Free Speech Fundamentals: Fame

I get it: lots of people don't like Milo. But here's the really fascinating thing: lots of people do. All you have to do is visit his Facebook page (go on, I'll wait) to see how many people love him.

And if you don't believe the five-star Facebook reviews, there are also the videos of the students and other fans who have spoken up at his campus talks to tell him how much he has encouraged them.*

The young black woman who stood up against the Black Lives Matter protestors in Chicago and said to her peers who were trying to shout Milo down (starting at 56:33), "I know who I am. I am Kati Danforth. I am a math major and a junior at Depaul University and I'm working my ass off to become something!" The army sergeant in Houston who gave Milo his dog tags for speaking on behalf of the military against political correctness. The young woman from Kuwait who thanked Milo for standing up for her experience as a woman fleeing from an arranged Muslim marriage. The young woman who talked about how Milo helped her become more truthful in her political views, when formerly she had thought of herself as feminist. The young men who thanked Milo for his fat-shaming because it inspired them to lose weight. The young woman who talked about how it was easier coming out as bi-sexual than as conservative. The older woman who declared herself a two-time cancer survivor and insisted, to the cheers of the audience: "I'd rather have cancer than feminism." The young gay man who championed Milo's stance on Islam and its treatment of gays. The young man from China who thanked Milo for standing up against cultural Marxism. The young woman from France who declared Milo right about everything that is happening in Europe. The young woman from Mexico who talked about how Milo's being gay and Catholic gave her courage as a minority not to give into the identity politics expected of her. The young woman from Singapore who talked about how she sees Milo defending the right of students to have an actual conversation about different issues, not just follow the liberal line. The young woman who talked about how Milo gives conservatives courage to speak up in class. Not to mention Tom Cicotta and Ariana Rowlands who, in their introduction to his speech for the Annie Taylor Award for Courage in Journalism, talked about how much he had inspired them in their own fights to sustain their Republican student organizations on campus.

These are the people who have been pre-ordering Milo's book and who have made him a star. These are the people whom Ruth Ben-Ghiat writing for CNN accuses of "making hate profitable." These are the people whom Constance Grady writing for Vox accuses of helping to mainstream "all the rage of the white supremacists and misogynists and bigots on the alt-right." These are the people whom Sady Doyle writing for Elle anticipates will send people's lives up in flames at Milo's command. These are the people whom Adam Morgan writing for The Guardian accuses Milo of encouraging "to think of entire groups of people as less than human."

Even worse, these are the people whom Ian Tuttle, writing for National Review and ostensibly fellow conservative, accuses of being duped. In Tuttle's words:
Milo Yiannopoulos is the sort of interloper by whom Americans have long been enamored: Part P.T. Barnum, wrangling the latest circus of novelties; part Sebastian Flyte, flaunting his heathenism in the face of bourgeois mores; and part Frank Abagnale, dashing from con to con... Yiannopoulos is one of that new, unfortunate species: the right-wing Internet celebrity. It used to be a requirement that those who aspired to weigh in on matters of public concern experienced the occasional advent of a thought in their heads. But after years of conflating sobriety and informed judgment with "elitism," such barriers to entry have disappeared, replaced by a system in which success is based on one's ability to--as Yiannopoulos himself has put it--get "LOLs." The same impulse that turned the patriarch of a family of duck hunters into a political sage needs news to be entertainment, too.
Jealous much? Milo, of course, responded on his Facebook page with his usual tact, correcting Tuttle's use of "LOLs" ("The preferred formulation for anyone under 35 is 'lulz.' You're welcome") and his claims that Milo stiffed contributors to The Kernel or left the UK ignominiously; he didn't, much as the media loves to suggest that he did ("Working for National Review in 2016 you will be familiar with magazines falling on hard times"; Milo paid all the late invoices out of his own pocket).

Most damning of all, however, as Milo himself pointed out, is what Tuttle said about Milo's fans:
Your analysis, Ian, of how left-wing anguish rules my popularity has merit, but the conclusion I draw from your snobbery is simply that you don't much like how fame or celebrity works, and therefore perhaps don't like ordinary people very much either. Perhaps that is why no one has heard of you. As clownish and unsophisticated as you find me, I find your smug fogeyishness just as dull--as, apparently, do readers, who continue to wisely abandon your magazine in the thousands.
Young fogey that he is, Tuttle (whose writing I have actually long enjoyed) should be reading more of that great conservative go-to, Alexis de Tocqueville, if he wants to understand his fellow Americans better. Milo certainly does.

The problem, as Tocqueville would put it, is that Tuttle wants conservatives to write for aristocrats, while Milo writes--and speaks--for the people. The question for conservatives in America is which better serves democracy--and freedom of speech.

