The last time I saw Milo Yiannopoulos – from a distance – he was careening around the bar-tents at the 2016 Republican convention in Cleveland, belle of the monsters’ ball. (He had leftie journalist Laurie “Red” Penny in tow for a while, something she used to brag about, but on which she is now vewwwwwy vewwwy quiet).
They couldn’t get enough of him there. Shark-grey suited DC operatives and barge-size mid-western rubes in stars and stripes shirts alike, they were charmed and enlivened by the political Peter Pan act, the platinum blond hair, teardrop glasses, sometimes a tailored suit, sometimes a white shirt open to the waist.
The operatives thought of him as a useful troll. The rubes couldn’t even begin to understand what he was on about or where he was coming from. But they loved the hits at “ugly, lesbian” feminists and progressives, etc, and American progressivism is, well, target-rich in absurdities. He looked like a Bowie tribute act opening a Tulsa rodeo.
Now he’s in Australia, and out to shock and oh dear he doesn’t like our Opera House. Not the Opera House! Milo described it as a “carbuncle”. It was a borrowing from Prince Charles, but Milo is all borrowing. He’s Milo Wagner, middle-middle-class Brit boy, Cambridge dropout, looking at a life in shit-kicking journalism, until he created the “Milo” character with a bottle of Helsinki No. 12, and a dose of 20th-century reaction/futurism/fascism. Another man-made self on the end-of-the-line lecture circuit.
The “Milo” act works in the US because he’s so impossibly exotic to Americans, and because the culture war is between a right that is suffused with biblical literalism and a left whose call-out progressivism is simply Puritan religiosity with a secular makeover. On the US right he is, or was, pure trickster, licensed to perform. Had he turned up in their towns, they’d tie him to the back of a pick-up, and drive until he was nothing but femur.
In Australia, well, we’ll see. His shows are proving popular, but the venues are yet to be revealed — so we don’t know what size venue Milo can sell out. The audience will be worth scoping out too: not the IPA chino-Taliban and their pearl-clutching sister-wives, braying about the “freedom agenda”, one suspects, nor the hi-viz gumbies of Patriot Blue and other groups.
More likely, it will be overwhelmingly a certain type of young man: students, low-grade professionals, those of the vast suburbs, found amid the intersecting circles of libertarianism, men’s rights, UFC fandom, conspiratorialism, ketogenic workouts, motivational training, a subculture that smells of Dencorub and recently expressed semen, and tastes like a protein bar.
It’s all energised by the distinctive mix of triumphalism and ressentiment, the old hard-right double game. We are lions! But somehow held at bay by lesbian feminists/affirmative-action promoted POCs/Jews. How did they break us? The flow to conspiracy is inevitable. There’s a type of Milo-enthusiast who started with abs training, and six months later thinks the Pelagian heresy is responsible for 9/11 and low testosterone. It’s all a gateway to anti-Semitism/Jew-hatred, right-wing smack.
Whatever else he is, it barely needs saying that Milo Yiannopoulos is not only a symptom of the desperate state Western conservatism is in, but a carrier of the disease that’s killing it. The movement is so jaded, so defeated, so deprived of a real social base, that nothing in its own belief system can revive it. Conservatism, to be a real social movement has to prioritise a certain set of personal values: moderation of public expression and behaviour, concrete traditional values, grounded in a genuinely religious outlook, sexual continence projected, the centrality of the biological family.
Milo is a gay man with a husband, who calls Donald Trump “Daddy”, talks of his own experiences of sex as a young teenager with adult men in positive terms (and argues that young teenagers can meaningfully consent to such), was banned from Twitter for racist abuse of a black actor, and, as recently revealed by BuzzFeed, promised hard-right anti-Semites that they “would like” an article he had written on the roots of the alt-right. He has raised funds for scholarships for “young white men”, that have never appeared, and “organised” a free-speech conference in California, which collapsed in chaos before it was ever held.
Conservative? He’s a nihilist-anarchist whose very presence at its centre destroys the possibility of conservatism advancing a moral-political line — but he is also necessary to it, because it has no energy of its own. His interviews with figures like Mark Latham and Andrew Bolt have a touch of the “daddy” themselves — exhausted men, dead inside, momentarily revived by Milo’s insouciance. Meanwhile, he’s turned “Planet” Janet Albrechtsen into the country’s oldest, still-operating, embarrassing “fag hag”. She dances round Milo like a second-year arts student dancing round her handbag at a Midsumma launch.
Protest him, don’t protest him? All personal taste I think. The very fact that he’s here, after the Australian right has spent months saying that marriage equality will see people marrying goats, is a net loss for them. They have not the slightest consistency about what they believe, and that is increasingly visible to a wider public with little interest in politics. Their hell week of state losses, byelection losses, and legislative defeats should tell them that they have lost the culture war here through narcissism, hysteria, dilettantism and delusion. Which Milo pretty much personifies. The boy himself? OD at 33, or campaigning in Hillary ’24 a couple of years later.