I come neither to bury Milo Yiannopoulos nor to praise him. His rise and fall was so sudden and his influence marked with an intensity that it was only matched by its brevity that it is nigh near impossible to resist the temptation to assess his impact upon popular culture and conservative media.
It is nearly impossible to appraise any obtruded personality in the news without reflecting, however briefly, on the words of Andy Warhol who predicted that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” The quotation was part of a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.
You may have missed the opportunity — arguably not regretted — to view Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe or a Campbell’s Soup can, but you doubtless know those words: because they truly do encapsulate and define celebrity in our contemporary world.
His words have probably eclipsed his art, which when taken at face value, is more a an opportunistic statement on and cynical exploitation of the the 1960s than anything approaching a timeless interpretation of humanity. Ultimately, for Warhol, his life eclipsed his art and he became famous for being famous and at least better remembered than the other jet setters and artistic layabouts who also inhabited his world of sex, drugs and art.
The 15 minutes — or thereabouts — of fame phenomenon seems to be increasingly accurate in our social media world. Some may have more and others less but it is entirely possible in our communications-pervasive universe to become globally understood in a day and forgotten entirely the next.
Milo may have strutted on the stage for more than 15 minutes and he might have earned more notoriety than fame for NOT making speeches at university after university but he sank like rock when he lost control of his message.
And that is the interesting thing about this whole episode. Just what defined Milo as a transient conservative icon? Here was a flamboyant homosexual who had more in common with Liberace than William F. Buckley, who understood that no one really cares anymore about why free speech is important just that it has to be tested in the most extreme circumstances because it is more entertaining that way. Merely exercising free speech and offending people does not make you a conservative or even worthy of any particular contemplation, anymore than Hugh Hefner in the 1950s could be described as a champion of free speech when he was merely trying to amass a fortune by introducing soft-core pornography to the masses.
One week Milo was making the rounds of the Fox News evening shows, burning up so much time that it appeared that he was being groomed to host a program of his own. Then the week of catastrophe as he lost his book deal, his editorial job and whatever reputation he thought he had as a “conservative” commentator.
He had apparently spoken approvingly of the one sexual sin that is apparently still recognized as hazardous to one’s career in describing the sexual mores of ancient Greece that were grounded in what is often described in cutting-edge parlance as “inter-generational sex.” Though very little is sacred anymore, it is somewhat reassuring to know that at least something is still considered profane — and any suggestion that pedophilia is somehow just another sexual orientation that we must learn to accept is still greeted with disdain and disbelief.
Was Milo good for conservative thought? Not at all. But conservative thought has suffered from a dearth of contemplation in the last two decades. Conservatism is accented and accentuated not by philosophical debate but often by hucksters, showmen, entertainers and comedians. Milo was certainly a bit of all of these.
I wish him well; perhaps there are another 15 minutes of fame allotted to him.
I will continue to defend his right to speak at any university, to shock and outrage the lefty students and faculty with unrestrained glee — but somehow I think those opportunities will be few and far between.
And I don’t think that has been a victory for conservatives.
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