The Tragedy of Milo Yiannopoulos

A tragedy has befallen Milo Yiannopoulos.

Aristotle, the finest literary critic of ancient Greece, defined “tragedy” in part by the protagonist’s “hamartia,” or “fatal flaw.” Aristotle claimed that this flaw was intrinsic to the character, who would exhibit it in the narrative in such a way that their downfall was clearly foreseeable from early in the story, though it may have appeared as a logical or forgivable action initially.

Yiannopoulos has built his career on the principle that he can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants. He can do this, in part, because of his homosexuality. As Daniel Penny has written, “What makes Milo so vexing to the left and successful among young people on the right is the way he manages to utilize his ‘deviant’ sexuality as a political asset rather than a liability.” Additionally, his recent tour has depended on the notion that a democratic society must not only accept his comments, but support him in making them through the subsidy of public venues—such as universities—and public infrastructure—such as radio waves and television bandwidth.

But that career appears in jeopardy after an interview first recorded in January, 2016, resurfaced in which Yiannopoulos makes comments in defense of relationships between “younger boys” and “older men.” Many took these comments to refer to sexual abuse of minors, an interpretation enhanced by Yiannopoulos joking about a priest’s attention to him as an adolescent. The fallout so far has included the Conservative Political Action Conference disinviting him from a speaking spot at their 2017 event, cancellation of a book contract with Simon and Schuster imprint Threshold Editions, and his resignation from right-wing website Breitbart.

Yiannopoulos’s comments have included attacks on the idea of women needing to grant consent for sex, public outing and shaming of transgender individuals, denunciation of immigrant students at universities in the United States, and the encouragement of his followers to harass women and minorities online. His activities last summer got him banned from Twitter for the coordinated racist and sexist campaign he led against comedian and actor Leslie Jones. Despite all this, it was only the appearance of videos in which Yiannopoulos makes arch statements about sex with adolescent boys that seems to have dimmed his wide-spread popularity on the right.

It has long been a myth of social conservatives that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked, despite the fact that, statistically, most perpetrators of child sexual abuse are male and most victims female. (The idea that child abuse could be linked more directly to asymmetrical power relations seems to be too frightening a reality to comprehend.)

In the wake of the reemergence of these videos, Yiannopoulos’s hamartia is laid bare. Like other tragic Greeks, Yiannopoulos is brought down by the very thing he’s famous for doing: making provocative statements. Tragically, the downfall of a guy who made his career on the principle he could say anything he wanted comes about by saying the exact thing his supporters always secretly feared he desired to say the most.

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