WHEN footage of Milo Yiannopoulos apparently making light of gay sex between older men and 13-year-old minors, and in particular his own experience of it, was posted last week, my reaction was a numbed shrug. The former Breitbart technology editor's comedic-offensive shtick meant he’d already bulldozed through most of our rules of decency, so it was no surprise that he also appeared to think the age of consent was nonsense, and was disturbingly willing to extol his own teenage experience of such abuse. He joked of a priest he had an encounter with: “You know what? I’m grateful to Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly as good head if it wasn’t for him.”
The reaction to the surfacing of this, in fact old footage, brought to light seemingly by Republicans, was proof that, although hate-filled misogyny and racism are regular currency on the alt-right, one taboo still stands – and defending, or joking about, sex with minors is beyond the pale. What’s striking is not just that Yiannopoulos was dropped by his publisher, but that the alt-right and traditional conservative right were throwing him overboard.
That transgressive sex talk has brought down the alt-right’s figurehead, should be no surprise. The alt-right is a culture whose life-blood is a sense of sexual inadequacy. It is a throbbing, pulsating online presence that speaks of white male insecurity, a shrill howl against the threat of women and non-whites. Here the humiliation and dehumanising of women is routine. On the far-right news site Breitbart you can, as Yiannopoulos did, write things like: “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy.”
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It says a lot about this section of the right, that the ultimate insult, “cuckservative”, was inspired by a genre of porn in which a white husband watches his wife be taken by a black man. It sums up the culture’s collective unconscious in a single image containing both racism and the desire to subjugate women. Joan Walsh, writing in Salon, declared the term a sign that “the crudest psycho-sexual insecurity animates the far right”.
Yiannopoulos has always represented a compelling but confusing figure: a gay man who professes not to be racist because he loves “black d***”, leading on an online rabble who might otherwise be homophobic, but are united in their hatred of feminists and immigrants, women and blacks. Flirtatious, camp, and sometimes seeming like the very opposite of the traditional white male, Yiannopoulos said many things that chimed with them, providing a defence for their misogyny and racism, their attempts to humiliate and degrade, and calling it free speech.
Of course Yiannopoulos must always have known that his “black d***” joke was racist, the equivalent of pick-up artists wanting to put women in their place by making them their conquests. It was, perhaps, his comic way of unnerving even the white supremacists, who were threatened by black men, and in particular the former president of their country. Black men, for Yiannopoulos, weren’t people, or even threats, they were “d***s”.
This attitude accords with a mood of objectification that runs through sections of the right. It can be found on 4chan, in the trolling Twitter hordes, and in Donald Trump himself, whose p*****-grabbing comments speak of dehumanising chauvinism. What might have been shocking in any other administration has become commonplace in this one. It’s been all too easy for the media to dig up stories of alleged abuse in Trump’s team of advisors. His chief strategist, the former driving force behind Breitbart, Steve Bannon, faced domestic violence charges 20 years ago, though the case was dropped. In 1994 he was caught on tape calling a female employee who challenged his management, a “bimbo” and saying he wanted to “ram [her accusations] down her f***ing throat”.
US politics now seems increasingly riddled with the symptoms of white male sexual insecurity. It’s an anxiety that found reassurance and comfort in the swagger, machismo and sheer wealth of Trump. It found its outlet in Breitbart, 4chan and Twitter. It was legitimised at the ballot box. It found satisfaction in the trolling and humiliating of women and minorities online. That politics should be driven by such deep feelings is no surprise – sexual insecurity has long been a driving force in politics, and in individuals. It is the id that pulses through our society.
Perhaps Yiannopoulos, the libertarian, thought the rules around age of consent were another right-on, liberal convention to destroy. But this was a step too far for the conservative right, or even the alt-right, whose world-view still revolves around profoundly traditional, and patriarchal, family values. It was never going to go down well because the protected group, children and young people, are not a threat to the adult white male.
The sad thing however is that ditching Yiannopoulos won't make the alt-right, or the current administration, any cleaner, nicer or more empathetic. The septic resentment, bullying and self-pity remain. “Milo’s done," declared white supremacist Richard Spencer on Twitter. “Put a fork in him”. Spencer went on to retweet others who said he should be the leader of the alt-right. The white male id of US society rages on.