Joking Matters

Milo is dangerous, everyone agrees. Well, not quite everyone. (Me, for example.)

Certainly journalist Jeremy Scahill thinks he is. Invited to appear with Milo on Real Time with Bill Maher, Scahill refused, insisting, along with almost everyone else who has written about Milo except Tom Ciccotta and me that Milo incites violence. (He doesn't; the only person Milo has ever called for violence against is Dylann Roof, in the form of the death penalty). In Scahill's words: "Yiannopoulos has shown he will use his appearances to publicly attack and shame specific ordinary people by name, a practice which could lead to violence or even death."

Bill Maher would beg to differ. "You are so, let's say, helped, by the fact that liberals just always take the bait," he acknowledged in his interview with Milo last night. And then Maher cautioned his side: "Stop taking the bait, liberals! The fact that they all freaked out about this little, impish, British fag.... You f*cking schoolgirls. You schoolgirls!"

Most people never hear what Milo actually talks about, they only hear about his jokes. Jokes about Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, and Sarah Silverman. Jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. Above all, jokes about Leslie Jones. These are the jokes for which Milo was banned from Twitter last summer and for which the media will never forgive him.

It doesn't matter that nothing Milo said about Jones was anything remotely like what Scahill and others claim that he said. Milo, a gay man, makes jokes about celebrity (not ordinary) women, including one celebrity black woman, and it is his fault that others agree with him that Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, and Sarah Silverman aren't funny (they aren't) or that Caitlyn Jenner is (this one is harder for me, but I take Milo's point about the need to talk about transgenderism as an issue; plus Jenner, like Milo, has been slammed for being conservative, go figure). Or, yes, that Leslie Jones looks like a man, more precisely, "black dude," which as Milo constantly points out, was as much a joke at his own expense as hers. (Milo likes black male lovers, if you haven't heard.)

Full transcript for those who missed the spat: Jones had been Tweeting about the bad reviews Ghostbusters was getting, one of which Milo wrote, "Teenage Boys with Tits: Here's My Problem with Ghostbusters." Milo jumped into the Twitter fray with: "If at first you don't succeed (because your work is terrible), play the victim. EVERYONE GETS HATE MAIL FFS." Jones reported Milo to Twitter and called one of his fans a "racist b*tch" for saying "how sad that a comedian would want to limit free speech. Lenny Bruce is rolling over in his grave." Milo responded to Jones: "Ghostbusters is doing so badly they've deployed @Lesdoggg to play the victim on Twitter. Very sad!" "Barely literate. America needs better schools." At which point, he was blocked from linking to her account. To which Milo replied: "Rejected by yet another black dude." And that was it.

To be fair, Milo also makes jokes about Muslims (because in many Muslim-majority countries they believe that it should be legal to kill gays for being gay), about gays (because they believe all Muslims are their friends and Christian pizza makers are their enemies), about lesbians (whom he says give bad advice to other women about how to relate to men), about professors (particularly those who penalize their students for holding conservative or libertarian political views), and about Black Lives Matter (because they seem not to care about all black lives, particularly those lives lost to other blacks as opposed to the police). But he also makes jokes about conservatives (whom he has called "spineless cunts"), Republicans (ditto), and gamers (whom he now defends, but once described as "dorky weirdos in yellowing underpants").

Above all, however, he makes jokes about himself. As, for example, his choice of costume last night for his interview with Bill Maher. Milo is perfectly capable of dressing in a suit; look at the one he wore for his interview with Tucker Carlson the night after the Berkeley riot. Okay, yes, there is the pink shirt, but Milo's tailoring is impeccable. Compare this look with what he chose for his interview with Maher. Full-on pearls, there must not be an oyster left with its dewdrop from heaven; bomber jacket from ALLSAINTS (yes, he's Catholic, he's doing this on purpose), camouflage pants, and limited edition Black History Month Air Jordans (in homage to his boyfriends). Could he be any more gay? Okay, yes, which is my point! He is doing this on purpose.

Likewise, his trolling of his fellow panelists in the Overtime segment. Do you think it was an accident that he suggested in the midst of the give-and-take with comedian Larry Wilmore over Milo's opinions on transgenderism and gays that Maher should invite guests with higher IQs on his show? To which Wilmore replied, right on cue: "First of all, you can go f*ck yourself alright... If your argument is that these people are stupid, you didn't hear a word that this man said earlier in this segment because he can talk circles around your pathetic, douchey little ass." The audience loved that! But so did Milo, as you can see from his grin.

Maher is right. Milo is an imp--and he relishes it. He is an imp, a clown, a fool. Or, as I prefer to call him, a holy fool. He is dangerous not because he incites violence (again, he never does, except against Dylann Roof), but because in being willing to make himself a fool, he forces others to recognize their own foolishness. Who really came off better in the exchange between Milo and Wilmore? Wilmore, who lost his cool and started cursing Milo? Or Milo, who thereafter happily egged all the other panelists on? Particularly after Wilmore responded to Milo's description of how everyone both on the far Left and on the far Right hates him (no offense, but it's true!): "I think you're leaving out a lot of people." "You see," Milo said after everyone laughed, including himself, "this is the perfect example of how humor can bring people together."

