Another night with the helicopters. I love living in Berkeley. I love living close to the UC Campus. But the helicopters really get under my skin.
Last night it was the riots over the appearance of Milo Yiannoupoulos the young Republicans invited to speak. A disaster from start to finish.
For one thing, we had to witness the tragedy that this great free speech campus of the 60s is now a place where people shut down speakers whose views are offensive. Whenever there is a just cause for protest, anarchists join the protestors and bring violence and destruction. The University identified about 150 of them, most wearing masks. That’s about one in ten, but their presence means certain death to a reasonable protest.
Now we get distracted by the question of whether the police should have stepped in sooner. And the fact that there were apparently no arrests.
For the record, I’m a big fan of the Berkeley police and I understand the wisdom of letting the mob rage burn itself out. Stepping in too soon can be medicine worse than the disease. They held back, focused on keeping the mob contained, let the fire burn, and today store owners are sweeping up the broken glass that once was their storefront.
At the center of it all was the darling of the right, provocateur Milo Yiannoupoulos, playing the event like a mighty Wurlitzer. Yiannoupoulos is editor of Breitbart. That hate-filled rag once run by Steve Bannon before he graduated to running the country for Donald Trump.
Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a line between free speech and hate speech. But I think that line has to be tuned like a Stradivarius. It’s not all or nothing. I’m with Germans who have laws preventing Nazis from speaking publicly, but I wouldn’t want those laws in the United States. Different historical contexts. Different circumstances. And I think Yiannoupoulos, obnoxious as he is, should be allowed to speak, to laugh at fat people, reveal his malevolence, and leave in peace. So far he has not shouted fire in a crowded theater. The bad guys, in my view, are the flame-throwing glass-shattering thugs that attach themselves to protest marches these days.
But while I don't want to lay all the blame at this provocateur's feet, I don't want him to get off scot free, either. Provocateurs are not innocents. And what happened last night is going to happen again. It’s worth taking a closer look at this guy. He’s going to be around for a while.
I got an e-mail from a friend this morning who had not heard of him before. Is he “just a
"no talent version of Ann Coulter?" he asked me.
Here’s my response.
I wouldn’t use those words to describe Milo Yiannoupoulos. First off, that implies that Ann Coulter has talent. I've never seen any. Secondly, he's not an artist and I see no reason to worry about whether he has talent. He's a provocateur.
He's also well-educated and well-spoken when he wants to be, if you think a shit mouth can actually be well-spoken. A nasty piece of work.
I get where he's coming from. There is something seriously off-putting about some on the left when they get righteous. Serious phonies abound. They make a good target for somebody like Milo Yiannoupoulos. Or Ann Coulter.
The problem is that he paints with too broad a brush. Like calling feminists humorless. Some are. And for good reason. But to tear angry people down because they can’t or won’t see the humor in things is to reduce their legitimate gripes. It misses the boat and you end up joining the oppressors, whether that was your intention or not.
Yiannoupoulos has it in for lesbians, for some reason. My guess is that he thinks he's on safe ground because he himself is gay. And he gets cruel. He plays to stereotypes of the fat bull dyke, and pretty soon he's making fun of fat people. All fat people. He has the mean wit of a bull in a china shop.
I guess this is what the charge is all about that he has no talent. He has no apparent understanding of how one distinguishes between real people and phonies and appears not to care. His shtick is fame. He doesn't care how he gets it, and if the innocent go down with the guilty, it's no skin off his nose. As long as he gets attention.
Rather than say he has no talent, I'd say he has no wisdom. He's young, and like many who are very smart he's also very stupid. He's got enough rope to hang himself with. Knows how to use people's weaknesses to hurt them but doesn't know enough not to hurt them.
He's a product of the age. We live now in a world where it's more important to be known than to be respected. A People's Magazine era. The zeitgeist has thrown up people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin. Yiannoupoulos is merely the latest incarnation of a malevolent spirit fed by the mob. People love circus. Look at all the YouTube videos where somebody "trashes" somebody else. We want people we don't like not just taken down; we want them cut and broken. It's an era of slash and burn.
Yiannoupoulos is a circus act. His being gay and catholic is his costume, his equivalent of Donald Trump's hair.
Donald Trump got elected because he knew how to ride the mob's lust for slash-and-burn infamy. He understood the media would grease the skids he could use to get to the top. We can't resist money. We can't resist people who are famous for the sake of being famous, who thrill us by saying things decent people would never say. Our TV shows get more and more violent. Our love scenes get more and more graphic. We always want more. We don’t want quiet music. We want rock. We don’t want gentle humor. We want the outrageous.
People like Trump and Yiannoupoulos will keep showing up because they reflect our own worst instincts and we haven't figured out a way to kick the habit. If we ever do, these "no talent" queen-for-a-day type provocateurs will fade away. Until then, we'd better set aside more money to replace the broken storefront windows.