When the Richard Strauss opera “Salome,” based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, first premiered in the United States, critics dismissed it as tasteless and boring: nothing but schlock produced for the shock value.
The truth, as composer and academic Robert Greenberg observes in his “Great Works” course on “How to Listen to and Understand Great Opera,” was quite different: the critics were scandalized by the opera, but knew that they couldn’t possibly say so, for fear of their outraged reactions selling tickets. So the best option was to pretend the show was boring, which couldn’t possibly warrant an audience’s interest.
I suspect that precisely the same impulse is at work in the liberal reviews of Milo Yiannopoulos’ new, self-published book, Dangerous. “Oh, Milo. You’ve done the impossible. Written a book that’s largely…boring,” yawns USA Today with practiced condescension. “Ironically, in helping elect Trump, Milo and those like him made themselves obsolete: America now faces greater problems than the mean-spirited s—tposts of a preening hack,” concludes Gizmodo in its own incredibly bitter take on the book. I presume CNN did not get the memo on this last bit.
Nevertheless, if Oscar Wilde himself is watching from the afterlife, one can only suspect it pleases him to see another ostentatiously transgressive gay man’s provocations meet with this obviously fake yawning by equally obviously triggered people. For myself, having read Dangerous, I can say conclusively that if this book didn’t scandalize its Leftist readers, they must have either skimmed it or not paid attention. This book is many things, but it is most definitely the opposite of boring.
Not that the liberal reviewers are being completely dishonest. There is merit to their claim that parts of the book feel recycled from Yiannopoulos’ speeches, or that he goes to great lengths rehashing some old controversies. For the sake of full disclosure, in fact, I should admit that I came to know Yiannopoulos personally through one of those old controversies: namely, #Gamergate. And while I remain as tickled as ever by Milo’s searing and accurate takedown of the “fourth wave feminists” who tried to turn their shameless baiting of socially awkward and largely powerless men into a noble struggle against Patriarchy, or harassment, or something, it is certainly true that the case against the likes of, say, Anita Sarkeesian probably needs no repetition in 2017. When it comes to the anti-#Gamergate feminists and their SJW allies, I can only echo Gizmodo’s sentiment that the mean-spirited s—tposts of such preening hacks are now mercifully beneath our notice.
However, despite the occasional bit of recycled material, Dangerous is still worth reading: not just for college-age would-be Milos looking for a hefty repository of “hate facts” and skillfully presented right-wing argumentation to employ against the sensitive Leftist souls and/or not-so-sensitive Leftist brickbats in their
local Antifa … I mean, college—but also for seasoned right-wing ideologues. That said, the two groups will not benefit from the same sections of the book. The teenage and college-age s—tlords will be most enamored with Yiannopoulos’ volleys against the Left, which older right-wing intellectuals will probably find too obvious and familiar (if still terribly funny), and thus, the younger readers will probably get the most out of those sections of the book. However, for those who have been on the Right for a while, I would argue that Yiannopoulos is even more worth reading, and it is to them that I will address the rest of this review. Because it is in his sections detailing his disagreements with various factions on the Right, from CPAC, to the alt-right, to “establishment conservatives,” where Yiannopoulos really attempts to do something daring and original: he crafts the first manifesto for a Right that has shed being conservative in favor of being transgressive.
One of the most interesting points in the book comes early on, when Yiannopoulos fingers one man who he sees as his antecedent. And unlike what you might expect from other right-wing authors, he doesn’t choose, say, Bill Buckley, or Rush Limbaugh, or Ronald Reagan, or even (given his British roots) Margaret Thatcher. Who does he pick?
Well, here’s Yiannopoulos: “If you want white nationalism, go listen to Richard Spencer. I’m the conservative Lenny Bruce, finding boundaries and raping them in front of you. (Lenny Bruce would overdose all over again if he saw what stuffy prudes we consider controversial comedians today.)”
Later on, in his chapter on trolls, Yiannopoulos laments a trend among his “heroes,” one of whom, once again, turns out to be an unexpected sort for a normal conservative:
Even the rebellious heroes of my youth have gone soft. In 1997, Marilyn Manson was outraging Christians and social conservatives. The Antichrist Superstar should have been a Trump fan. He was practically built for it. It was a real let down when he came out with a music video in which he decapitated a Trump look-alike.
Now, needless to say, Lenny Bruce and Marilyn Manson are far from the people your average college Republican would cite as inspirations for their current political views. And really, there’s no particular reason why anyone in decades past would think they should have been.
