During his short and meteoric media career, Milo Yiannopoulos has lived by provoking. He built his brand punking and trolling people on Twitter, then added to it by writing controversial articles and giving incendiary speeches specifically targeted to enrage various groups. When enough people were talking about him – rather than his positions – big media companies saw a potential gold mine. Milo began making the rounds on cable news shows, and he was picked up as a reporter and, later, as an editor for Breitbart. As his star continued to grow, controversy stalked him like an angry shadow. Yiannopoulos enthusiastically embraced the rage, laughing off accusations and allegations all the way to the bank.
Many openly wondered where the line might be. Milo routinely joked about it. He admitted his intention was to provoke, and he unabashedly attacked, vilified and denigrated any group or individual that might be in his target in a given week. The strategy worked wonders. Everything he said became a headline, and everything he did was transformed into a meme and shared nonstop on social media.
Then came the pedophilia interview. Regardless of your take on the now infamous interview in which Milo joked about being raped by priests and appeared to advocate with younger teens experimenting with sex with older men, it was a bridge too far for just about everyone. Sure, he still had some die-hard supporters online, but the big wagons full of cash that were about to roll up to his front door have gone elsewhere.
First, Yiannopoulos lost what could have been a very lucrative book deal, and the book was already done and set to publish. Next, his invitation to deliver a keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference was rescinded. Here’s what CPAC organizers had to say, in a public statement widely distributed by the news:
“Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference…”
Forget context, the message said. By only discussing pedophilia in a way that could be interpreted as support or, at least, understanding, Milo got the boot. And, even someone as committed to erasing lines as Yiannopoulos should have seen that coming.
Then the last shoe fell on Milo’s young media career. He “voluntarily” resigned his position as an editor at Breitbart. There is no doubt that Milo Yiannopoulos will reappear somewhere, and likely very soon. He’s still too hot a brand in some circles to not get a phone call. But he’s done with the mainstream, even the emerging mainstream on the far right, the section of that cohort that has cozied up to the current establishment.
CPAC’s organizers were blunt in their assessment, calling Milo’s recent apologies and explanations “insufficient,” and saying he had a lot more answering and explaining to do. That’s management’s prerogative and, indeed, its responsibility if it wants to protect its brand through selective association. That said, any demand of a far-reaching apology may be a bridge too far for Yiannopoulos … it’s hard to see him offering any sort of blanket mea culpa. Might happen, but it would certainly shift his brand in the process.