Many are the similarities between Breitbart’s flagship provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Oscar Wilde. Both were gay, both became known for their flamboyant and rakish personalities, both sojourned from Britain to the United States where they charmed their American audiences, both were attracted to Catholicism, both subverted the established mores of their times, both used that subversion to mask a cloying need to be liked by those around them. Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about Milo is that he could be more like Wilde, siphoning his clearly immense talent into essays, manifestos, novels, whatever he wanted, rather than contenting himself by teeing people off on Twitter.
There is another similarity, a darker one: both Wilde and Milo were engulfed by controversies over pederasty. Wilde was hauled into a courtroom for it, accused of it by a veritable children’s crusade, and ultimately imprisoned for it, after declaring at the witness stand that “a great affection of an older for a younger man” was “the noblest form of affection.”
Today, we have Milo dismissing the notion of consent as “arbitrary and oppressive” and seemingly, congruently, defending pedophilia. The repercussions have been swift: his speaking slot at CPAC has been yanked, his book has been canceled by Simon and Schuster, and restive journalists at Breitbart are reportedly threatening to resign en masse if he isn’t sacked. Milo did a Facebook Live broadcast yesterday where, uncharacteristically chastened, he claimed he’d spoken imprecisely and that his remarks had been deceptively edited. He abhorred pedophilia, he said, having put away three pedophiles over the course of his journalism career.
Sure, great, but I’ve watched both of the incriminating videos several times now, and there’s no way to dance around this. Milo was at best cavalier towards the ultimate crime. CPAC, for all its schizophrenia (He said something controversial?! Milo?! Surely you jest! Alert the presses, man, we’ve got a regular scoop on our hands!), ultimately made the right decision.
But back to the videos. Having watched them, I can’t jeer as so many others have.
Instead, they left me feeling sorry for Milo.
The more revealing of the two is the interview with Joe Rogan, because Rogan, a puerile but probing host, tries to dig into Milo’s alleged molestation at the hands of a Catholic priest, referenced only as “Father Michael” to protect the guilty. “I wasn’t abused as a child,” Milo insists, but he transparently was, and he later admitted on Facebook to being a “child abuse victim” who had lost his virginity when he was 13. Yet round the tilt-a-whirl went, with Milo asserting to Rogan that his encounter with that troublesome priest “wasn’t pedophilia” and then conceding that it had happened when he was around 14. And then: “It wasn’t molestation,” and “when I was 14 I was the predator,” followed by a swerving detour through Hollywood parties he’d attended where he admitted very young boys had been in attendance and that he’d seen things that had “beggared belief.”
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These sound like rationalizations, attempts to spin away a dark episode by normalizing it and procuring assurances that others are doing the same. I’m no shrink and I don’t want to be accused of armchair psychoanalysis, but I do know victims of sexual abuse and I am aware that those who suffer from that crime contend with it in different ways. Some develop an unquenchable thirst for validation, others convince themselves sometimes for years that it never happened, still others turn to drugs and promiscuous sex as coping mechanisms. Very few are able to breeze through life unchanged.
“You would sacrifice anybody, Harry, for the sake of an epigram.” In Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the title character says that to Lord Henry, though the author was primarily addressing himself. Milo is the guy who would sacrifice anybody for a vicious insult, and has, from Leslie Jones to his former pal Ben Shapiro, yet now that he’s plummeting out of the sky it’s difficult not to muster a little sympathy, sympathy he never showed for others. The Internet bully is himself a victim; perhaps the two are related. I hope he finds peace.