Protesters clash during a demonstration outside Milo Yiannopoulos’ sold out show at the Melbourne Pavilion in Melbourne, Monday, December 4, 2017. Erik Anderson/ Press Association.
A troll who might as well be the new prototype of the 21st-century politician, what Milo does to us is what we have done to the world. Therein lies the challenge.
By Balázs Böcskei (left) and Balázs Barkóczi (right) / 01.10.2018
Can a non-ideological right exist? Is there such a thing as rebellious conservativism? Can being a member of a sexual minority be used as a shield to hold in front of you when you attack the forts of (supposedly) traditional left/liberal political correctness? These are the questions we should ask in relation to the quasi-invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos, a celebrated star of the Trump (online) subculture and a figure almost completely unknown in Hungary, to a conference organized by the Hungarian government.
Typically, in the current reality of Hungarian politics however, we tend to respond to such crisis identities and crisis-political products of (post-)modernism as those of Milo by hysterically stigmatizing the phenomenon as far-rightism. To quote the dialogue of Péter Nádas and Richard Swartz: “Verdicts appearing in the clothing of finality are valid for one day only (…). They are final verdicts based on the prejudices derived from contemporary taste.”
Let us examine why Milo should be considered more than just a “far right” provocateur, and why he may instead be a product of the crisis of postmodern politics.
Starting his career as a tech journalist and gaining dubious fame for his extreme acts and statements, and actually becoming a real opinion shaper as communication between such individuals and the public became increasingly privatized, Milo reduced public political discourse to the language of social media, thus becoming the face of an “alt-right” that concurrently denies the validity of ideologies, is anti-elite and xenophobic as well as heavily reliant on the fear of postmodern identity-driven politics. He is the face of a right the political essence of which may perhaps be most validly described as ‘troll politics’.
Earlier on, a significant part of Milo’s activities was that he went to anti-Trump rallies with his camera during the presidential election campaign, and while the participants of these events were demonstrating for peace, solidarity, and compassion under the flag of a tolerant America, they often reacted arrogantly and violently in Milo’s videos. This was the way the Trumpist online network was able to “deconstruct” the self-image of Democrat supporters. Shared at an exponential rate within minutes, these videos, albeit aired with less significant viewership compared to the total American population, managed to reach where they needed to (and even farther), via the new online marketing tools.
So the point of these actions was to quickly and widely “deconstruct” or undermine the image that the democrats attempted to convey about themselves. Recording the scene with his mobile phone, Milo accosted democratic protesters who gradually lost their “political temper” to the point when one particular demonstrator began to pound Yiannopoulos with a “Peace” sign, while Milo was broadcasting the whole thing live on Facebook, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg.
This kind of “systematic upsetting” could not have worked so well in the time of the slow-response print media. The camera crews of major networks were sometimes unable to cover demonstrations in the era before online media dominance but the appearance and widespread use of (smart) phones has even rendered them unnecessary. Due to the new technology, opinion narration is privatized and the impact of the New York Times opinion column is less significant in the era of visual images (used as [counter-]evidence). We are stepping from one media bubble to another, finding ourselves in the narrative quarantines of meta-realities of whose real or supposed impact we don’t really have any idea.
The context of the above is described by Péter Csigó as follows: “Collective speculation in financial markets has not been the sole case to manifest the systemic crisis of feedback (or “responsivity”) mechanisms in late modern society. Similarly to financial investors, today’s political actors are also immersed in a self-referential speculative game, a “bubble” that retreats from reality and follows its self-justifying inner logic. While finance actors speculate collectively on financial asset prices and on to what extent these prices faithfully represent underlying “fundamental” processes, the system of “mediatized populist democracy” nurtures a collective speculation about “the people” and “the popular.”
Politicians, experts, and observers commonly speculate on how to win the “popularity contest” of politics, how to win the hearts and minds of their popular media-using constituencies. However, this speculative process has detached itself from the real trends of public opinion formation – and it has betrayed the “fundamentals” of the political field just as has been the case with financial bubbles and the real economy.”
