Milo Yiannopoulos’s – vulgarian, alt-right’s telegenic token gay, and Breitbart’s polemical senior editor – last appearance on a national stage may have finally come. The bridge too far for even his audience wasn’t Yiannopoulos’s misogyny, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or homophobia, but rather his flippant and snarky remarks condoning (or perhaps giving a sly and coquettish nod to) pedophilia and pederasty in a January 2016 clip of his interview on Drunken Peasants.
“I’m grateful for Father Michael,” Yiannopoulos told his audience defending his molestation. “I wouldn’t give nearly such good [oral sex] if it wasn’t for him.”
In a moment of contrition or perhaps a last-ditch effort to salvage his job, after a tsunami of criticism from his co-workers at Brietbart, Yiannopoulos went on Facebook and uncharacteristically took responsibility for his faux pas.
“I’m partly to blame. My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous,” Yiannopoulos wrote.
“I am certainly guilty of imprecise language, which I regret.”
For too long Yiannopoulos felt he was unstoppable when it came to his unfettered free speech as an exercise of his First Amendment right. And why shouldn’t he, with a $250,000 book advance as the grand prize for trash talking?
His memoir Dangerous, which explores issues of “political correctness” and free speech, with Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, has now been canceled.
Before Yiannopoulos became alt-right’s perfect poster-boy – gay and Jewish – who denounces identity politics and “political correctness,” a backlash had been afoot for over a decade. But the Tea Party and now alt-right folks are not alone expressing how “political correctness” infringes on their life. The controversy shows its face every early December with the inanity over the new design of Starbucks holiday cups that don’t have a Christmas theme or the greeting “Merry Christmas.” The ongoing feuding back and forth revealed in a July 2016 Pew Research Poll that 59 percent of American’s agree that “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use.”
Liberal colleges and universities have been in the bulls-eye of this ongoing debate with conservatives now emboldened by Trump’s presidency to challenge aggressively the politics of “political correctness.” Yiannopoulos’s canceled visit to Berkeley due to student protests were spun by conservatives as antithetical to free speech and viewed by liberals as hate speech.
“An epidemic of speech suppression has taken over college campuses,” Matt Schlapp, chairman of the group which sponsors CPAC, told the Hollywood Reporter of Yiannopoulos’ cancelled appearance at Berkeley. “Milo has exposed their liberal thuggery and we think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”
Yiannopoulos has been uniquely positioned in transforming his public vitriol and provocation as the symbolic voice and victim of the PC-oppressed. He has deliberately exploited the tensions between the two camps, employing his brand of hate speech to stretch the perimeters of how far he can go protected not only under the First Amendment, but also with his audience.
As an infamous internet troll, for example, Twitter suspended Yiannopoulos account only after an onslaught of targeted racist and sexist diatribes hurled at Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones was derided by an explosion of celebs coming to Jones’s defense.
I believe free speech not only has its limits, but that it also has a level of responsibility to promote civil discourse for the welfare of others and reject hate speech which is a precursor to violence. While we know we cannot scream “fire” in a crowded theater because of the potential harm it could create, it is equally inappropriate to hurl epithets and threats, which Yiannopoulos did unapologetically. And he engages in hate speech aimed at historically disenfranchised groups and individuals with the sole purpose of inflaming divisions.
When hate speech becomes an accepted norm we have a problem.
Hate speech is not a passive form of public speech. And one of the signs of an intolerant society is its hate speech, whether used jokingly or intentionally, aimed at specific groups of people.
Also, when this form of verbal abuse becomes part and parcel of the everyday parlance and exchange between people, we have created a society characterized by its zero-tolerance of inclusion and diversity and where name-calling becomes an accepted norm.
Language is a representation of culture, and it perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation that we consciously, and unconsciously, articulate in our everyday conversations and consequently transmit generationally.
The liberation of a people is also rooted in the liberation of abusive language in the form of hate hurled at them. Using epithets, especially jokingly, does not eradicate its historical baggage and its existing social relations among us.
Instead, using them dislodges these epithets from their historical context and makes us insensitive and arrogant to the historical injustices done to specific group of Americans.
They allow all Americans to become numb to the use and abuse of the power of hate speech because of the currency these epithets still have.
Lastly, hate speech thwarts the daily struggle which many us engage in to ameliorate human relations – something Yiannopoulos is antithetical to.