Milo Yiannopoulos made his debut panel appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher last night and the two men yucked it up while finding common ground on “weirdos” (Maher’s term) like trans individuals.
That’s about how terrible it went for HBO.
Also on the panel, thankfully, was Larry Wilmore, who confronted Yiannopoulos multiple times for his hateful rhetoric, his racism, his abusive treatment of others, and his overall dismissive contemptible attitude.
If you are not familiar with Yiannopoulos, known simply as Milo, consider yourself lucky. Just know that his bio is defined by trolling, abuse, and racism. His brand is presumably one of provocateur, but he’s actually the IRL embodiment of an online troll. He used to work for Breitbart–where much of his work was plagiarized–and has been connected with white nationalist groups sometimes referred to as the alt-right movement. He also was an expert Twitter abuser before he was kicked off the site for his (and his massive following’s) racist debasement of actor Leslie Jones.
Yiannopoulos has become a celebrated figure in certain corners of the internet and amongst young white racist communities. He’s been on a tour of colleges, where opposition to his appearances has been meet with protests and near-riots. He got a $250,000 book deal from a conservative imprint at Simon & Schuster, and he behaves more like a rockstar who is being silenced by left wing tyranny than a journalist (though he self-describes as journalist, betraying the flexibility of the word today)
But anyone with sense can see that Yiannouplos is not provocative. He adheres to an ideological vision of hate and his Milo-brand of victimized truth-speaking radical only covers his intentions with the thinnest of veneers.
The veneer is a defense mechanism which lets him play the victim, but take it out, and you are left with petulance, and dangerously poised racist hatred that reaches his too large audience.
Which is why Bill Maher’s show last night was such a disaster. Even before he appeared, Milo’s booking created controversy. Jeremy Scahill, founding editor of The Intercept, cancelled on the show, claiming that Yiannoupolis doesn’t need any more exposure. “There is no value in ‘debating’ him,” Scahill said. “Appearing on ‘Real Time’ will provide Yiannopoulos with a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign. It will be exploited by Yiannopoulos in an attempt to legitimize his hateful agenda.”
Whatever led Maher to bring the Milo Show to Real Time, their chummy banter and audience-pleasing jokes only prove Scahill right: Maher gave Yiannoupolos HBO as a venue to boost his platform of hatred, and Milo used it precisely for that purpose.
And when a white nationalist celebrity gets on HBO and insults the IQs of the African American men who are criticizing him, no one can undo the value of that exposure, even someone as brilliant as Larry Wilmore. Instead, Maher is letting the deepest and most insidious racists see themselves on HBO.
It’s the same impulse that led Richard Spencer to celebrate when Hilary Clinton denounced the alt-right. Exposure of any kind is success for trolls. Larry Wilmor telling the “pathetic douchey littles ass” to “go fuck yourself” is unquestionably satisfying, as is Wilmore’s ability to combine the experience of marginalized groups who have suffered at the hands of privileged and abusive white power wielders. And this is the only way to address the white nationalist movement: to call it what it is, and verbally destroy it. But even this still feeds the reaction that Yiannoupolis wants. In the end, culture can’t beat hatred by putting it on television.
Milo is a brand synonymous with hatred, abuse, and racism. The chuckling, smug laugh he uses when he’s attacked should not be shared by anyone who would like to be counted among the decent men and women of the American media or public. Bill Maher, that means you.