On Lost Boys and Ethical Boundaries.
As journalists, we strive for truth, accuracy, and fairness. We chase the illusion of objectivity as if it truly exists. Sometimes we interview people we normally wouldn’t fuck with as a staff, record label, or a motherfucking crew. It is a thankless job, for the most part. Some us do it because we love it. Very few of us do it because it pays well. But for many of us, I suspect, it is about the basic tenets of the craft: speaking truth to power, comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable. And in our quest to honor those tenets, we will compromise ourselves in ways that have people questioning our ethical boundaries. Sometimes, that’s necessary.
Two days ago, I read Laurie Penny’s wild ride with Milo’s “Lost Boys,” and their leader’s quick (albeit temporary) downfall. It is a fascinating take, one that paints these “lost boys” as angry rebels without a cause and their leader a flaky, vapid opportunist. It is darker than her previous piece on the former Breitbart tech editor, perhaps more honest in its blistering rebuke of the alt-right’s dalliance with recreational fascism. Penny juxtaposes the lives of fallen black boys against those of Milo’s motley crew to illustrate the latter’s ability to be seen as cheeky lads who just need to be set straight, instead of monsters, an idea that resonates with her. She also invokes Baldwin to belabor her point, adding:
I’m not a brawler, but I’d wager that these kids could be knocked down with a well-aimed stack of explanatory pamphlets, thus resolving decades of debate about whether it’s better to punch or to reason with racists.
I can’t afford to share Penny’s idealism. Perhaps, had she paid any real attention to the whole of Baldwin’s words in I Am Not Your Negro, she’d understand why:
As journalists, we are tasked to not only disseminate information, but to make sense of the world around us. In order to do both of those things well, we have to challenge what we think, what we believe. Placing ourselves in the narrative requires a level of introspection that, to be honest, most do not possess. That is where Penny’s piece fails. When confronted on this point by others, she chose to tune out instead of listen.
For all of her interactions with Milo, for all of the nocturnal verbal sparring, never does she examine her role in his ascendancy. Never does she consider her part in humanizing the monster. While she and Milo may not have been besties, they were definitely on friendly terms, friendly enough to exchange text messages. Like others who only recently decided to draw a line in the sand, it wasn’t drawn until people close to her were targeted. The others before them, the black/brown/trans folk before them, were inconsequential.
In her Peter Pan allegory, Penny casts herself as Wendy, a mature, sister-figure who assigns herself the task of challenging the Lost Boys’ world view. The comparison is spot-on. If Milo is Peter Pan, she — and, to a larger extent, the writers and talking heads who’ve fallen over themselves to decipher or dismiss his every move — is definitely Wendy. And Wendy, despite herself, holds a deep affection for Peter because in him, she sees herself. Although most (save Bill Maher) would be loathe to admit it, they, too, see a bit of themselves in Milo, be it his boyish charm or his affinity for dressing like Duckie Dale or his coquettish way of making all of those icky isms almost palatable. He is their id.
When Wendy realizes she no longer wants to live in arrested development, she leaves Neverland.
For a fictional teenage girl, Wendy is frighteningly self-aware.
If only her real-life counterparts were.