I've managed to go the length of my time here at the Banter, and as an internet writer in general, without mentioning the name Milo Yiannopoulos other than once in the context of a larger piece about Donald Trump's relationship with Twitter. This was by design, because it always seemed like a bad idea to give an avowed professional provocateur and internet troll the attention he seeks, even in small doses. Yiannopoulos has never been anything more than a fraud, an entirely self-created character whose opinions and beliefs never added up to a damn thing because they weren't, in reality, opinions or beliefs, merely contrivances aimed at gleefully generating outrage and spinning that outrage into personal fame and fortune. Milo's only interest is self-interest. His only concern is what best benefits the Milo brand. As writer Laurie Penny said in a piece about the new con men of the conservative movement, published last July, she wouldn't dare debate Yiannopoulos for the simple reason that “I know I’ll lose, because I care and he doesn’t – and that means he has already won”
Unfortunately, the thing about people like Milo Yiannopoulos is that their paradoxical nature ultimately becomes their downfall. Put simply, Milo wanted to be famous and the way he achieved it was the way so many do these days: by being as insouciantly offensive as possible. Sure, this made him a huge hit with the antisocial Reddit and 8chan kids who make up the alt-right's shock troops -- young men Yiannopoulos himself once dismissed as “unemployed saddos living in their parents’ basements,” until he realized that exploiting them could be a stepping stone to bigger things -- but the people he really sought the attention of were always going to have different standards. When it comes to being an obnoxious tool, even in today's climate, there are limits to what even impolite society is going to want to be associated with. So, alas, in the span of a weekend, Milo Yiannopoulos has gone from meteoric rise to spectacular flame-out, losing his speaking engagement at CPAC, his $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster and, now, his job at Breitbart, which he resigned from earlier today.
All because he either jokingly or legitimately defended having sex with kids. (With Milo, it's nearly impossible to tell the difference; such is the nature of never turning off the troll act.)
But the fall, whether temporary or permanent, of Milo Yiannopoulos really feels like the sidebar story to the more consequential truth it's revealed: that pedophilia -- pedophilia -- is the astonishingly low moral standard at which the conservative movement draws the line these days. The entire reason for Yiannopoulos's ascendance as a conservative hero was his willingness to be relentlessly, unapologetically racist, sexist and nativist. He was the poster boy for the new brand of "hip" white nationalism and he spent a good portion of his time turning his legion of online minions against anyone he didn't like, most infamously Saturday Night's Live's Leslie Jones, who was subjected to a campaign of brutal harassment at his urging. And what did this behavior get him? An invitation to speak at CPAC, conservative America's premier ideological event. Nobody in power on the right stood up and said, "Fuck this guy; he doesn't represent us." No, they either looked the other way or made excuses because, as with the know-nothing provocateur they put in the White House -- only with excessively more charm and eloquence -- he pissed off the liberals. In fact, he existed solely to do this.
Just think about Breitbart for a minute, the digital sewer that employed Yiannopoulos until today. For years the website has represented the political basement of the internet, reliably peddling bullshit -- the very definition of "fake news" -- that espouses a worldview that's racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, trans-averse, white nationalistic and generally grotesque. At no point did Steve Bannon, the site's former executive chair -- now a man who works in the White House -- ever publicly rethink the poison he was injecting into the discourse. Neither has anyone at the site since his departure. And yet, today, there was Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow, calling Milo Yiannopoulos's comments about pedophilia "indefensible." Uh-huh -- because all that other crap Breitbart has published over all those years has apparently been pretty easy to defend. Kid-fucking, though, that's finally Breitbart's bridge too far. They have standards, you know.
The bigger picture here is how the two political parties seem to have switched ideologies at some point when none of us were looking. To some extent, Yiannopoulos is right when he says that liberals, once reviled by Buckley Conservatives as libertine, endlessly permissive offenders of polite sensibilities, allowed themselves to become the side of the aisle that doesn't champion free speech but rejects it. Granted, in the minds of Yiannopoulos and his alt-right ilk, the speech they champion is often hate speech (Constitutionally protected from government, but still repulsive). But there are decent people who've made the same argument about this new strain of censorious liberalism, who wonder when liberals became the prudes while conservatives became the rabble-rousers. Yiannopoulos went so far during the campaign to claim that supporting Donald Trump was the "new punk." This is horseshit, of course, as it betrays a complete misunderstanding of what was at punk's core. (If supporting Trump has any musical equivalent, it's more like cock-swaggering late-90s "nu-metal," promising to break stuff just for the hell of it.)
Still, for most of our lifetimes, conservatives were the self-described patriots, the relentlessly "principled" custodians of the most hyper-patriotic vision of America conceivable. They loved Reagan and stood firm against Russia. They were believers in the superiority of white people, but they knew enough not to say it out loud. Now, though? Well, just take a look at the glaring differences between the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention last summer, with the Democrats embracing American exceptionalism and the GOP ranting about how the country was a vast wasteland. The right under Donald Trump allows Russia -- Russia -- to meddle in our democracy at its highest echelons and says nothing, with many on the right actively defending Russia and Vladimir Putin. This, as the Democratic left -- which is vastly different than the nihilistic purists of the far left -- demands action be taken against Russia for the country's violation of our sovereignty and gets called out for being "Russophobes" by people who once used their alleged patriotism-at-all-costs as a cudgel.
This is the black-is-white, up-is-down world we inhabit now. It's the world of Trump and Milo and Steve Bannon and Alex Jones. It's a world where the conservative movement is so shameless that it can turn a nonissue like trans people in public bathrooms into a battle cry against the supposed sickness of liberals in one breath and be prepared to praise Milo Yiannopoulos -- a flamboyantly gay one-man troll job who says pedophilia is no big deal -- in another. Dorian Lynskey at The Guardian summed it up best today, reference Milo: "How was this smirking void ever taken seriously? He had enablers... Like Trump, he is the logical outcome of a grotesque convergence of politics, entertainment and the internet in which an empty vessel can thrive unchecked by turning hate speech into showbusiness." He's the product of the grotesque vacuity of modern conservative infotainment, its essence distilled to a pure form, made sentient, and given frosted tips. And he proves something: The moral rot at the center of modern conservatism, from those who openly proclaim this crap to those who simply allow for it by saying and doing nothing to stand in its way, is self-evident at this point. It simply can't be denied.
Adding (2.22.17): A number of people have pointed out both to me directly and in general that the issue isn't precisely that conservatives draw the line at a defense of pedophilia, but that by appearing to defend pedophilia -- whether jokingly or not -- Milo Yiannopoulos suddenly reminded conservatives just who they'd gotten into bed with, so to speak. In other words, older men lusting after young teens -- or even pre-teens -- isn't so terrible when that younger person is a girl, but when it's man-on-boy it's a) beyond the pale deviance, and b) proof that they've always been right that gay people prey on children. No doubt, this is a worthy point and there's something to be said for the fact that it was "conservative sensibilities" -- about not just child sex but gay child sex -- that suddenly rendered Milo worthless. It's a fascinating little character drama given that Yiannapoulos was always an oddity as a conservative icon -- but either way the reality of the bar for conservatives being so low as to condone racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric while suddenly balking at what Yiannopoulos said about pedophilia remains abhorrent.