Sarah Silverman and Judd Apatow would do well to shut up.
Comedian Silverman (last seen stumping for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention) and movie director Apatow (present at the after-parties) both recently tweeted their support for a campaign to pressure publishing house Simon & Schuster to renege on its recently announced book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart.com provocateur and self-styled “dangerous faggot.” They are just two of a number of people, high- and low-profile, outraged that a business would make a deal in its financial interests. The entirely predictable result of the uproar is that Yiannopoulos’s book — titled “Dangerous” and slated for release in March — is now among Amazon’s top 30 sellers, three months before its publication date.
These people just don’t get it.
Milo Yiannopoulos is the sort of interloper by whom Americans have long been enamored: Part P. T. Barnum, wrangling the latest circus of novelties; part Sebastian Flyte, flaunting his heathenism in the face of bourgeois mores; and part Frank Abagnale, dashing from con to con. He has never given the impression that he cares for much that could properly be described as conservative. But he cares a great deal about himself, and after his ignominious departure from the U.K. (hounded by accusations that he stiffed contributors to his online tech magazine), he figured out that becoming Ann Coulter’s understudy was a serviceable career move. As he candidly reported at the Republican National Convention, a lifetime ban from Twitter following charges that he used the site to harass Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones had made him “the star of the convention.” “Thanks, Twitter,” he told The Blaze. “You just made me a lot more famous.”
Yiannopoulos is one of that new, unfortunate species: the right-wing Internet celebrity. It used to be a requirement that those who aspired to weigh in on matters of public concern experienced the occasional advent of a thought in their heads. But after years of conflating sobriety and informed judgment with “elitism,” such barriers to entry have disappeared, replaced by a system in which success is based on one’s ability to — as Yiannopoulos himself has put it — get “LOLs.” The same impulse that turned the patriarch of a family of duck hunters into a political sage needs news to be entertainment, too.
That has been easier to accommodate at a moment of especial left-wing idiocy. The culture of knee-jerk offense-taking that thinks To Kill a Mockingbird promotes racism and would ban The Vagina Monologues as hurtful to “women who don’t have vaginas” is precisely the culture in which people such as Milo Yiannopoulos flourish. At a certain pitch of nonsense, all even a well-adjusted human being will see are idols that desperately need smashing, and the longer it takes, the less choosy they become about who wields the hammer. Certainly, the Right continues to beclown itself by confusing media-savvy charlatans for heroes. But the intelligent, principled Right for which progressives are always waxing nostalgic (“If only today’s conservatives were like . . . ”) is considerably less likely without a Left that can recognize the difference between debate and “danger,” joking and “violence.” Having spent years decrying reasonable right-wing positions as outrageous and unconscionable, progressives are now stunned to find that a chunk of the Right is cheering on an opportunist who glories in being outrageous and unconscionable.
Does any of this sound familiar?
If his output thus far is any indication, Milo Yiannopoulos’s book will be forgettable by any reasonable standard of literary merit. It will not feature any passage of sparkling prose, because he’s not much of a writer. It will not contain any particularly interesting ideas, because he has never indicated that he has any. It will be a between-two-covers repackaging of his ongoing performance-art piece, which felt tired even on its opening night.
Given that likelihood, the wise response is not strident condemnation; it’s neglect. Instead of treating Dangerous like a latter-day Mein Kampf, opponents of the author would do better simply to deny him the outrage on which he and his supporters thrive. Knock it off with the sanctimonious displays of garment-rending, and in short order Dangerous would be in the bargain bin.
But as it turns out, it’s not just Milo Yiannopoulos who craves attention.