This post was initially published at the blog of Professor Rachel Fulton Brown.
It’s the season of Advent, so you all know what that means: the Dangerous Faggot is back on tour. While our brothers and sisters on the Left repair to their fainting couches and get their smelling salts ready, those of us who think of ourselves as conservatives, more particularly American conservatives, need to start taking notes.
The election may be over (please, God, let it be over!), but the culture wars are still going strong. As the bard once put it, “Faint heart never won fair lady.” Lady Liberty needs us now more than ever to come to her defense! It behooves us to be ready. Here’s the way Milo does it, for those who have ears to hear.
1. Be fabulous.
Humility may have been the preferred topos in days of yore, but in these days of celebrity, all it gets you is a modest blog audience (I love you all!). Beauty may be skin deep and in the eye of the beholder, but it is also a source of real pleasure for those who are watching. Milo gets this, which is why (as he explained to his boss Alex Marlow over the summer on one of his podcasts) the first thing he did when he was making plans to continue his tour of our college campuses this academic year was hire a personal trainer and go on a diet. Plus, giving talks three days a week is a grueling business–just ask your favorite professor! It takes real stamina to carry your students’ interest long enough to get through an hour and a half lecture. Frankly, I am in awe at how well Milo carries himself in this context: you get no help from the camera, there are no commercial breaks, no fancy graphics other than your own slides. All you have is your voice and your physical presence. Which had better be fabulous or you will put your audience to sleep.
2. Be humble.
Yes, you read that right. I know, I know, Milo spends as much time as he possibly can talking about how fabulous he is, but–trust me on this–it is supposed to be funny. There you are, standing up in front of a student audience, dressed nicely, as fit as age and your other responsibilities as an adult allow, and they are all staring at you. Okay, Milo can’t see them staring at him because he doesn’t wear his contacts while he is speaking, but they’re there, expecting… something… and you know that the worst thing you can be is boring. So you talk about how fabulous you are to make them laugh, put them at their ease, because of course you don’t mean it… or maybe you do… how can they tell? What they know is that they are nervous (students are always nervous) and trying to disguise it as cool. It is up to you to give them confidence. On the one hand, they need your authority as a teacher–your fabulousness–but on the other, they need you to invite them into the conversation, make them feel comfortable with speaking out. It is a delicate balance between playing high-status and low-status, taking charge and giving them courage to speak.
3. Punch up.
Milo has a reputation in the mainstream media for “hating” women and minorities, but in fact, he has never said anything of the sort. He does not hate women–he loves them! And he loves black men even more, perhaps more than he should, but he does love them. What he hates are the celebrities and other thought-leaders who use their status to hurt women and minorities by lying to them about the real difficulties that they face as women and minorities, particularly young college-aged women who have been convinced that they are in more danger of being raped on their college campuses than women in the Congo where rape is used as a weapon of war, and American blacks who have been lied to for decades by Democrats about why their lives have not improved. When Milo attacks, he attacks specific women, like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, or specific organizations like Black Lives Matter, whose policies and pronouncements he perceives as harmful, often life-threateningly so, as in the case of our current presidential administration’s unwillingness to confront the dangers associated with radical Islam. The Left, as usual, takes specifics as generalizations, failing as always to distinguish between the individual and the collective.
4. Protect the weak.
This is also known as being chivalrous. To judge from the videos, most of the students who come to Milo’s talks are men, many of whom when it comes to the Q&A thank him for his role in covering GamerGate. They see him as a champion for standing up for them–the basement-dwellers with no sex life, as they are usually cast. But if you watch carefully, you will also see that there are women in the audience, often the young men’s mothers and sisters, and Milo is always unfailingly polite to them. And then you realize that the rude jokes and constant references to gay sex are a part of the act to help put these young men at their ease, not to attack women or suggest that the young men should attack women, quite the reverse, as Milo likewise makes clear whenever he is speaking with Christina Hoff Sommers and students try to shout her down. And he always defends the students who protest his talks by insisting that it is not they, but their professors who are to blame for the incoherent ideas that they hold.
5. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
When I first started watching Milo’s talks, I took this as a weakness on his part: he says a lot of the same things over and over again, making sure to bring certain standard talking points into almost every talk. Now, however, I realize it is genius and the only way we are ever going to win the culture wars. People do not think in lengthy arguments–well, most people; I seem to–they think in phrases and lists. “Would you rather your child have feminism or cancer?” and “Fuck your feelings” may not be the most sophisticated formulations of the arguments that Milo would like to make, but they stick and they energize and they help focus people’s attention on the problems much more than lengthier pronouncements would. It is also only through repetition that we can hope to change people’s minds enough to get them to listen to our arguments in favor of free speech and liberty in the first place, never mind getting them to acknowledge the merits of these ideals.
