Over the weekend, a rapid drama unfolded between Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and the American Conservative Union. Initially slated to be a keynote speaker at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Yiannopoulos’ invitation was rescinded after an old video recording resurfaced in which he appears to justify pedophilic relationships. His book deal with publisher Simon & Shuster was also terminated. Even Breitbart’s own Editor-in-Chief, Alex Marlow, stated Yiannopoulos’ comments were indefensible.
Controversial and intentionally antagonistic actions are by no means a mystery to Yiannopoulos. A provocateur by nature, he habitually fails to display adult levels of decorum. Routinely engaging in juvenile reductionism, he is both a product and a contributor to a growing trend of public policy discussion devolving into displays of emotional entertainment. The end goal becomes an effort to generate as much controversy as possible, gleefully reveling in the deliberate chaos as the next big anti-left soundbite is born. The self-aggrandizing spectacle itself becomes the end result.
What is a mystery to Yiannopoulos, and his professional agitation, is being held accountable.
David French, a staff writer for National Review, recently pointed out Yiannopoulos’ style and product are essentially anathema towards the genuine protection of free speech. Aptly characterizing Yiannopoulos’ performances as a vindication of the left’s caricature for all it opposes, French argues that the efforts to restore a culture of true free speech will fail if they are irrevocably tied to divisive antics. If that happens, it only reinforces the false proposition that beyond the defensive blanket of insular ideational conformity lies a wasteland of nothing but bigotry and ridicule.
In combatting the most extreme excesses of a regressive left’s tendency to embrace ideological monolith and its frequent valuing of collective identity over individual expression, any opposition that hopes to claim the authority of universal virtue cannot be wrapped in the trappings of such antagonism.
The defining aspect of modern free speech defense must not become some twisted sense of schadenfreude.
Yet, this shock-value approach has been vastly rewarded by conservative media outlets and pundits alike. French attributes this to conservative pundits’ approach to Yiannopoulos: an “enemy of my enemy is a friend” mantra that fails to recognize both ideological differences with mainstream conservatism and the counterproductive dangers of his stylistic shortcomings. The ‘message’ is amplified exponentially, leaving only a crude messenger with an undeserved platform.
The decision of the ACU to disinvite Yiannopoulos from CPAC is a step in the right direction to prevent him from becoming the sole symbolic champion of free speech. The dilemma of his outlandishly offensive remarks becoming the banner for our most cherished constitutional liberty needs to be remedied immediately.
Shock must not become the replacement for substance.