Tag: bigotry

Rancid Wine In A New Bottle

So this happened:

After much hype over Bill Maher’s invitation to host Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on his show “Real Time” on Friday, the two got along famously, bonding over their shared love of free speech and the unifying power of humor in a one-on-one conversation. It seemed that Yiannopoulos had found a warm embrace on Maher’s set — but then the broadcast ended and Yiannopoulos sat down with Maher’s other panelists for the post-show “Overtime” segment, which airs on YouTube. Two of those guests told the far-right prince what they’d like to see him do to himself. (Hint: It rhymes with “cuck.”)

And during that, this was said.

Maher said he didn’t see it that way. At the start of his conversation with Yiannopoulos, the host explained: “I think you’re colossally wrong. But if I banned everyone from my show who I thought was colossally wrong, I’d be talking to myself.”

Maher’s guest agreed, saying, “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.”

The question of debate, and whether we should be debating someone like Milo Yiannopoulos, is one of only two interesting questions that he right-wing public bigot raises. The other is what it is about our culture that let’s someone as deeply banal as Yiannopoulos get so far in life when he has so little to offer.

We like to think of debate as a forum in which we calmly discuss rational proposals and through learned discourse arrive at sensible conclusions. This is easy to believe until you actually watch a debate. Debates are seldom won by reason, or evidence, or learned discourse. They’re often won by whoever can rattle off enough unexpected falsehoods to throw their opponent off balance. (This explains a lot about how Ted Cruz became a champion debater in college.) And Milo Yiannopoulos is, whatever else he is, a fount of falsehood. Before a TV host or panelist can start debunking his first lie, he’s already on to his third, and on television, where seconds count, this is the debating equivalent of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Further, debating someone like Yiannopoulos is inherently problematic because the mere act of doing so says that his “ideas” are still worthwhile debate topics among reasonable people. What are his ideas?

For his shopping trip to Gieves & Hawkes, Yiannopoulos calls for an Uber. The driver is a man, possibly because Uber’s algorithm has learned that Yiannopoulos rejects female drivers. Women, he says, have been scientifically proven to be worse at spatial relations, as have Asians. “It’s the only thing Saudi Arabia gets right,” he says about the country’s ban on female drivers. “Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact.”

He says he disapproves of all Muslims—except his boyfriend of 10 years. But it’s feminists who rile him most. During Gamergate, he targeted game developer Brianna Wu. Her address was posted on Reddit, and she received so many rape and death threats that she moved out of her home for a while and hired a bodyguard. “When you’ve faced difficulties in your life—growing up gay, being a minority, suffering from physical illness—you have two paths in front of you,” Wu says about Yiannopoulos. “Some people develop a fierce sense of empathy. The other side that’s available is to become something very dark. You can look at some of his poetry, when he was an adolescent, and it’s very clear he was hurting. He’s channeled that pain into hurting a lot of people and justifying it.”

So Yiannopoulos hates women and has contempt for non-whites. Are we supposed to be debating whether these are good ideas, sensible notions for a happier world? Are we supposed to hold a symposium titled, “Resolved: Behind every racist joke lies a scientific fact”, or does it lend racism a patina of intellectual legitimacy that it doesn’t merit because of its repeated and demonstrated failure as a way of looking at human beings? Racists like Yiannopoulos have been making the same fundamental errors for five centuries now. They’ve caused extraordinary harm. We know that. We can’t unknow it. Debating them is like debating people who think the Sun goes around the Earth or that Aristotle was more right about the descent rate of falling objects than Galileo was.

But what about Yiannopoulos’s feelings about free speech, the very reason Maher invited him on his show? Surely he has some thoughts of interest about that, right?

No.

For one thing, Yiannopoulos has not had his free speech rights violated. Never. Not once. At no time has any government–federal, state, or local–enacted a law, ordinance, or rule that prohibited him from expressing himself. Milo Yiannopoulos is, by any measurable standard, freer to speak than anyone I know. Simon and Schuster gave him $250,000 for his upcoming book. He gets invitations to banter and chatter on national talk shows. Major magazines interview him all the time. Hollywood stars have to shell out big bucks to publicists to be featured in the media as often as our supposed poster boy for censored speech.

What has happened is that at times when he’s been invited to speak, people who disliked what he said, mainly because they were the targets of his and his fans’ abuse, have talked back. Guess what? That’s free speech too. Occasionally, those protests have turned violent, and that is a shame. But it’s not a violation of his right to free speech. Yiannopoulos is free to speak. The public that hears what he says is free to react. And there’s no law that requires their reaction to be polite, so long as no one gets hurt.

For another, if free speech is a topic you want to discuss, there are many more qualified people to expound on it: journalists, lawyers, judges, historians. Yiannopoulos is none of these. He’s a brain stem attached to a keyboard (sometimes, when his interns aren’t doing his writing for him). He has nothing of interest to bring to the conversation. So why talk to him?

Yes, why?

Why has our culture let someone like Yiannopoulos get this far? What happened? Are we all this easily conned? Well, yeah. Yiannopoulos has found a way of hacking into our culture, bypassing what should otherwise be robust bullshit detectors.