Were those people wrong? Yiannopoulos certainly thinks so, as his chapter on “Why Establishment Republicans Hate Me,” or more specifically, in his absolutely vicious evisceration of a group he refers to as “Debate Club Conservatives.” Milo defines that group this way:
There’s something…noble about trying to preserve the standards of decorum that existed prior to the 1960s, when a single swear word on TV could lead to a boycott campaign. That worldview is completely understandable for conservatives (and even most liberals) over 65.
If you’re under 40, however, it’s likely that you fall into the unfortunate, slightly laughable group I call Debate Club Conservatives. And it’s time to snap out of it.[…]
There’s another reason why the DCC attitude is so damaging to the conservative movement: most people aren’t political obsessives. They don’t care about your 14-point refutation of Obamacare. They want to hear things that relate to their own experiences, not abstract policy debates.
And what in people’s own experiences does a transgressive Right understand that the Debate Club does not? Yiannopoulos explains, using the example of Ben Shapiro:
Shapiro is thinking of a world where only politics matter. To him, political correctness is a problem because it suppresses facts relevant to current affairs—and that’s it. For most other people, the stultifying rules of political correctness go far beyond the suppression of facts; it’s the suppression of jokes, banter, and yes, the suppression of rudeness.
Political correctness interrupts everyday human experiences, threatening to turn every single personal matter into a public one. You can no longer slip up in conversation without worrying if the person you’re talking to is going to tell the whole world what you said, potentially ruining your life forever (need I provide a personal example?). The internet’s erosion of privacy with the resurgence of politically correct taboos is a terrifying combination. That’s why so many people are drawn to Trump.
Now, Yiannopoulos doesn’t delve into history to make his case as much as he could, which is unfortunate. But what this point seems to suggest, and I believe correctly, is that the instant modern day political correctness became a dominant cultural force (most likely during the ’90s), conservatives were effectively gang pressed into common cause with figures like Marilyn Manson, Lenny Bruce, and every other person who laid siege to good (i.e., politically correct) taste.
The instant public virtue was weaponized by the Left, it became necessary to defend public vice, because otherwise the definition of “vice” would be expanded to cover anyone its new politically correct masters didn’t like. The Left actually understood this when it was in the transgressive position, and implemented it by having groups like the ACLU stand up for the rights of neo-Nazis and Communists in the same breath.
Conservatives, by contrast, seem reluctant to do the same, or even to acknowledge the necessity. One very notable exception, aside from Yiannopoulos, currently sits in the White House. Further, while Yiannopoulos most likely wouldn’t care for the association with a figure like Samuel T. Francis, given his oft-professed disdain for practitioners of white identity politics, nevertheless he more or less adapts Francis’ idea of “anarcho-tyranny” for a cultural rather than a political context in his argument that the Right and the merely deviant now share the same interests. And after seeing the disgraceful #CNNBlackmail episode, can anyone doubt that he is at least partially correct?
Now, lest you think that Yiannopoulos wants to run the DCC’s or the purveyors of propriety out of the GOP completely, I do have to let him reassure you before proceeding:
Conservatism needs its great thinkers and its brilliant minds—the Debate Club brigade —to persuade voters who are already open-minded. But we also need provocateurs and clowns, to grab the attention and challenge the biases of those who don’t want to be challenged.
No movement has ever survived with just moderates and intellectuals, and no movement has ever survived with just hellraisers.
As the dubious episode surrounding Yiannopoulos’ own so-called “fall from grace” shows, however, the conservative movement is scarcely in danger of being overrun by its hellraisers. Rather, its established guardians in Conservatism Inc., seem absolutely determined to force the Right to remain a Debate Club brigade dominated by only moderates and intellectuals, or to die trying. It is only thanks to the hellraiser in the White House that they are not getting their way.
For Conservatism Inc., figures like Yiannopoulos are what the original (and I would argue, superior) American mascot Brother Jonathan was to the caricatured British John Bull: a clown of English origins who nevertheless proves to stand for the pluckiest parts of the American mind. And by the way, isn’t it interesting that the original, pre-Uncle Sam symbol of America was the 19th century equivalent of an internet troll? Along with the anonymous s—tposter Publius, I’d say Yiannopoulos and his followers are in good company.
To be sure, not all right-wing hellraisers have to like the same people Yiannopoulos does, or even like Yiannopoulos himself. But for those of us who want a hellraising contingent on the Right, we must ask ourselves whether we can tolerate forming a coalition of people whose deviance from the politically correct norm is inspired by everyone from Lenny Bruce and Marilyn Manson, to Joseph de Maistre and Julius Evola, to Abraham Lincoln and Harry Jaffa? That is a question I can hardly answer in this (already overlong) review, but I can offer one simple observation:
If such a coalition were to form and congeal, then from the perspective of the Left, it would be truly Dangerous.