so I’m not going to comment on things like whether or not I think men holding the door open for women are sexist, nor will I comment on racism and racial insensitivity because, hell, I’ve never been the victim of sexism nor of racism (well maybe in Baja when I’ve had to pay the gringo tax a couple times, though that’s a whole other issue and nothing close to the “my great-great-grandfather was another man’s property and my great-great-grandmother was probably raped by said owner”). But the biggest rebuttal embraced by the right is that we on the left have been so quick to jump to doomsday conclusions that our outrage no longer means anything. Especially when we act like our shit don’t stink. I realized this during an NPR interview with the rapper Oddissee nee Amir Mohamed, when he was asked about Trump’s Muslim ban:
People ask me, ‘Amir, are you worried about what Trump’s doing? Are you worried about the impact this can have on your life?’ I don’t know what else can be done that hasn’t been done already. They say, ‘Well, are you worried about the Muslim ban?’ You know how many white rooms I’ve been detained in since 9/11? You know how many times my passport has been looked at by an official and they look me in the eyes and ask me what country I’d been born in, as they’re looking at my passport? These offenses have been happening to me for quite some time.”
A report about Trump wanting to deputize National Guard and local cops as part of ICE has media extrapolating that tens of thousands of snarling pigs will round up 100,000 undocumented Americans when never was anything like that said in the leaked memo.
We’re screaming foul at Trump’s mindless insistence that we’re at war with a religion yet the straight-talker Obama (and to admit, I’m guilty of blind Obama love as much as anybody and heartily believe he’ll go down as the best president of the last several decades, if not of my whole lifetime) never admitted that our issues in the Middle East have been merely a response to American imperialism and oil wars; he chalked it up to this vague idea that some people on the far wing of a religion hate us for our freedom.
We decry Trump calling Rosie O’Donnell fat but laugh at Chris Christie fat jokes. Yes, there are differences of gender and personality at play here too but in the end, a fat joke is a fat joke. So often our liberal outrage seems to exist within a vacuum that doesn’t allow for context; until it does.
Feminism, one of those great targets of Milo, is undergoing its own identity crisis, and as feminists argue over whether they want equality of superiority, outrage over Milo’s mockery of a term that today has a seemingly vague and indeterminate meaning distracts from the very important debate of what it means to be a feminist today and the question of how do we level the playing field.
Are there a lot of alarming things going down right now? Yes. Environmentally. Culturally. With regards to racial, sexual and sexual identity rights and diversity. But if we buy into the threats and scream them from the rooftops, if we meet with shrill cries of foul everything Milo and 45 and the thousands of copycats sure to jump out of nowhere say with the sole purpose of getting us riled up, we empower them. We use all our exclamation points. So if Trump actually opens up Muslim internment camps and we say “Trump is a Nazi,” his supporters on the right will say “yeah, you’ve been saying that all along, why should we believe you now?” Words have power. Milo knows this. And he’s seen how everybody is so quick to jump on anything that can be construed as insulting, the old shock-jock schtick, sure, but there are no sacred cows. Well except, apparently, child molestation.
People have said the new millenial conservatism epitomized by Milo is the reincarnation of the punk movement. In most ways it’s not (e.g., punks were about fighting the establishment while the Trump “populist” movement has all along been about strengthening the corporate wing of the establishment over the government wing, a power struggle between gods but in the end just a shift from one overlord to another). Still, the stagecraft of punk geared towards poking the squares in the eye — think Sid Vicious wearing a swastika as a fuck you to his parents’ generation nursing wounds from WWII or the pentagram sign of the devil in Suicidal Tendencies’ logo — has been co-opted and regurgitated with a message that replaces the establishment in general with “Liberalism” in particular. And we’ve fed it with our pop culture consumerism and our knee-jerk leftwing reactionism. As Bill Maher put it, “To see [Milo] as this monster is a little crazy. You know what he is? He’s the little impish, bratty kid brother. And the liberals are his older teenager sisters who are having a sleepover and he puts a spider in their sleeping bag so he can watch them scream.”
