by Grania Spingies
If there was one person in the world who felt genuine gratitude at Milo Yiannopoulos’s swan dive from grace this week, it was Pewdiepie. He must have wanted to send him a fruit basket, for within the space of a single day, Swedish Youtube megastar Felix Kjellberg was no longer Public Enemy Number One.
Last week, first the Wall Street Journal—and then every online paper, blog and social media feed—decried YouTube star Pewdiepie as a white nationalist, anti-Semite and Nazi fancier. Disney severed their contract with him and Twitter was packed with delighted Millennials quivering in joy at his imminent downfall. Of course, Pewdiepie is not even remotely a white nationalist or a Nazi. He’s an outlier on the Youtube scene: a ordinary person who managed to create a channel that attracted millions of subscribers that has turned him into a multimillionaire. His content is gaming, presented in a surreal and comedic way. Like all comedy, your mileage may vary. The humor is somewhat like the 1990’s MTV show Beavis and Butt-Head – often crude, seemingly pointless and utterly irreverent. I cannot imagine what Disney thought they would get out of partnering up with him on YouTube. Actually, I can: money. His crime was the insertion of tasteless, poorly thought-out jokes into his own videos.
That Disney might choose to sever a contract with a personality completely at odds with their syrupy, child-friendly wares is not the issue. Nor is it remarkable that people might find his content to be tasteless and incomprehensible and unwatchable. What is noteworthy is how many people became psychic overnight and declared him a Nazi, a hate-monger and then rejoiced in what they evidently hoped would be his imminent financial destruction—all without actually ever having viewed any of his content.
Trigger warning: lame jokes, gratuitous cartoon violence, mockery of newspapers, crude language, Nokia ring tones
The implosion of Milo Yiannopoulos’s career this week has spawned similar reactions and results: the loss of a book deal with Simon & Schuster and public pillorying in every venue imaginable. The venom this time around is not surprising. Milo could scarcely expect any compassion when he had never shown any himself.
His comments on what may or may not be excusing pedophilia, ephebophilia or relationships between men of different ages caused concern and revulsion, depending on what one believes he was advocating or discussing. It isn’t surprising that people are troubled by his words and repelled and unsure of their possible meaning. What is surprising is the fresh outbreak of psychic ability on social media in which people claim to know exactly what he meant, i.e., advocating for the harm and exploitation of children rather than perhaps displaying the behavior of a gay man known for trying to maximise sensationalism and outrage, carelessly discussing the complex and complicated experiences that many gay men have had in their lives:
— Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) February 20, 2017
Those who have had the good fortune of never experiencing anything other than clear consensual adult sexual encounters might remember that their life experiences are not shared by all. George Takei, Stephen Fry and James Rhodes (relevant interviews in the links) are all men who have recounted being raped or abused while they were minors. All three of them talk about it in very different ways. For Takei, it is remembered as a positive experience. Takei was a relatively mature teenager at the time. For James Rhodes, groomed and repeatedly raped as as small child, the psychological damage will last a lifetime. None of this informs us of what exactly Yiannopoulos intended his audience to understand by his comments on the podcast in question, but it should at least produce some sort of context to weigh against his Facebook clarifications and apologies.
Whenever someone becomes the Monster of the Week in the media, I always recall the short dystopian sci-fi story by Steve Allen “The Public Hating“, in which right-minded citizens could publicly execute criminals by the sheer force of hatred.
There’s something profoundly ugly and primitive about the public assassination of a person’s character. It is magnitudes uglier when it’s done without a trial—in fact, when no crime has actually been committed at all.