Viewing or attending Milo Yiannopoulos events, you begin to observe a typical, predictable narrative arc: some member of the audience hits their critical mass of offended-ness, loses their cool, and expresses it in an outburst. Yiannopoulos then fields this by addressing them in an arch tone, at which point the audience member either resumes their seat, simmering in a rage, or storms away, at which point Yiannopoulos verbally shoos them out with a variant on ‘don’t let the door hit you,’ or a statement about free speech. If the audience member looks, shall we say, in some fashion physically awkward or disadvantaged, then a short video will be made and edited to play on his media pages after the fact that make them look like a sublime form of incoherent idiot.
It’s perfect, predictable, gratifying theater in which everyone gets what they want: Yiannopoulo’s fans get an adrenaline surge of gratification; the protestor, the high of righteousness; Yiannopoulos, the chance to play the part he plays so well—a combination of persecuted and culturally superior that he pulls off like a master. Everybody wins.
So why don’t they feel like they don’t? How can everybody truly win?: the presenter, the audience, the protestors—even the academic institution. There is a way.
In the Auditorium: Twists and Turns
If you have ever wanted to see a sample of a Yiannopoulos talk from start to finish, there is a good recent one from the University of New Mexico, late January 2017—YouTube it.
Even if the UNM talk looks peaceful on the screen, in person it was not: with 250 protestors banging on the windows from outside so that those in the auditorium felt they might actually break, the atmosphere broiling like a storm. Yiannopoulos is the strange energy at the fulcrum of it all: hs eyes lidded at half-mast, perhaps from bright lights. Wearing a POLICE vest that looks like a cross between riot gear and bondage gear, he shelters beneath the brim of his cap and leans on the podium with a heavy spine. And then he begins conducting.
His talk goes swirling through the latest hot topics, settling for a long period on immigration bans, walls, reinforced borders—a particularly fraught issue to bring up in a border state. He goes after Islam for its treatment of women, goes after feminism, for—wait a minute, what?
And that is when, if you can cool out a bit, you realize that it’s not about what Yiannopoulos says, at all. The words and sentences are seductive, challenging, but they are incidental.
The fact that Yiannopoulos’s claims and aspersions are inconsistent with one another starts to make this obvious. He can insult the sexual viability of an older woman who audibly takes issue with one of his statements, then pirouette a few minutes later and state that he doesn’t call people names. Whether he is keeping track of his own consistency or inconsistency is unclear; his audience certainly isn’t, lost in the belladonnic haze of Yiannopoulos’s arch verbiage.
Aside: It is a weakness in my countrymen that when we hear a middle-class-or-higher British accent we go stupid and backwoods. It is in our DNA to be intimidated by a British accent, which is one reason why protestors in the audience at Yiannopoulos’s speaking events end up foaming. They check a couple of brain cells at the door and then he lays in with his scrambular logic. The next thing you know you’re in a straitjacket.
Here’s another example. One moment Yiannopoulos decries Islam for its treatment of women, while a few moments earlier he has dismisses (presumably American) feminism, which is a movement created by women in their own interests, with a quick putdown (at UMass Amherst, last May, he introduced himself with the his signature sentence “Feminism is a cancer.”). How one can claim that one is against a religious and cultural movement that disrespects women, and then hurl invective at a mature woman prophesying that she will never get laid again, surpasses my American backwoods understanding. If I were to play along for just a moment, and one beside the point, I wonder what Yiannopoulos’s alternative is? Feminism arose as a response to a culture that denied legal equality to women, an attribute he holds against Islamic cultures, a denial that was a reflection of cultural inequality, and a cultural inequality that reflected and perpetuated the legal inequality, which is a rather vicious cycle to get caught up in, if you are the one seeking your way out of it. So feminism is a collective endeavor, a movement, much like the movement of which Yiannopoulos is a mover and a shaker—or, even if he would deny this, the movement he benefits and profits from.
Is the alt-right a monolith? Does it not represent an array of interests: some religious, some economic, some cultural, some personal? Then feminism is also far from a monolith. If Mr. Yiannopoulos would pinch his nose shut to look closely enough at it, he would find many strata and striations as it too is always being refined and re-defined: is it too white? Not intersectional enough? Not inclusive enough? Who speaks for all these women, who is allowed to speak for me?
But this is not the point; Yiannopoulos does not really care. I suspect MILO™ is in it for MILO™ and he is burning it all down because it is gratifying to him and he can profit from it; there are plenty of people willing to pay him, and there are also many grey eminences behind him who have a plan, even if he hasn’t.