"In an aristocratic people," Tocqueville observes,
among whom letters are cultivated...intellectual occupations, as well as the affairs of government, are concentrated in a ruling class.... When a small number of the same men are engaged at the same time upon the same objects, they easily concert with one another and agree upon certain leading rules that are to govern them each and all. If the object that attracts the attention of these men is literature, the productions of the mind will soon be subjected by them to precise canons, from which it will no longer be allowable to depart.  
Such aristocratic circles produce literature and art of a high quality, carefully crafted according to certain canons of style, refined, elegant, delicate, always in exquisite taste.
The slightest work will be carefully wrought in its least details; art and labor will be conspicuous in everything; each kind of writing will have rules of its own, from which it will not be allowed to swerve and which distinguish it from all others. Style will be thought of almost as much importance as thought, and the form will be no less considered than the matter; the diction will be polished, measured, and uniform. The tone of the mind will be always dignified, seldom very animated, and writers will care more to perfect what they produce than to multiply their productions. It will sometimes happen that the members of the literary class, always living among themselves and writing for themselves alone, will entirely lose sight of the rest of the work, which will infect them with a false sense and labored style... By dint of striving after a mode of parlance different from the popular, they will arrive at a sort of aristocratic jargon which is hardly less remote from pure language a than is the coarse dialect of the people. Such are the natural perils of literature among aristocracies. 
It is quite the reverse, Tocqueville goes on, among people living in a democracy like that in America. There, there are almost as many writers as readers, every man (or woman) encouraged to participate in the production of the arts. Nor is it to be expected that "all who cultivate literature have received a literary education; and most of those who have some tinge of belles-lettres are engaged either in politics or in a profession that only allows them to taste occasionally and by stealth the pleasures of the mind." Accordingly,
they prefer books which may be easily procured, quickly read, and which require no learned researches to be understood. They ask for beauties self-proferred and easily enjoyed; above all, they must have what is unexpected and new. Accustomed to the struggle, the crosses, the monotony of practical life, they require strong and rapid emotions, startling passages, truths or errors brilliant enough to rouse them up and to plunge them at once, as if by violence, into the midst of the subject.
Under such circumstances, authors will seek to achieve not perfection of detail and style, but a "rapidity of execution" marked by "rude vigor of thought.... The object of authors will be to astonish rather than to please, and to stir the passions more than to charm the taste." Even more importantly, they will have the opportunity as well as the compulsion actually to sell their books, not having a captive and leisured audience upon whom they can depend for fame, if not money.

Let's face it, Milo can at times be downright vulgar (L: vulgus, the crowd, mob, rabble, populace). He does not cultivate a particularly refined speaking style--quite the reverse. He gleefully encourages his audiences to be roused to emotions of patriotism and laughter. He likes startling them with provocative images and performing in costume. And he is a master at plunging them, by way of jokes and memes, into the midst of the difficult subjects on which he chooses to speak. Tuttle might prefer for Milo to be more refined in his speech, less flamboyant in his presentations, more aristocratic in his diction. But the audiences to which Milo is speaking are American--and Americans, being democratic, love a good show.

The Redneck and the Brit
This does not mean, as Tuttle implies with his snobbishness about Duck Dynasty, that they are not also interested in refined thought. (Milo was much more gentlemanly in his interview with Robertson.) What it does mean is that they like their literature to be practical, to speak to them directly, to address their everyday concerns. They don't want theories and abstractions, but real solutions to actual problems. Such as "Fuck your feelings" in answer to those who seek to silence them by being offended if they voice the wrong opinions about abortion or the minimum wage. Such as "America is the greatest country in the history of human civilization" in answer to those who would spend more time complaining about its imperfections than celebrating the liberties they enjoy. Such as "Feminism is cancer" in answer to those who would try to convince middle-class women and girls in America that they are somehow oppressed by the desire to have children and thus make their own choices about the balance between homelife and their careers. Such as "Build the wall" in answer to those who would insist that our nation should have no borders and no enforced legal restrictions on who gets to live here.

Tuttle, no great master of style himself, predicts that Milo's book will appeal to this lowest common denominator of literary production: "[It] will be forgettable by any reasonable standard of literary merit. It will not feature any passage of sparkling prose... It will not contain any particularly interesting ideas... It will be a between-two-covers repackaging of his on-going performance-art piece, which felt tired even on its opening night."

You can almost hear him yawning with boredom at the thought of yet another refined evening at the opera. Meanwhile, Milo's fans will be cheering for him as lustily as the French at a cabaret.

Reference

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Volume 2, chapter XIII: "Literary Characteristics of Democratic Times." The Henry Reeve Text, ed. Phillips Bradley (New York: Vintage Classics, 1990), pp. 55-60.

*NOTE TO MILO READERS: Please let me know if you would like me to add your testimony, particularly if you did a video that I missed.

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