At the core of Milo’s rise and fall is a media class that privileges fascists simply because they are from their own background.
“Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the worst people I know. I have seen the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses.”
Milo’s career has been the product of class. With his long history of propagating hatred, dabbling with fascist iconography and unsavoury business practices, he has been afforded the privilege of being rendered as a “unique voice”, “charming” and “provocative” simply because he shares a similar background to many of those in the media. Rather than seeing him as threatening or scary, he instead becomes a playful troll. In Milo they see similarity, and so there is a reluctance to acknowledge that he could possibly be a bigot. He’s too intelligent and too charming for that. It’s the same attitude that seeks to legitimize “dapper fascists” simply for wearing designer suits. The same attitude that somehow portrays 38 year old Richard Spencer and his decade of fascist politics as that of a misguided young man. At it’s core is a refusal to acknowledge that those from similar backgrounds can indeed be the figureheads of such disgusting politics and a need to paint bigotry and hatred solely as a working class phenomena. Something that is born of the masses and not the intellectuals who propagate such politics in the media, academia and elsewhere.
Of course, if a working class voice had produced even one line of Milo’s bigotry, they would immediately become a point of ridicule. They’d be spread across Twitter, Facebook and the usual media outlets with the typical sneering tone that implies they’re too stupid to even understand what they’re saying — “Haha, bet they read the Daily Mail!”, “No wonder they’re unemployed!” and so on. In contrast to this, Milo’s followers are portrayed as “lost boys” and misguided young men with misplaced frustration. It’s a privilege that is simply never extended to the long-term unemployed worker who thinking they have nothing else to lose takes a punt on Trump or Brexit. It’s not extended to the young man from a council estate with no prospects who in the absence of ever hearing any left wing politics that relates to his experiences ends up blaming immigration. We can debate whether these groups are deserving of sympathy — perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t — but there is certainly more reason for them to have misplaced frustrations than Milo’s followers. But this unevenness in approach is a political choice rooted entirely in class.
This is the politics at the core of Laurie Penny’s recent piece and indeed most of these profiles of the ‘alt-right’ and their supporters. I keep asking myself whether such a sympathetic piece would be written about people I know — both on the left and right. Would the author make concessions in representing them or would it be full of sneering points mocking their lack of political maturity and nuance? Sadly, I have already witnessed all too much of the latter.
Perhaps the most disheartening thing about this week is seeing Laurie Penny’s fellow writers rush to her defense using lines totally devoid of any critical thought. Where they would usually offer a supposedly ‘ruthless critique’ of how her piece relates to and enforces structure, there is only nonsensical musing on the metaphysics of putting ink to paper and the sheer romanticism of being a writer. Writing isn’t an equal playing field. It’s not an open sphere in which anyone can engage. It never has been and it never will be. In a media landscape dominated by the upper classes, from the narrowest milieus and geographical spaces, many people simply have no opportunity to present their own experiences. In such a landscape, the most perverse writing flourishes. It is a form of writing which never takes the opportunity to reflect on how it is representing the marginalized — it seeks only only to enforce the power of the author to write their own narratives upon them. Writing is always a deeply political act and the repeated reluctance to engage with the consequences of such choices should be treated with due skepticism. It is reflective of a much deeper problem at the root of left politics.
I have seen many people predicting that Milo will seek to reinvent himself. They argue he might moderate his positions or even attempt to pretend he’s now left wing. I do not wish to engage in such speculation but only to state how sad it is that he will inevitably be given the chance of redemption. These chances aren’t given to everyone and had somebody from a different background found themselves in Milo’s position they would have been blacklisted long ago. That’s not to say that I don’t believe people can change. I think everyone can. It’s why I still hope many of the people I grew up with who have found refuge in this reactionary right wing “populism” may one day support an emancipatory politics. It’s why I deeply resent the privileged voices on the left who portray them as irredeemable
Unfortunately, there will always be someone who will give Milo time and produce the sympathetic profile he will no doubt request. The same people who created Milo now dictate the terms of his obituary and in a few months time they will oversee his attempted resurrection.
And ultimately, that’s because of class.