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.

Michael Nazir’ Ali and marriage

In November 2014, in the Synod Hall at The Vatican there was staged an interreligious colloquium entitled Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman

We have previously looked at speeches delivered to it by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Henry B. Eyring. In the latter post I expressed puzzlement at the extraordinarily precipitate legislation that was railroaded through most western governments almost simultaneously in 2014. Where, I ask myself, was the groundswell of opinion that caused the sudden overthrowing of centuries of accumulated wisdom concerning the essence of marriage? Where were the demonstrations, where the street-corner oratory, that persuaded governments to such a piece of legal and social vandalism with scant debate? No answer comes. If I search for debate and dialogue on the subject I find none before the politicians announced their intent, and after it merely imbecilic name-calling at those who questioned. This tends to be the way with fashionable pieties.

Today we look at a speech to the colloquium, delivered on 18 November by the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir’ Ali. I have admired Bishop Michael for many years, not least because he persistently questions and often disputes the dictates of Political Correctness rather than meekly following the line of least resistance.

Michael for the first minute draws attention to the atrocity that occurred that morning at a synagogue in Jerusalem. It is not the most upbeat of openings, but who could deny that it has to be addressed?

Michael spurns script or notes.

He begins by defining marriage, citing a whole range of witnesses – recent university research, historic context, the churches’ role, St Augustine of Hippo, various more modern philosophers, and even the law. He moves on into the reasons for marriage, listing the benefits for children, for the married couple, and for Society. Finally he addresses what can be done by either the church or the state to help the institution, covering the need for preparing a couple for marriage and preparing each individual for being a father or mother. Throughout, he includes illustrative material to bring it all alive.

It is a tripartite structure, and not particularly difficult to remember or to operate. That is why Michael does not need script or notes. But it lacks a narrative thread.  I look now at that preceding paragraph and think how easy it would be to conceive a theme that created a thread to make the speech much more digestible for the audience and – more importantly – memorable. The improvement would be marked.

He is good, and I did not expect otherwise, but even the good can use help.

We shall at this blog be returning to this colloquium with at least one more speech.

Theodore Dalrymple: finger-lickin’ talking head

In November 2013 The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion, “This House Believes Socialism Will Not Work”. We have recently looked at speeches by Daniel Hannan for the proposition and Katy Clark for the opposition. Today we turn again to the proposition to examine a speech by Theodore Dalrymple.

Before I go any further let me comment on that still picture that illustrates the video. He is about to lick his fingers the better to turn a page. Any regular reader knows what I plan to say about that, but first allow me to quote from my book The Face & Tripod.

“If you lick your fingers to turn (or slide) pages, it not only looks slightly naff but they dry out very quickly so you have to keep repeating the naffness. If you smear lip-salve on your fingers beforehand, you should not need to lick them.”

If you think it odd that someone who is as averse as I to using scripts should nevertheless offer advice on doing so, you haven’t read the book. There are occasions when a script is unavoidable.

This is not such an occasion – or shouldn’t be. That still picture tells you that, though a doctor who has probably presented many papers, Dalrymple is a talking head and has not properly learnt how to speak in public. Which is a pity because he has a lot to say that is worth saying.

I have for many years enjoyed reading his articles, and periodically dip into the kindle version of a collection of his essays entitled Anything Goes. I am currently 48% through it (O the joys of digital precision!). He is very widely travelled, and has experienced life at its rawest. He is widely considered dyspeptic and pessimistic, but humour hides not far below the surface. (A professed atheist who assumes a pen name with ‘Theodore’ in it has his tongue not far from his cheek.)

There’s humour in this speech, and the humour harvests laughs. His material is good, but it is written material. I have made the point many times in this blog that written English and spoken English are subtly but significantly different beasties.

Dalrymple is idiosyncratic. I like idiosyncratic. He is opinionated. I like opinionated. He has the wisdom to have resisted shop-window pieties like political correctness. He is able to express regard for his fellow man without lapsing into the moist-eyed misanthropy that is so fashionable.

I have never met him, but I would like to – not least for the opportunity to tear that bloody paper out of his hands and show him how easily he could do without it and how much better his public speaking would then become.