Ramblings #8 It's only words, and words are all I have...
Last night, Milo Yiannopoulos had the publication deal for his book, "Dangerous", cancelled by publisher Simon & Schuster. This move was in response to his recent comments that made light of sexual relations between young boys and older men. Repulsive remarks, no doubt. But there’s another unsettling element to also be addressed.
I’ve been relatively unaware of Yiannopoulos until recently, when I watched his interview with Bill Maher. By the end of it, I was no closer to agreeing with him than I had been at the beginning. He spoke mostly in sweeping generalisations, and I’m intelligent enough not to be placated by soundbites. Bearing in mind that I, like most of the world can think for themselves, it poses the question: is there a point where his remarks should be reigned in?
Apparently so. At least according to Simon and Schuster. Having said that, the publisher has been happy to court Yiannopoulos’ controversy ever since the book deal was announced in December. By cancelling the publication of “Dangerous”, it suggests that maybe they’re taking a moral stance, and saying “No! We as a business do not support the views of this individual and thus, have no interest in being associated with them”. Which would be admirable if it wasn’t only surfacing now.
If you consider the fact that the company entered into a contract with Yiannopolous, fully aware of the kind of person that he is, then the cancellation constitutes the suppression of his right to spout his nonsense, and my inalienable right to debunk it. Or, as Christopher Hitchens put it more eloquently; it’s not “his right to say it, but my right to read it” that is threatened.*
You can argue that it’s not suppression if the publisher was uneasy about Yiannopolous to begin with, and opted not to do business with him. But clearly, that wasn't the case. Instead, their decision is counter-productive for a number of reasons.
First, my right to decide something for myself should never come second to public outcry. It provides to the offensive material an allure and status that it doesn’t deserve. Furthermore, it denotes an unwillingness (or inability) on our part to face dangerous rhetorics head on, and expose them for the falsehoods that they are.
Second, remember; Yiannopolous is a sensationalist. To remain relevant in this field, one has to possess inflammatory and pliable opinions. But such opinions don’t contribute to the public debate in any sense; if they did, their holder would fall in line with the status quo, and so become less marketable. That just wouldn’t work for them. His opinions shouldn't be ones that worry us. Instead, the move gives Yiannopolous’ supporters a platform to suggest that his views might well be so advanced, that the opposition are running scared. What’s to stop them doing this? Well, publication of the book would have.
Opinions (especially in written form) don’t need to be banned to be considered out of touch, or just wrong. Take “Mein Kampf” - the greatest champion of Nazi belief - as an example.
As abhorrent as it is, “Mein Kampf” is readily available in most good bookshops. When visiting London recently, and perusing through the history section of Foyles, I came across a copy by a reputable publisher, that described itself as both an “evil book” and “essential reading” in the same sentence. I don’t need the book to be banned to know that the contents are “the fixed visions of a monomaniac”.** I can decipher this for myself, and am happy to be able to. Milo Yiannopolous is an attention seeker. Adolf Hitler he ain’t. I’m sure I can find the holes in his arguments on my own.
Cancelling his publishing deal now, having shown no concern for his opinions in the past is a hollow act, and a worrying one; because it shows that public outcry can influence what you and I read. Why not go the full hog and ban “The Art of the Deal”? Then we’re really off to the races.
To be a good person, you don’t need to be sheltered from difficult opinions. Quite the opposite in fact. Any publishing house has the right not to publish something that they feel does not suit their brand. Much like any record label that thinks my music is no good has the right to pass on my material. But to back out on a contract to satisfy public discontent, having known for so long what a client represents is not only baseless, it’s dangerous.
All the best,
**EDIT** Milo Yiannopolous believes in hearing opinions from both sides. If he is not weary about debating his ideas, then we shouldn't be either.
* Taken from an interview with Charlie Rose, and well worth the watch if this topic is of any interest to you. You can watch it here.
** George Orwell, Review of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. Read here