‘Out Magazine’ and Milo Yiannopoulos’ Contradictory Entrenchment in Identity Politics

Yiannpoulos undermines his staunch anti-identity-politics politicking by vocally advocating the importance of gay identity. But should gay media cover him?

There’s been plenty of outcry against Out magazine’s recent feature on Breitbart editor/Gamergate bandwagon jumper/general internet shitlord Milo Yiannopoulos. Various people have questioned whether a queer outlet should ever have countenanced covering Yiannopoulos in the first place, and others have condemned the magazine for publishing a profile that… well, let’s just say that it’s not exactly hard-hitting journalism. (Yiannopoulos and Breitbart, of course, have been milking the debate for yet more publicity.) Our editors Moze Halperin and Tom Hawking discuss the issue below.

Moze: The idea of a mainstream gay magazine addressing and investigating one of the prominent gay voices — even a revoltingly prominent one — in the country doesn’t seem so unfeasible, but the way Out Magazine‘s profile of Milo Yiannopoulos is packaged glamorizes him, providing him with a space in which to literally appear as the political jester he claims to be in the abstract. The magazine allowed him to visually actualize that fallaciously softening narrative through a lazily “campy” photoshoot.

It’s noteworthy that “camp” plays largely into Milo Yiannopoulos’ profile in the publication, because for as much as he likes to claim that he “find[s] nothing more tiresome than people talking about their own identity endlessly,” he spends half of his time in the piece describing how Trumpism appeals to his “campy” ideals of gay culture. Actually, he takes an entirely identity-oriented stance to his sense of belonging within the alt-right, and manipulates his “gay” image — the extravagance of his garb, his love of drag, his tight, put-togetherness — to become a fashionable figurehead for the antifeminist, racist group, and a foil to the stereotype that it’s a group of devastatingly ugly, undersexed white dudes who hide from the world behind their laptops. He undermines his staunch anti-identity-politics politicking by vocally advocating the importance of gay identity in order to become a willing token for the alt-right.

Tom: Yeah, I agree, and I think Out have been… well, at best they’ve been stooged by someone more media-savvy than they are, and at worst they’ve been actively disingenuous — the disclaimer at the start of the piece suggests that they knew how this piece was going to be received, and went ahead anyway. Allowing Milo to portray himself however he wants allows him to do what he’s made a career out of doing, i.e. deploying his sexuality as a sort of shield against allegations of prejudice. (After all, the word “cuck” pretty much only exists because Milo’s sexuality meant that the alt-right had to think of another word to use where they’d otherwise have used “faggot.”)

It’s all the more obnoxious because there was no need for Out to do this — people have been comparing it to Jimmy Fallon’s milquetoast Trump interview, but at least you can argue that no matter how pissweak his interview was, Fallon couldn’t really refuse to have a Presidential candidate on their show. Why did Out have to profile Milo Yiannopoulos? There are a million more interesting, and more worthy, queer people they could and should be covering.

Moze: I’m not sold on the notion that they shouldn’t have covered him — I fundamentally agree with the opening statement before the article, and I think that espousing the notion that someone like this should be ignored actually does play into the type of censorship that Yiannopoulos rails against. Out Editor-in-Chief Aaron Hicklin tweeted:

And you know what? He’s right. A good interviewer and the right aesthetic approach could’ve done something eye-opening with that piece, too. But the Tweet that best sums a response is:

The opening statement before the article from the editor is contradictory to what the article actually does; this is not critical or even neutral: they’ve crafted him a shiny platform. The article describes him as the “Loki from London” and then takes a couple of pictures of him looking attractive, polished, and in control of his image in a clown suit, or making devils’ horns with his fingers.

They headlined it in a way that makes him seem like a thick-skinned, defiant martyr. The author — who I think does ask some good, critical questions, and, between bouts of seeming to describe him as an extravagant savior, highlights the damage Yiannopoulos does — also almost seems to feast on his “shamelessly gay” “lanky” “soft” “doelike” “cutting” (and other random adjectives) image, his shoes he “wear[s]…because the guys [he] want[s] to fuck know what they are but can’t afford them.”

There is no denying Yiannopoulos is a treacherous figure, but pointing that out merely galvanizes him. What’s worth noting, however, are the deep contradictions in his logic. They appear in the Out Magazine piece, but should have been further interrogated and amplified. His entire persona is built upon an identity that he uses for far more than sex. By harnessing some abstract notion of “gayness” — which, for him, seems to be the politically evacuated shell of gay liberation sexual protest — he turns gayness into a synecdoche for what he actually advocates, which is pure hedonism and Randian greed.

