Publishing company Simon and Schuster has faced backlash and threats of boycotts for their decision to publish Alt-Right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulis’ latest book. While Mr. Yiannopoulis’ politics are undeniably repulsive, the boycott merits examination on how it could impact the comics field in addition to Simon and Schuster’s other publishing deals…
Milo Yiannopoulis has made a career out of making shocking statements. He has criticized feminism, gay marriage/gay rights, political correctness, Islam, social justice, and is a self-described “dangerous faggot”. He’s a frequent writer on the Alt-Right site Breitbart, which itself is a constant source of troubling political posturing. He was banned for life from Twitter for his harrasment of 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot star Leslie Jones, a fact which he claims to be proud of.
Simon and Schuster as a company, have published many writers across the spectrum of beliefs including: Dick Chaney, Carrie Fisher, Glenn Beck, Jimmy Carter, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, and Howard Stern. Why does their decision to publish Milo Yiannopoulis suddenly earn the publisher such outrage? The timing is one thing, it comes in a year where one of the most reviled figures in the media was elected President of the United States, the GOP controls the majority of seats in all three governing houses, and there is a general climate of unease of where America is heading. For another, Milo Yiannopolis’ goal to shock and offend has been a rounding success. His scheduled appearance at the University of Berkley caused a destructive riot and PR nightmare for both the school and the police who observed the night’s events. Milo claims that the Left is “scared of free speech”, and those events do not offer compelling counter evidence.
As repulsive as his ideas are, Yiannopoulis has the right to say them. Likewise people have the right to boycott/protest him. When violence enters the equation, then the issue isn’t so much “How do we effectively defend against his ideas?” then “At what cost are we prepared to go to?”
The boycott of Simon and Schuster will be a tough one to act on, especially for comic fans. According to Charles Brownstein from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Simon and Schuster publishes and/or distributes material from BOOM! Studios, Viz Media, and 2000 AD. These may not be Marvel Comics, but each occupy a presence in the Comics market. A boycott against the entirety of Simon and Schusters products seems not only unlikely, but impractical. They have several imprints within their company, which have no connection to Milo Yiannopoulis or his views. A boycott against the publishing giant, if successful, would likely negatively affect authors that don’t traffic in hate speech or extremist views. Roxanne Gay, co-writer of the World of Wakanda comic, has withdrawn her book deal with the publisher because of them publishing Yiannopoulis. It’s her right as an author to do so, however her views offer a needed and frankly more popular worldview. Yet, Simon and Schuster had planned to publish her and Yiannopoulis.
Both the CBLDF and the National Coalition Against Censorship have given support to Simon and Schuster in the face of the boycotts, not for Milo Yiannopolis’ benefit but for the health of free speech. They reiterate that people have the right to boycott, but maintaining Free Speech is paramount to trying to squash publicity for a hate monger.
Free speech isn’t just about supporting things you believe in, it’s about everyone having the right to criticize our goverment/institutions/politicians and endorse ideas. The only way that works, is if it works for everyone. That doesn’t justify speech advocating violence against women and minorities, which falls into a separate category. It’s about not falling into a culture where certain ideas, and only those ideas, are permitted. Unsurprisingly, the CBLDF received some blowback for their position.
I’m not suggesting people buy Dangerous, I’m suggesting they not boycott Simon and Schuster. Instead of condemning them for publishing one book that is most likely a hateful tirade of progress and democratic values, support the other books Simon and Schuster publish. Likewise, the CBLDF isn’t standing up for hate speech. They fight for the principal of free speech even when it offends people, like keeping Alison Bechdal’s biographic novel Fun Home in college classes even if a student morally objects to it.
Milo Yiannopoulis believes that Progressives are afraid of free speech. He is a self described “dangerous” person. The protests at UC Berkley didn’t succeed in silencing him, they gave him national coverage and ammo for his argument. Boycotting Simon and Schuster probably won’t end his writing hateful things, but they could prevent Simon and Schuster from publishing writers who are enlightend, inclusive, and not fascist. The best way to defeat Milo Yiannopoulis and his views is to let him have his platform, but also support those who are diametrically opposite him. The best way to defeat him and his assertion that free speech is under attack is to prove him wrong, as his book sales shrink and his shrill antics gain him no more attention.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”- Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Special thanks to Charles Brownstein from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for his information and insight on this topic.