Tipping Point: Milo Yiannopoulos, and Conservatives Shifting the Goalposts
The metrics behind a tipping point have always fascinated me. At what point does an online video qualify as having ‘gone viral’? At what point in the cooking process does the fruit go from caramelised to burned? When, following a leadership election, can Corbyn feel all that love turn to hate?
And what marks the precise moment of the tipping point that sees a man lose his career, his book deal and his writing and editing job with Breitbart?
It’s happened. Milo Yiannopoulos, the man whose job is usually to cause outrage, has finally out-outraged those who defended him to the hilt. In the past, when he was merely, say, misogynist, those who surrounded him justified his exuberant personality and lack of pandering to over-sensitive left-wing ‘snowflakes’. The same happened to explain away his racism and his damaging transphobia.
Rather like with Trump, those of us who had objected to Yiannopoulos in our own circles would ask “How has this not sabotaged his career yet?”, or “What else do they need to do for people to take action?”. But the pair of them carried on, seemingly without consequence. Other than Yiannopoulos being banned from Twitter for instigating intense trolling against Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, he had never been forced to face any really negative outcomes to his bullying and extreme views.
Facing the consequences
Until now. Yiannopoulos found that his final straw involved appearing to condone sex between adult men and teenage boys; populist right-wingers who had been happy to support him during every other awful drama hit their limit and ran away from him in droves. Even Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi famed for having been repeatedly punched (to much acclaim) recently, was appalled and walked away.
Yiannopoulos had said “In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationships — the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock”.
When the podcast host he is talking to suggested a ‘relationship’ Yiannopoulos had had with a Catholic priest had been ‘Catholic priest molestation’, Yiannopoulos replied “I’m grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him”.
The idea of promoting the idea of “young boys” and adult men being in sexually abusive relationships was just too much for the CPAC (a conservative group that had invited Yiannopoulos to speak at their event and subsequently called that off) and Simon & Schuster (the book publisher that had paid Yiannopoulos a $250,000 advance for his book, and that cancelled his contract following the latest outrage). His former Breitbart colleagues were prepared to leave their jobs rather than remain his colleague.
As Jeremy Peters wrote in the New York Times, “Mr Yiannopoulos’s downfall this week […] was a sign that in today’s political culture, when each day seems to bring a fresh lowering of the bar for decency and civility, some limits still remain”.
Those limits? The abuse of boys by predatory paedophile men.
What if it had been girls?
The question of whether Yiannopoulos’s sudden and very public downfall would have been as fervent had he appeared to condone the abuse of young girls by adult men has arisen on social media over the last few days, and it is hard to imagine that those conservatives who are so appalled by the prospect of pederasty are just as horrified by the idea of the exploitation of young teenage girls.
The fact that Trump was elected to arguably the most powerful role in the world having told a ten-year-old girl that he’d date her in a few years, that he suggested he would date his own daughter if she wasn’t related to him, and announced that he typically grabbed women by the pussy is a clear indication that the abuse of girls is less of a priority to America’s populist conservatives.
While it is often thought that paedophiles are the most reviled group in modern society, the lack of widespread censure for Trump’s abhorrent comments — when the world and her husband all came out to jeer at Milo Yiannopoulos — suggests that girls’ lives are less important, less violable perhaps, by the average white dude. Trump puts it down to locker room talk while Yiannopoulos, arguably groomed into believing that his own experience of what could be described as abuse by a Catholic priest was normal and acceptable, was slated across the board.
Yiannopoulos the figure of controversy
Milo Yiannopoulos is not a figure who is easy to like. He has made his name by causing outrage and this is perhaps an example of someone who lives by the sword dying by the sword. His comments about adult men having sex with young boys are reprehensible, but the fact that the right-wingers have only just decided to hate him is very telling. Take a look at what they were comfortable supporting, and ask yourself why this line was drawn precisely where it landed.