In a bizarre twist of fate, self-proclaimed internet troll and alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos landed himself last week on Bill Maher’s HBO show, “Real Time.”
A college dropout with an interest in technology journalism, Yiannopoulos rose to fame in 2014 during the Gamergate controversy, when he claimed that video game culture was being politicized by “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners.” But that was just the beginning. What followed were months, and then years, of online “righteous trolling” that paraded under free speech and baited liberals. He eventually grew too big to ignore and suddenly he found himself sitting across from Maher, one of the most prominent liberal figures in the past decade.
The encounter was weird. Bill Maher agreed with Yiannopoulos almost as much as he disagreed with him, as they both went on about freedom of speech and Yiannopoulos’ success at provoking “the part of liberalism that has gone off the deep end,” according to Maher.
In a surprisingly benign interview, Maher allowed Yiannopoulos to make comments about not employing gay people because they never show up on time as well as Amy Schumer, Leslie Jones and Lena Dunham’s lack of talent with only slight rebuke. When Yiannopoulos later joined the panel along with Larry Wilmore, Malcolm Nance, and Jack Kingston, things got a bit more heated but it was otherwise a pretty lame exchange.
Fans of Maher were angry that Yiannopoulos was invited to the show because it “mainstreamed” hate. While I disagree with that notion, I did find the appearance underwhelming. I just kept thinking, “this is the best conservatism has to offer?”
As noted by Yiannopoulos on the show, it’s not just liberals that hate him but also a significant amount of conservatives. Even Fox News hardly brings him on because he’s too controversial and despite popular belief, they’re pretty PC.
I will openly admit that I have a fascination with Yiannopoulos’ fame, which I believe is a result of a few factors. For years, conservatives have been characterized as homophobic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic white males that sit on their piles of money and ruin society. And then all of a sudden, here comes an openly gay Jewish-turned-Catholic man waving the flag that vaguely matches conservatism which young, college age students could pick up and wave too. Conservatism has needed a change for a while, and Yiannopoulos was everything that liberals accused conservatives of hating — it seemed perfect. Except the great tragedy of the situation is that Milo Yiannopoulos kind of sucks.
I’ve heard a lot of his speeches and been to his “rallies.” It all sounds fine and great when hundreds of kids are cheering after every word he utters but when he’s put up against someone like Maher in a professional situation, the charm and the illusion of complete conviction is gone. The appearance was an embarrassment.
He seemed awkward and his apparent relaxation was visibly forced. Most of his time was spent sheepishly chuckling when he didn’t have a response or mumbling something irrelevant and rude under his breath while other panelists ignored him. The lines that work in a college conference room fell flat on TV. During the panel, Maher scolded Yiannopoulos like a child multiple times because he didn’t seem to understand when to be quiet. I mean, the guy literally referred to himself as the “popstar on the panel.”
He needed to do better, and he needed to be better. Again, a lot of conservatives will say that he doesn’t represent them or their ideals. But if he’s the best that’s coming out of the conservative party right now, then there needs to be a huge change. The people who worship him are just as misguided as those who protest him.
As someone who likes to hear both sides, it was a disappointing show. Aside from the ideals presented, the quality of thought and the quality of debate was depressingly elementary.
Caitlin Antonios is a second-year literary journalism and English double major.