Contrary to what comedians like Wilmore and journalists like Scahill would contend, it is not the laughter Milo incites that is dangerous, but the lack of it. As Milo has often said, and said again last night, the thing that people should be really afraid of is not laughter, but the desire to police it. In his words: "The one thing authoritarians hate is the sound of laughter, because they can't control what people find funny." To which Maher responded: "And also because when people laugh, they know it's true.... Laughter is involuntary.... When you laugh, even if you don't really agree, in that part of your mind you're like..." "Exactly," Milo agreed. "Nothing annoys people or amuses people like the truth."

"If you can take a dick, you can take a joke," Milo likes to say. Which, since we are going for inclusivity here, potentially includes nearly everyone, women and men. Human beings are funny, it is amazing we can get through the day without dying of laughter at how ridiculous we are. Our anxieties about status, whether someone has treated us with the proper respect. Our fears of what others are thinking about us, how disappointed they are with our likes and dislikes. Our desire to be perfect, when we know very well that we aren't. Every man who wishes that women (or other men) would find him more attractive, every woman that longs for a certain man to pay attention to her. We make ourselves ridiculous trying to get each other's attention--and then hate the objects of our affection because they do not respond in the way that we wish they would.

At which point, along comes a man whom both women and men find devastatingly attractive (trust me on this, his Facebook fans talk about it all the time) and who says the things that they themselves have been thinking but have been too afraid to admit to themselves. For example, that they hate when feminists like Lena Dunham say it would be better for everyone if white men were to go extinct. Or that they hate when the media insist that it is Christians' fault when a Muslim man shoots up a gay bar in Orlando. Or that they hate when they are told that it is they who have a problem when they are worried about men who think that they ought to have been born women sharing dressing rooms with young girls. (If only they were medievalists, then they would know it is far more complicated than even Milo imagines.) Or that they hate being told that it is they who are the bigots for believing that nations should have legally enforced borders and criteria for citizenship.

These are the tensions that are driving our culture wars at the moment, the things that nobody says we are allowed to talk about or, if we talk about, to have differing opinions on. These are the things that the authoritarians on the Left want us to shut up about already. Accordingly, these are the things that Milo makes jokes about. Incessantly. Mischievously. Trollishly. And this--to the Left who hates jokes more than anything--is what makes Milo so dangerous. If he makes people laugh, the Left knows that it will lose, because in the laughter that Milo incites is truth. Truth that young women rather like having boyfriends, contrary to what many feminists might say. Truth that Christian bakers and florists are not a danger to gays. Truth that black Americans deserve better treatment, but that voting Democrat has not been to their benefit, just look at cities like Chicago. Truth that wanting Americans to think that their nation is great is not racist or xenophobic, but simply what it means to have a nation, particularly one founded on ideals such as freedom of speech.

Tragically, what the Left misses most is how making jokes can also help our culture to heal. Notice what happened in the Overtime segment when Milo was willing to laugh at himself. Even Wilmore joined in. Humor helps defuse even the tensest conversations, as every husband and wife who have ever shared a sexist joke at their own expense know. Again, in Milo's words: "Humor isn't how you drive people apart...When you make a joke that's how you connect with somebody... Humor is what brings people together." What my colleagues in academia, like those in the media and, oddly, entertainment industry do not see, but Milo's phalanxes of sh*tlords and memesters do, is that laughing helps people bond precisely because it exposes how ridiculous they are even to themselves.

If women cannot laugh at themselves for, I don't know, being weepy at times and desperate for attention, then we are in worse shape than if a man whistles at us. If men cannot laugh at themselves for, I don't know, finding it difficult to deal with intelligent, conservative women, then they are in worse shape than if a impish British fag calls them names. If Christians cannot laugh at themselves for, I don't know, believing in something so ridiculous as the Trinity, never mind the Virgin Birth, then they are in worse shape than if someone calls them out for being hypocrites (which, being sinners, we almost certainly all are, as Milo himself would be the first to admit; human beings are messy). Above all, if human beings cannot laugh at themselves for being, yes, animals with a propensity to think that they are special for being conscious of themselves as animals, then we are all in far worse shape than if someone compares us to a gorilla--or a donkey.

Milo is dangerous for the reason that all tricksters are dangerous. He punctures with laughter the pretension that any human being is above ridicule, however offensive he or she might find it to be the object of fun. In his defense, Milo is always careful in his jokes to take on only those who have already made themselves public with their opinions, even the transgender former student at UW Milwaukee whom Maher asked him about. Being a gentleman, he never punches down or calls out people who have not made themselves his adversaries first, for example, by shouting during his lectures rather than waiting for the Q&A. But what the Left cannot stand and the conservative establishment hates even more is that neither does he back down when he is challenged to a duel. Nor, in the midst of the duel, does he pull his punches when he strikes.

Milo, as I do, believes we are in a fight for the very existence of our culture. This is not a fight we, women, gays, minorities, all those who depend on America and the West for its ideals, can afford to lose. If on occasion he cracks a joke that makes some people uncomfortable, so be it. Jokes sting only our pride. If the joke hurts your feelings, it was something you were already anxious about yourself.

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