Over the weekend Milo Yiannopoulos suffered a fall from grace. After footage of him condoning sexual relationships between men and boys (which, by the by, those of us who have been following him for a while knew about more than a year ago and everyone needs to send a thank-you card to Kevin Logan for it) was brought to mainstream attention, Yiannopoulos lost his speaking gig at CPAC, his job as an editor at Breitbart and his book deal from Simon & Schuster. I am not even going to pretend I didn’t do an energetic jig upon hearing the news. I’m petty, and I am perfectly okay with that.
Here’s a question people keep asking me, though; Why do any of us know who Yiannopoulos even is? Why is he famous? Because it’s not like he ever had anything new or interesting to say. His whole schtick was ripped off from Ann Coulter, who is way better at it anyway. Contrary to what he might have thought, his opinions challenge nothing and beget no new ideas. Loathsome as his attacks on trans people are, they’re stock and trade from people like Todd Starnes, and most of you are googling who that is right now because you have thankfully never heard of him. There was always some novelty in having a gay man be the poster child for the alt-right, but every marginalized group has creepy quisling dweebs with boundary issues. So why?
GamerGate. That’s why, and it’s the only reason why.
GamerGate, for those who need a refresher course, was a harassment campaign spawned from the depths of image board forums in response to a disgruntled boyfriend’s manifesto against his game developer ex-girlfriend. Unlike other awful things from the depths of the dark web, GamerGate managed to achieve something like mainstream attention, and as a result an awful lot of people had their lives negatively affected in the name of ethics in video game journalism. It was gross, and terrible, and though many of the people targeted still receive daily harassment, as a movement it is mostly over.
Yiannopoulos came along when the movement was floundering following the appearance of Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian on The Colbert Report. Sarkeesian, one of GamerGate’s favorite targets, and Colbert pretty much put the nail in the coffin by mocking the absurdity of the movement and its rather glaringly misogynistic execution. Afterwards, association with the movement was, rightfully, shorthand for being an anti-woman dumbass.
Enter Yiannopoulos. He was then rebuilding his writing career following the collapse of The Kernel and had landed at Breitbart. Yiannopoulos was arguably the only real reporter in the world willing to cover GamerGate favorably, and as such he became the mouthpiece of the movement when it was at its most vulnerable. GamerGate rewarded him.
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One of the things GamerGate was very, very good at was artificially inflating the importance of information on the web. A dedicated corps of angry young men with way too much time on their hands were adept at making sure the stories they wanted to spread got around. It’s why when you google my name, you get Yiannopoulos’s story about me at the top rather than the articles I have written that have garnered literally millions of views. It’s not because that story was more often viewed than my own work. It’s because with the right approach and an infinite amount of white-dude rage, you can remake the online world however you like.
GamerGate fastened on Yiannopoulos like a dog with a new chewie. He was their vindication. No matter what your opinion on Breitbart is, it is a national news outlet, and Yiannopoulos was a contributor, same as I am here at the Houston Press. He represented legitimacy, even though most thinking people wouldn’t line a bird cage with Breitbart let alone read it. They rewarded him with page views every time he wrote about them and castigated the people they hated.
Consequently, Breitbart rewarded him with an editorship. He became the outlet’s tech editor despite barely ever writing about technology, but the office was indicative more of his audience than his output. People who cared about tech and games read Yiannopoulos, and that was what mattered. Actual substance was incidental, which is probably the best summation of GamerGate I’ve ever written. Emboldened and enshrined with a veneer of respectability, GamerGate continued to push Yiannopoulos’s work to the forefront, creating the appearance of widespread acceptance.
That’s how we got here. An online army of trolls screamed so loud that Yiannopoulos briefly became important. He was always their pawn, the cat’s-paw in the great murky world of the deep web’s assault on decency in the name of free speech. The only reason we have any idea who Yiannopoulos is is that he briefly became useful to a portion of the Internet dedicated to being a nuisance. Now he’s not and so he goes bye-bye.