It’s been a hell of a week for alt-right “darling” Milo Yiannopoulos.
First he went on Real Time with Bill Maher, a move that generated the attention and controversy he so covets when author and Intercept founder Jeremy Scahill withdrew from the show in protest. Milo fans cheered it on; liberals were playing right into his hands.
But while Maher greeted him respectfully and they even found some common ground Yiannopoulos seemed far less the witty troll and more a sad clown. He looked particularly uncomfortable when Maher said that he looked like Brüno, a ridiculous Sacha Baron Cohen character. In the Overtime portion of the show, he tried unsuccessfully to spar with the panel, and comedian Larry Willmore made most of the related headlines by telling him to go fuck himself. If Yiannopoulos hoped that his appearance on Real Time would be another epic troll job over the whiny left, few people saw it that way.
Shortly thereafter, thanks to the conservative website Reagan Battalion, a video emerged in which he condoned pedophilia. In 96 hours, the so-called journalist was disinvited from speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, lost his book deal, and resigned from Breitbart, the reactionary editorial site that served as his launchpad to infamy.
Milo’s tone has alternated between defiant to apologetic back to defiant, as he frantically searches for a response that will restore him to a state of relevance with his “fans” and with Americans. He has apologized and attempted to “clarify” his remarks, and he also believes that he suddenly deserves exemption from personal responsibility because he, too, is a victim of sex abuse. The irony couldn’t be more satisfying.
Here is a guy who has made a (short?) career of pushing the boundaries of free speech and piling on the already vulnerable, confident that any backlash would only make him stronger. Now, with his most powerful backers all distancing themselves from the fallout, he has illustrated how inseparable personal responsibility is from that glorious First Amendment right. For all of his insistence that words don’t actually cause harm, he is losing money and prestige at a rate few would have predicted last week.
While I sympathize with all victims of sex abuse, including him, his attempt to use it as a cover for his nihilistic and idiotic takes is pathetic. He has clearly and deliberately pushed the boundaries for as long as he’s been relevant. Now, he’s discovered the very real limits to the “journalism” he purports to write. His takes aren’t creative or witty, but just shocking.
They’re shocking to those who dislike him because many people can’t imagine being so callous and cruel. They’re shocking to his fans, too, but because most of them know better than to repeat what he says out loud except among select company, as his takes can cost people their jobs and relationships. For that crowd, his writing provides an escape. It takes them to a place that doesn’t exist in the real world—at least, nowhere desirable.
If Yiannopoulos were consistent, he’d be crowing more about how he’s free to say what he wants, and that anybody offended by his remarks is a soft, fragile snowflake. But with his words hurting him, the once unapologetic troll is suddenly terrified that he’ll fall back into obscurity. His idiocy propelled him to minor league stardom. Now, the reactor has overheated and the meltdown appears well under way.