Yiannopoulos takes issue with a woman in the auditorium for wearing a hajib. So here’s another example of why the words don’t matter, if you still are not convinced. If the issue is individuality, versus assimilation, and the woman resisting assimilation to American culture through her fashion. But how does an American dress? What is “assimilated”? To dress like a chav in a leather cap? Or historically? Get out the powdered wigs and breeches! The stomachers, kerchiefs, and bonnets! Yet—why do you care how someone else chooses to dress, if you are for free expression and liberty? Why would you want to control that, if America is supposed to be free?
But notice what your brain starts doing, because here’s the trap. Here’s where you get stuck in the tar pits, if you follow Yiannopoulos in. You try to go point by point, because it’s so gratifying to be right, but you can’t, because you are missing the point, and that’s what makes you enraged, like a robot that Captain Kirk is prompting to go berserk by constantly throwing it anti-logic in an old episode of Star Trek. Once you realize that Yiannopoulos isn’t fighting to win, he is arguing to f*ck with you and doesn’t care what the terms are—which is what makes him inexhaustible—will that keep you from going bananas?
I do not hold this against Mr. Yiannopoulos. He serves a function in the Universe.
Trickster… Sort of. Kind of a Killer
In the same vein as fan theories that the Joker is the real hero in The Dark Knight, that he actually introduces the conditions to set right a corrupt Gotham—“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”—Yiannopoulos is a disruptor.
You may be familiar with the archetype of Coyote in indigenous American mythology as the trickster, who messes with the assumptions of the creatures around him, much like Yiannopoulos messes with the assumptions of his readers and attendees—I’ll expand that to: those who are aware of him. Like the coyote fur he sometimes wears, he evokes this energy. But Coyote is never cruel, and in the end he has to make things right, even if they are right in a new form.
Author Francesca De Grandis writes that being a trickster is fine, but if you are going to go around blowing stuff up, you take responsibility for the outcome and better have a plan for taking care of people afterwards. Yiannopoulos has said that he basically wants to burn it all down and see what springs up from the ashes. But he bears no responsibility for the chaos he causes, and will suffer none of the aftermath: as he is happy to remind you, he is not even a U.S. citizen.
But the hitch is, there are others hidden in the shadows behind him who know damn well what they want to create from the ashes, and they are more than happy to barge in, take control, and start implementing their regime once their boy burns it down. This is what I dismay about: the other, more down-to-earth powers who have their own use for MILO™.
But they are the subject for policy essays, and this is an essay about communication. So, let’s try this, practice this. For a moment, stop conflating Yiannopoulos with the people behind him, such as Breitbart and the orbit of white nationalists around him, who aren’t him, but are using him. He is a dancing puppet in front of them, a diverter. See him as a wounded boy with a mean streak who obviously and confessedly has a Daddy complex and some damaged, demented trickster energy and let him serve you.
So now, let’s talk about what MILO™ can do for you.
Obviously the Universe has a purpose for him. So what is his purpose to you? Everyone else is using Yiannopoulos—Steve Bannon is, the white nationalists are—so entertain the possibility that you may as well, too. You can do it: remember that he is using you for energy and publicity every time he causes a liberal foment that makes your eyeballs burn and you to use your cool. So return the favor and use him back.
Self-examination, Both Higher-Ed and Personal
If Yiannopoulos fixates you, why are you drawn to the odor of him like a fly? Why would you go into a ballroom where he is speaking if he is rancid to you, why would you play into his hands when you know he wants protestors? He is able to jiu-jitsu you, again, because he has nothing to lose other than his standing with Breitbart (and after his book his published, he won’t even need that) and everything you are doing is solidifying that. For one way of self-inquiry, start here: are you truly standing up and speaking out for others, or are you speaking out for your own sense of yourself as a good person? (Which is what he is able to offend.) There is a subtle difference between those; they aren’t mutually exclusive, but it’s empowering and centering to sort out the distinction.
Here is an example: not quite a digression about universities, based on some of Yiannopoulos’s campus appearances, and worth considering, based on his claims about higher education. Feel free to leapfrog over this if you never get defensive (or agitated with ire!) when you hear Yiannopoulos talk about free speech on university campuses and the ‘regressive left.’ I can speak to some of his points about ‘academia’ and its left-leaning failings, working in higher education communications close to administration and assigned to promote universities according to their strategic aims. Over years of this gratifying and stimulating work, I have indeed seen university environments become more rarified: for instance, the rise of helicopter parents attempting to intervene in their heirs’ college careers. So: do you target the institutions themselves, or the climate that created the students as they are? There are lots of questions to ask. Why are students so emotionally fragile? Do students arrive at institutions ready to fight for protection and entitlement, or does being at the university infect/bestow them with the idea that they are so protected and entitled?