So mediatized democracy struggles with structural feedback and responsivity defects, which then exaggerate the perception of events, individuals and scandals, and the “impact” of which is further intensified by the reactions of a critical public.
This is how Milo, who is not simply a troll but the product of the crisis of mediatized politics and the consequence of the disintegration of self-evidence, becomes well-known, popular and even a point of reference.
Supporters of British alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos clash with left-wing protesters in Lilyfield, Sydney, Tuesday, December 5, 2017. Danny Casey. Press Association.
On the other hand, if you really look into it, the aura of this product of political crisis is not very far-removed from the political technology of contemporary leaders considered as right-wing populists. The primary goal of this political activity is not to promote the common good but to maintain a grip on power by occupying and monopolizing certain sectors (media, entertainment, etc.) and transferring them into the hands of the business elite collaborating with the holders of power, so that the thus “captured” state can manipulate the public through soft censorship.
Despite the many differences (that are equally important but not emphasized here), the above political technology seems to work in such countries as Russia, Hungary, Turkey and the United States. The intensity and grade of organized resistance to it depends on the individual features of the given region.
However, this is not the only area where the radical innovation of an alternative and populist right manifests itself. It is also demonstrated in understanding the negative effects of postmodern politics. Liberalized by the new leftist movements of the 1960s, the left lulled itself into the illusion that the working class and their attendant social groups had disappeared. The postmodernism of the 1990s basked in the un-narratibility of the world (including the ego) and the diffusion of values (and the ego).
At the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the (neo)liberals of the post-bipolar world were celebrating the onset of the eternal peace so desired and the multi-coloured democracy of identities as well as the conforming triumph of the market. In the meantime, the contemporary right attempted to modernize, while also preserving their original meaning, the ideas (nation, family, community) that formed the natural foundation of their political efforts.
These values were typically met with irony from progressives, who were using forms of political expression that were coming into line with the principles of marketing (i.e. politicians are to be advertised the same way as detergents) and making tabloidism a key device of political communication. At the time, they were right in thinking that they would be able to dominate the language of political postmodernism. However, that political thought relied on the indomitable nature of political correctness, that is, its applicability to all situations. But this failed to integrate the impulses and the sometimes extreme self-expressions of those at the bottom of the pile, who were thus ashamed of them and therefore suppressed them.
These suppressions were liberated by the populist (pop-political) right. In its communication, it preserves the traditional ideas of political conservativism and blends them with the expressions of live speech imitating the language of social media, including its slang components.
Power-oriented in its rhetoric, this passionate language is rooted in the sentiments of the oppressed. It is no longer just tabloidism: not only does it open its bedroom doors wide; it also exposes bedroom activities completely unveiled for the political consumer.
In the context of “official politics”, the Milos of the world are trolls. However, they don’t care whether their statements correspond to the reality or the experience they identify reality with. Ignoring debates, they cause scandal and create chaos to force their way into the political discourse, click by click. They no longer want to defeat or surpass postmodern intellectual narratives. Instead, they want to make them their own, turn them upside down so that they could eventually hold them up to the progressive elite as a mocking glass. Ultimately, this ideology-deprived politics aims to sell itself as the natural addiction of the “people” and the amplifier of the voice of those at the bottom – which also sounds all too familiar in Hungary.
British alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos speaks during an event at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, December 5, 2017. Lukas Coch/ Press Association.
Does Milo Yiannopoulos take himself seriously? He doesn’t need to. Do Orbán’s people take him seriously? They may, but probably just as much as they have realized that postmodern liberalism must be defeated using postmodernism as the “means”, by creating chaos, upsetting or even ridiculing values and throwing around ideological inconsistencies.
Milo Yiannopoulos heralds the era of a new politics. He is consciously spontaneous, innovatively conservative, a trend-setting extremist. A troll who might as well be the new prototype of the 21st-century politician.
What Milo does to us is what we have done to the world.
Therein lies the challenge.
Originally published by openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.