There was a bull loose in Queens Tuesday afternoon. And recently-down-on-his-luck provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos held a news conference in SoHo.
The bull made it nearly two miles after escaping from a slaughterhouse. It trailed TV cameras and bystanders and Twitter well-wishers in its unsuccessful race for freedom. Yiannopoulos summoned reporters more directly: calling a news conference to apologize for remarks condoning sex with underage boys.
After his remarks circulated widely this weekend, Yiannopoulos lost his speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference as well as his book contract with Simon & Schuster. He “resigned” from his position as an editor at Breitbart News. So he hastily arranged the news conference on the 11th floor of a nondescript building on Broadway. Wearing a sober suit and tie as opposed to the flashy, all-white outfits or wild haircuts he often sports, he apologized for some of his statements but vowed that he’d return, stronger and more newsworthy than ever before. Perhaps even more so, presumably, than the escaped bull that had just met its demise on the other side of the country’s media capital.
The rise of Milo
Yiannopoulos came to fame for cheering Gamergate participants, online trolls who threatened rape and harm of female video game players. He has lambasted Black Lives Matter activists and said “the only reason people become feminists is because they’re deeply physically unattractive.” His Twitter account was suspended for remarks he made about actress Leslie Jones, who was the subject of abuse from him and other online trolls. In the video interview where he plays down underage abuse, he also questions the left’s “arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent.”
He has chastised and dismissed the reaction to him — campus protests and a riot, for example — as fear of freedom of speech.
It’s a useful argument for him, and hearing his permitted speech is a true test for the principle. But he’s no noble warrior for American values. More like the Westboro Baptist Church, lonely purveyors of hate speech against gays, soldiers, Jews.
An apology — kind of
At his news conference on Tuesday, Yiannopoulos said he regretted some of his taped remarks, though he added that the general impulse of them was “black comedy” and “gallows humor,” given that he had suffered from abuse as a teenager. He said, “I do not support child abuse,” and rightly bemoaned the kind of insane scrutiny of online life that could lead to the unearthing of a handful of videos — more pity than he showed for others suffering from similar online issues.
But soon he was back in his usual form, visibly gaining comfort as he returned to the usual buzzphrases: “cynical media witchhunt,” “coastal cities,” “social justice warriors” and “break taboos.”
He said he didn’t mean to be “crowing” but he didn’t think the book cancellation, Breitbart resignation, or CPAC disinvitation had “done any harm for my profile.” Rather, it was just an “opportunity to reach even more people.”
On that front, he announced he’d be finding a new publisher for his book within the year, in addition to starting his own media venture. The book would have a new chapter, he suggested, and 10 percent of the proceeds would be donated to address the issue of child abuse. The media venture would be focused on “entertainment” and “education,” he said, because he was giving journalism a rest.
In his desire to entertain, and be constantly in the public sphere, he has borrowed the strategies of President Donald Trump’s campaign. (Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon was Yiannopoulos’ boss at the alt-right-friendly Breitbart.)
Like Trump, he sees himself as a world-historic figure, experiencing receptions unlike anything that has happened “in the history of this country before,” he said Tuesday. He noted that he had “a really good understanding of this country,” unlike the journalists assembled before him in real life and via screen.
Like Trump, he understands the country, and the particular nerve endings of American culture sure to reward with a reaction and a click. He knows how to stay in vogue.
On Tuesday, he promised he’d be around for the next 30 years, doing what he has been doing. He left the rented office space after less than an hour, got into a car to the tune of a handful of protesters’ jeers. Not much of a crowd for Broadway and Houston, even on a weekday afternoon. On this particular day at least New York’s attention was elsewhere.
Maybe on the bull.