Speaking of that White Girl Sleepover: Milo, the Child of White Privilege
Finally, there’s the white privilege factor. We on the left talk about our support for BLM but where are the petitions to overhaul police procedures, the bills proffered by liberals on Capitol Hill to address police abuses against our black and brown citizens? Milo sees the hypocrisy of white privilege, where we can watch a TV show about a bunch of spoiled white girls complaining about having to actually earn a living in Manhattan and say it’s a great statement of liberation because the main character often appears naked despite not being thin. (And yes, I understand the gender strides “Girls” makes with a female showrunner/star/etc… but even Lena Dunham’s personal story, in which she made an indie film, her big break, only thanks to a 5-figure “loan” from her parents, is soaked in privilege). Milo’s “Lost Boys,” as so brilliantly depicted by Laurie Penny, were only able to pursue their great scorched earth conquest of the interconnected diverse universe thanks to the white privilege that says “you can say whatever you want and if it screws you up, there’s still mommy and daddy to fall back on” and “Yeah, jump on the bus, if it doesn’t work there are plenty of friends in banking who’ll hire you.” This is the other side, the “beauty” of turning socialization and discussion over to the anonymous ASCII avatars of the Internet. Gone are the days when politics would be discussed in the bar, with a stiff fist to the jaw if you crossed the line. The cowards can launch rotten barbs all day without crossing their white picket fence behind the gates.
This is the ghost haunting America, the white knight syndrome plaguing liberalism that Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock lampooned so perfectly in an SNL skit following Trump’s victory, the one that none of us saw coming because by polling our similarly-privileged, college-educated circle we were sure Trump was a lost cause. It’s what allowed the Bernie Bros to claim to be revolutionaries fighting for the working man and then going home to $2000/month condos; hell, it’s the key to such obstructionist movements as Bernie or Bust, and what allows us to show more outrage over a gorilla being killed in a zoo than thousands of children being killed in the Middle East; to complain about GMOs and tell people to go organic when those GMOs and hormones added to foods are what allow a good portion of the world to not starve. Hell, for all of liberal Hollywood’s touting of the average man, try doing a movie date at the Arclight for less than $45.
Still, at least we on the left somewhat acknowledge white privilege. If you want to see it in action on the right, picture a gay British man wearing drag and insulting everybody who is different from him and claiming to be a voice of conservative America; imagine the fact that when that man is bum-rushed by angry college students for inciting hatred with his speeches, he’s seen as being the victim of a hate crime. Next imagine Milo was a black gay man in drag claiming all fat rednecks should be rounded up and shamed for not studying harder and eating organic produce. He’d be shot.
Milo, We Hardly Knew Ye
Milo has assumed many identities and said many things. I don’t think even he knows which ones he meant, or even what he actually believes, with the exception of perhaps a fleeting notion that “PCU” was right and political-correctness taken ad extremis can only lead to the collapse of human cooperation as we know it. His vision is for retrogressivism of the most extreme, a change that combines a rollback of equal rights and societal acceptance of different viewpoints and lifestyles, a radical return to 1950s American intolerant nativism made all the more ironic by the fact that he’s a flamboyantly gay immigrant. But he appeals to a large portion of the people. Partly because there are a lot of horrible people out there who are tired of feeling ashamed for how horrible they are. And partly because he’s embraced everything that pop culture and liberal-driven entertainment has told them draws views and ratings.
Certainly his role in the making of the new anarchic-oligarchical GOP will go down as one of the stranger chapters in modern politics. But before we heap all the blame on an obstructionist rightwing upwelling, on a festering pocket of bigotry that has finally been scratched open in a dramatic explosion of pus and septic blood, we must do a deep and scathing evaluation of ourselves as reactionary liberals and media-hungry (privileged) millenials, of snarky judges who think shit-talking is okay as long as it’s about the people we’ve decided deserve it.
Before we write off Milo as the opposite of everything we stand for, we must admit that we never really knew who Milo Yiannopoulos fully was; and we must admit that, at the least, part of the character of Milo championed and and then sacrificed by the neo-right is the monster apotheosis of an ugly side of what we as a nation, liberals included, maybe even liberals moreso, have championed in the last two decades of popular culture.
And if we don’t change our ways, he’s only the first.