Our culture has a fetish for putting old wine in new bottles. We reboot old TV and movie franchises, comic books, games, everything. We crave both novelty and familiarity, and like to get both at the same time if we can. Yiannopoulos is that in spades.  If he presented himself as a cranky Public Access TV host, ranting at us with an American flag behind him, or as a Klansman on the Jerry Springer show wearing his sheet and yelling “White Power” as the studio audience boos, no one would give a shit about him. Instead, Yiannopoulos says everything the racist, homophobic, sexist uncle you dread talking to at Thanksgiving says, but he wears eyeliner and pearls. Wild! Different! What can we make of it? If J.J. Abrams were to reboot the worst of five centuries of western civilization–and I’m not for a moment suggesting he would or should–he’d have created Milo Yiannopoulos.

We should probably rethink our affection for newly bottled old wines going forward. The past is full of rancid ideas unfit for modern human consumption, and the world is full of opportunists all too eager to be the their trendy new face.

UPDATE: I neglected to add Advocate In Favor Of Pedophilia to Yiannopoulos’s list of titles. I became aware of it only after hitting Publish. Here’s the video. Anyone feel like this is one of those topics worthy of debate?

Why I Take Trump Personally

img_0482This was my Dad, seven decades ago:

 

He shattered his leg jumping out of a plane just like that one during the Second World War. He studied chemistry. He built rockets, and helped U.S. intelligence figure out how the Soviets were building theirs. He shepherded me to adulthood. He faced racism, both subtle and gross, his entire life. He lived just long enough to see, and to vote twice for, America’s first black president, and he’d have been thrilled to see Hillary accept tonight’s Democratic nomination.

Here’s what Trump said about my Dad and millions of other black men:

Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.

Laziness is a trait in blacks.

Don’t tell me he didn’t mean it. He did. Don’t tell me he’s taken it back. He hasn’t. My Dad never made a huge amount of money–working as a scientist is seldom a path to riches–but he was worth a million Trumps, and a harder worker than an infinite number of Trumps, yet Trump wouldn’t have let him balance his books or live in one of his apartments because of his skin color.

That’s why I feel a particular, personal loathing for Donald Trump. I want him to lose. I want him beaten so bad that bigots will be afraid of running for office for the next 200 years.

That’s all.

Michelle Shocks

Charles Krafft had me asking the question of how far artists can go round the twist before screwing up impressions of their work. Now comes Michelle Shocked. I’d never been a huge fan of her work, which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it if someone put it on a stereo. I just never bought any of it. Still, her public persona as I knew it would have had me put her on the 100 Celebrities Least Likely To Sound Like Fred Phelps list, if I’d ever bothered writing one.

I guess I’m glad I didn’t.

At Yoshi’s San Francisco on Sunday night, singer Michelle Shocked pretty much shocked her audience by saying, among other things, “God hates fags and you can tweet that I said so.” This came about 90 minutes into the show, in the middle of a rant against gay marriage, e-mailed James Patterson, who was there. Something like two-thirds of the crowd walked out.

 

From the looks of things, Michelle Shocked has successfully alienated most of the music community, including fans, bookers, and her own publicist, which is a considerable achievement in one night. Assuming she can’t put the whole thing down to having recently switched to Ambien, her harangue has wrecked her career. (The only fans she could pick up with her tirade live in Topeka, and I don’t get the impression that they have enough spare cash to keep M.S. in the lifestyle to which she’s accustomed.)

Her case is similar to Charles Krafft’s, with one possible distinction. Krafft’s holocaust denial forces a wholesale reevaluation of not only his character, but also his past work because it incorporates fascist and white supremacist imagery. I’m not sure if any of M.S.’s song catalog depended on “ironic” incorporations of homophobic imagery–I’m guessing none, given how much her rant surprised her fans–so while M.S.’s career might be spoiled and her character stained with bigotry, her past work might be able avoid the taint of her disgrace.

UPDATE 3/20: Apparently Michelle Shocked has issued an apology.

I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else). I said that some of His followers believe that. I believe intolerance comes from fear, and these folks are genuinely scared. When I said “Twitter that Michelle Shocked says “God hates faggots,” I was predicting the absurd way my description of, my apology for, the intolerant would no doubt be misinterpreted. The show was all music, and the audience tweets said they enjoyed it. The commentary came about ten minutes later, in the encore.

 

And to those fans who are disappointed by what they’ve heard or think I said, I’m very sorry: I don’t always express myself as clearly as I should. But don’t believe everything you read on facebook or twitter. My view of homosexualtiy has changed not one iota. I judge not. And my statement equating repeal of Prop 8 with the coming of the End Times was neither literal nor ironic: it was a description of how some folks – not me – feel about gay marriage.

 

Umm…okay. I suppose it’s reasonable to take her at her word on this and move on, except to say to M.S. that if she should, in the future, find it tempting to describe or make apologies for intolerant Christians, she might want to run her remarks through a few drafts, and by a few trusted friends (including some outside the believing community), before dropping them on stage.