Universities are a strange balance of reflecting changes in the outer culture and also attempting to create utopias in themselves, to lead the way for the culture. But since they are not actually utopias, they are constantly refining, overcorrecting, getting things wrong, re-refining.
A university tries to create an environment where people can double-down and concentrate on their research and do their best work without having to be distracted by immature others who think it’s absolutely imperative to bother somebody else who is just trying to go about their business, like it is really of utmost importance to write “NIGGER” or draw a swastika on somebody’s door. Like the world would come crashing down if you were not able to get that nasty impish impulse out of your system. So the institution attempts to regulate what some people have proven to lack the socialization to rein in themselves. Yet, in attempting to foster environments that are more in line with what we currently understand about emotional health,
sometimes the schools go too far, and we end up with overly refined mutations like the idea of microaggressions that can be so easy to caricature, and trigger warnings on syllabi.
The label “hate speech” has turned into a backfiring weapon that critics of university culture can easily turn into a label of ideology. As a category, it is rimmed with enough subjectivity and difficulty of proving intent to make it problematic. So let’s take “hate speech” out of it for a moment. Say I had a break-up with a boyfriend on campus, and afterwards I called/emailed/social media’d him all the time. I wrote on his dormitory door. I followed him from place to place on campus, waylaying him with vituperative outbursts, and otherwise interfering with his studies. If he wanted to report me for harassment, he could. Regardless of hate speech, that is still harassment. If one student calls another a vile name, and interferes with that person’s daily progress so that they cannot do their work, then that is harassment, if not aggressive abuse. If someone draws on someone’s door, on the restroom door, on the sidewalk, that is vandalism of university property. So, universities: treat it as harassment, treat it as vandalism, treat it as abuse. You have those charges in place—stop adding fuel to people’s fucking fire.
Help a Would-Be Coyote Cosmically Succeed
The ugliness of Yiannopoulos’s media, its complete unaesthetic and low-grade production values are hard to deal with, in addition to the mean language of “cucks” and “beta”-baiting: as though every exchange Yiannopoulos observes, he sees people at their worst, like the character Kay in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” He sees people who are spitting and raging at each other and edits the mess together with cheap production values that are surprisingly shitty for a good-looking Libra who so obviously loves clothes.
But maybe people show him their worst? Maybe that is a strange, flipped talent that Yiannopoulos has, a curse that he is blessed with, a blessing that he is cursed with.
Maybe Yiannopoulos has a talent that the universe has given him, that he is able to see things that other people cannot, or don’t want to see, such as their shadows. So if he is showing you your shadow, or reflecting something back to you that you don’t want to see, you have at least two productive options: to own it, throw it back in his face with a so-fucking-what??? Or, you can to rise up so far inside yourself and elevate your paradigm that his estimation becomes too narrow to encompass you. And that means then that he has to step up his game, too. So make it interesting for him.
If you take Yiannopoulos’s bait, if he manages to flag and fan you into a fury, then perhaps he is showing you something about yourself that you don’t like. Maybe you can take him as a teachable moment, as a teacher, as perverse as it sounds. Remember that the Universe has a use for everybody. If he is only just lying, rise above and sail along and do your work. If anything gets caught on you, make yourself impervious to it and keep evolving.
To university administrations, the best thing for you to do is let Yiannopoulos slide onto and off campus without friction. At UMass Amherst, when he appeared as part of a panel hosted by the College Republicans early last year, there was a lot of anticipation on the part of campus conservatives that there would be a huge showdown. But there wasn’t. I was on campus for another engagement at that time and as soon as I was free, I strolled by Bowker Auditorium just to see what there was to see, and literally nothing was going on outside. You would barely have known there was an event going on at all. So seriously, just let him do his thing, then have a panel or discussion then next day to talk about what he said and give students a chance to talk about why they are pissed off and balance it out.
Yes, Yiannopoulos goes way too fucking far, but now that you know that much of this is for stagecraft, can you use any substance he is giving you to refine yourself? I think that we would be well-served to use Milo Yiannopoulos as the flawed trickster he is, at least to do a thought experiment with it. Rather than conform to what he is baiting you with, surpass it, help him evolve too, and blow his fucking mind.