Milo smiles at all his foes

On 9 February, 2016, at Rutgers University, there was a lecture by Milo Yiannopoulos.

This is a difficult man to pigeonhole. You can’t even easily describe his appearance as he keeps changing his hair. He appears to be a dandy, fop and dilettante – in fact his current image puts me in mind of Gabriel, the master criminal played by Dirk Bogarde in Modesty Blaise, possibly the campest movie ever made. As far as I know Milo is not a master criminal, but like Gabriel he camouflages his purpose behind a mask that he doesn’t take seriously.

He describes himself in various ways, but chiefly as libertarian, and in favour of free speech. He fearlessly seeks out opportunities to prick the pious pomposities so beloved of the chatterati, like when he compared modern feminism to cancer.

Western students, with their preposterous “Safe Spaces” in which the poor vulnerable snowflakes cower from any philosophy more challenging than chewing gum, are natural targets for him. American universities have this disease worse even than those in the UK, so that is where he has been conducting lectures in what he calls the Dangerous Faggot Tour (yes, he’s gay). Those that have sought to no-platform him have shot themselves in the foot, as he regards such bans as trophies to wave aloft – just as he contrived huge mileage out of Twitter trying to silence him. He is a phenomenon that has amassed a huge and devoted following, and is one of those rarities universally known by just their first name – like Boris (and Gabriel).

For all his fluffy narcissism, Milo knows his stuff and is articulate. Many TV programmes that have arranged for him to be cut down to size in fierce debate have watched him vanquish tough adversaries, because he handles himself well. The boy can play.

How’s his public speaking?

The short answer is that it is not as good as his verbal close combat.

I can say this partly because he sets the bar very high with the latter, but also it’s because he doesn’t trust himself enough. Knowing from experience that he can cope with anything that an opponent aims at him, he seems to feel that he needs that. The opponent’s thrusts and lunges cue his responses.

Look at the glee with which he works the audience at the beginning. Look at how later he defends himself from the heckling in the hall. He uses smiles, laughter and over-camp outrage. Never does he flatter the hecklers by appearing offended. This is all close-combat stuff, writ large, and he’s in his element.

Now watch from 3:25. At this stage we are moving into a script: you can hear much of the spontaneity depart. He is conscious of it as well, which is why he punctuates it as often as he can with audience interaction. It’s a good device, but he shouldn’t need the device. He camps around here and there in scripted sections to colour them spontaneous. It doesn’t quite succeed.

The easiest way to sound spontaneous – arguably the only way to sound spontaneous – is to be spontaneous

If he structured the speech in a way that gave him a clear route to follow, and then trusted himself to find spontaneously the right words at the appropriate time, then he would sound spontaneous. Also the camping-around would look spontaneous also – it doesn’t always quite do so here.

At 15:35 the speech falls apart. From watching another posted video, apparently taken with a mobile phone, I can tell you that there’s a minor demonstration and walk-out. After several minutes of uproar he abandons the speech and goes to Q&A.

Now he is in his comfort zone. At 21:04 he answers his first question. Now he trusts himself to speak spontaneously; and his three minute answer, shot from the hip, is brilliantly expressed – a little more graphically than some audiences might want, but he is playing to that audience. Furthermore, in that three minutes he explains why he is uniquely qualified to conduct his Dangerous Faggot campaign.

If the set-piece part of the speech had been as good as those three minutes, his campaign would be even more effective. It could easily be. It would need very little work.

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