6. Do your research.
This is standard fare for conservatives: we always have to know everything so as to be able to answer our opponents’ emotionally-laden accusations with facts. It is harder to prove that you know everything when giving talks–this is what footnotes are for! But having done the reading will make you calmer and able to answer your opponents’ questions and accusations with appropriate examples and references. Based on my own blog stats, I am getting a better idea how rarely people actually click through on the references, but at least if the text is highlighted in different colors, people get the idea that there are references to read. Milo’s headlines may be trolly, but the references he gives in his articles are based on proper research, as I know from the pieces that I have read, for example, about the non-existence of the wage gap to which he regularly draws attention.
7. Use facts, not feelings, to make your point.
This sounds straight-forward, but is actually somewhat complicated. Milo, of course, is using feelings–feelings of pleasure and delight and joy–to capture his audience’s attention and help draw them into the arguments he would make. What he means by “facts not feelings” is feelings as arguments of themselves, particularly expressions of offense intended not to open up conversation, but to shut it down. As in: “I find that really offensive!” More particularly, he means the feelings that many have when presented with facts that go against everything they have been taught; even more to the point, taught typically by way of invoking the very feelings that they have when confronted with those facts, namely, anxiety and fear. Is there a campus rape culture? Do Black Lives Matter? Is Islamophobia real? Who knows? Simply mentioning the possibility of rape, racism, or religious intolerance provokes almost instantaneous reactions of revulsion in most well-meaning Americans, leaving them incapable of hearing anything you say about the actual incidence of rape on college campuses, the real effects of the BLM movement on black communities, or the actual differences between religions on which the different cultures of the world are based. The first step that we have to make before changing people’s minds about what they have heard is to get them to listen at all, to put aside the fear and anxiety overwhelming them whenever they hear the words “rape” or “racism” or “religious difference.” This is the primary function of Milo’s talks: simply to say the words in the context of facts that the students might not otherwise hear.
8. Champion Western values.
Oddly, to judge from the media coverage that Milo helpfully shares on his Facebook feed, this seems to be the thing that Milo’s opponents find most offensive about his talks: he believes in America, its values and ideals. This is the reason that the young men at his talks are so often inspired to chant: “USA! USA! USA!” Milo says dangerous things like: “Free speech matters! Property rights matter! Democracy matters! Freedom of religion matters! America is the best country in the world because we believe things like women and men should be equal and people of all races should be able to succeed!” And then he is accused of hate speech. The only reason that our opponents can make the accusations that they do against America is because they believe in these ideals, too. At least some of them do. At least I hope some of them do. And if they don’t, there is no point whatsoever in not championing these values or apologizing that America hasn’t lived up to them as perfectly as we would like.
9. Love your audience.
Milo always takes questions and, although those of us watching from home don’t get to see it, he always takes selfies with all of his fans who want the chance to meet him in person after his talks. This more than anything is what won me over when I started watching his talks back in September: the way in which he responds to his audience as they make jokes and join in. Like the best teachers, he uses their feedback to help craft his speech; although he works from prepared remarks, he almost never delivers them strictly verbatim. But he is truly at his best when taking questions, letting the students shape the conversation with the concerns that they bring. Nor are all of the questions necessarily from fans: sometimes the audience members are quite critical, but if they ask real questions, not just stand up to make tendentious speeches, he answers them honestly and with facts. And he always thanks everyone most graciously for coming and listening to him speak.
10. Have fun.
Conservatives are supposed to be Happy Warriors, let’s be happy! Oddly, this seems to be the thing that our fellow conservatives have found most offensive about Milo: his jokes, even when they are at his own expense, as, for example, the patently ridiculous rider that he put out at the beginning of this semester’s tour listing all of the things that he expected the students (whom he doesn’t even charge speaking fees) to provide. (I wonder if he got the 3 Siberian Husky puppies per talk? He must have quite the team by now! Maybe they are pulling the tour bus.) Yes, the fight in which we are engaged is serious, but it is a fight for liberty, joy, creativity, freedom, and fun! If the fight is long and hard, so be it, but we should be joyous as we battle. Milo himself put it beautifully in the conclusion to the remarks that he made on receiving the Annie Taylor Award last month, even more beautifully in the remarks that he had originally prepared:
So let us fight, but let our motto be Risus et bellum, Laughter and war. Because nothing stings our foes, foreign and domestic, more than our hearty laughter at their lies and nonsense. And also because nothing will better remind us what we’re fighting for than the laughter of Chesterton, of Chaucer and of Shakespeare, and of course the God who inspired them all.
Professor Rachel Fulton Brown is an Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Chicago. You can read her essays on history, theology, politics, and MILO at Fencing Bear At Prayer.