His idea of sexuality — as it’s represented in his $1000 shoes that the men he wants to fuck can’t afford — is, simply, excess, and he defends it in much the same way that ultra-conservatives who don’t deploy their sexualities, but rather their corporate influence, defend their excessive wealth. Identity does matter to him, because it’s through that that he’s able to morph some anachronistically politicized notion of gay sexual excess into a trojan horse for capitalist excess.

I think you can write a great profile of an insidious figure that dismantles and exposes them; that was not achieved here. Fundamentally, it wasn’t wrong for Out to profile him; Out is an old, identity oriented publication, and there’s a lot to dissect in a person who’s maneuvering a gay male identity (which Out has gotten a lot of criticism for originally mostly represented) to espouse politics that use a rhetoric of liberation but are actually antithetical to it. Out should have profiled him; they should have interviewed more people for the profile — people who could work just as hard to dismantle his persona as he works to build it. But, given the way the article was packaged, they failed to do so in a manner that made them seem like anything beyond the gay, white, male magazine identity they’ve been attempting to distance themselves from. There are a few quotes from one social justice writer — Shaun King — and these are pointed, but ultimately the aesthetic presentation and structuring of the article, which very much gives Yiannopoulos the last word, outweigh the purposes of those quotes.

Tom: That’s fair. As much as I’m sick of hearing about him (and yes, I know we’re as much to blame as anyone in terms of giving him publicity), there’s certainly something to be said for the idea of a critically-minded profile, especially coming from a queer publication. But this wasn’t critical in the slightest — it allowed him to perpetuate his own mythology, and if anything, the writing aids him in doing so. You get the impression that the writer was rather taken by Milo’s charisma, and it’s a failure on Out‘s part to encourage the writer a) to be more critical and b) more importantly, to speak to more sources, especially ones who aren’t just Milo cheerleaders, to get the perspective that’s clearly missing. There are, what, four sources in this piece? That’s pretty minimal for what’s supposed to be an in-depth profile, especially since two of the sources pretty much cheerlead for him and the other — Shaun King — doesn’t actually know the guy.

Beyond that, though,  I think you’re right about him being an avatar of hedonism — and it’s a particularly nihilistic brand of hedonism, in my opinion, born of privilege. He brands the left as prudish killjoys, out to stop him and other fun guys like, um, Donald Trump having a good time. It’s an interesting tactic, and one you don’t see overmuch from the right, despite the fact that they’re allegedly on the side of individual liberation, etc. (This is probably because the large majority of the right really are prudish killjoys.) This is not to say that the right wing isn’t full of shameless individualists; it’s just rare that they embrace that side of themselves in public, instead of trying to pretend that their greed and excess isn’t underpinned by some sort of Christian morality, etc. In that respect, you can see why Trump appeals to him so much — he’s a similar sort of right-wing figure, one who’s shamelessly and gleefully about material excess.

Moze: Absolutely. If he were approaching this disregard for what he calls censorship using a tactical stance wherein he didn’t grotesquely disparage the trans community (“You really expect me to believe that I shouldn’t laugh about trannies? It’s hilarious. Like, dude thinks he’s a woman?”) or say revolting things about people of color and the BLM movement, his skepticism of some leftist ultra-sensitivities could perhaps bear more weight to people beyond… white bigots. But the only true freedom of speech he supports is that spoken by like-minded privileged megalomaniacs (again, obvious Trump daddy parallel.) It’s obvious why the only minority group he seeks to defend and uplift (through his own societal funhouse ideologies) is the gay male community — because it’s the only one to which he belongs. He’s no less concerned with identity than anyone else, it’s just that he’s figured out a way to discuss his ad nauseum while supporting a presidential candidate whose politics aim to quash everyone else’s.

Tom: His contempt for BLM is all the worse given his fetishization of black men — I guess to him, black dick matters, not black lives. But anyway, bringing this back to the original subject, I think you’re right that the problem isn’t so much with the idea of covering this guy as it is with doing a shitty job of it. If you’re profiling someone, you need to make some sort of effort at objectivity. By the look of the piece, and by the editor’s note that preceded it, Out have replaced “objectivity” with “overcompensating for the fact that people hate this guy.” They’re wrong that Yiannopoulos doesn’t care if you hate him — he does care, and he loves it, because it means you’re paying attention to him. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your only option is to ignore him, which is the sort of ineffectual advice you tend to get in relation to bigots and bullies everywhere. You don’t have to ignore him, but you do have to see him for what he is: a narcissist who thrives on publicity, just like daddy. If you’re going to profile him, you approach him with that in mind. Otherwise you get played, and Out got played.