Milo and Manson

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of the flamboyantly gay and militantly conservative Milo Yiannopoulos, and of course feeling guilty over it. My liberal friends would be horrified, and my conservative friends would roll their eyes, probably thinking I will lose my status as a respectable, balanced conservative voice, pure from harsh extremes (if I haven’t already).

I have been accused of being too extreme since I was a little kid. My family will laughingly recall that I never liked or disliked anything as a child. I always “loved” or “hated” things. As I grew up, this didn’t change much, and to this day, it really bothers me when people tell me I need to be more moderate. Rather than moderating me, I always wish they would simply oppose me (which could have the same effect). My personality and philosophy has always tended toward verbal processing and in general being the full force of who I am out in the open, and growing through the critiques of others. I get frustrated around people who don’t sharpen me; who sit back and watch my chaotic self-expression without countering me.

As much as I hate moderation, I realize that moderation is necessary for stability. But I would posit that sometimes extremes are necessary to restore balance, just as being moderate can become extreme in a world that shifts generally in one direction or another.

To illustrate the second phenomenon, let’s take the conservative to liberal spectrum (and you can think in terms of politics or lifestyle): picture a piece of thread tied to a button on either end with one button being a liberal extreme and the other representing a conservative extreme. In the middle there are various acceptable views/actions. If I put a needle in the middle of that thread, that would be a moderate viewpoint. To look at a couple of particulars on the spectrum, let’s say the acceptance of gay marriage is just to the left of the needle and the belief that abortion is murder is just to the right of the needle. In other words, holding either of these views would not make you an extreme person. You would still be a fairly moderate person. But let’s say the cultural worldview shifts and the whole thread/button spectrum moves considerably to the left. The views/actions within the spectrum change their significance. For instance, the view on abortion, which was once center-right is now far right. The view on gay marriage which was once center left is now dead center or even center-right. So the question becomes, where does the needle of moderation go? If the needle is to remain in the middle of the thread, it must move to the left, if it is to remain where it was in space, it will now dwell closer to the right button than the left.

The question is simply: how do you remain balanced while holding onto your convictions? Another question you might ask is: what signifies truth for you? Culture or something deeper/bigger? If you value belief/truth over pleasing others (like I tend to) you will become more extreme if the spectrum of acceptability shifts in either direction. Ironically, it’s your stability or staticness regarding life and its issues which makes you tend to extremism when society shifts (as it always does).    

You might think I am the type that will always reside to the right of the needle no matter where the thread moves. This brings me to my second celebrity: Marilyn Manson. As the first celebrity welcomes the chagrin of liberals (or those trying to remain balanced/respectable), my fascination with Manson and other dark art back in the ‘90s had a similar effect on my conservative friends and family.

And let me say before I continue, there is a very good case for avoiding either of these monsters for a variety of moral reasons. There are questions about what kind of art a Christian should take in and let our kids take in. This is another (equally fascinating) subject. For this discussion, I am looking more at the extreme nature of their views and willingness to irritate the other side than I am looking at the morality of their antics.

Both Marilyn Manson and Milo Yiannopoulos have, in their own ways, pointed out the dangerous current normal; what happens when the thread moves too far in one direction and the perceived normalcy may not be healthy or truthful. They are actually declaring tug-o-war on the thread of culture, and may feel they have more leverage while pulling from the extreme.

The 90’s were a wonderful decade of art crying out with nihilistic outrage. The orderly world created for them had not healed their inner ache. There was no more God to give meaning, no more wars to rise up and fight. The free love of the 60’s hadn’t brought any more joy than the materialism of the 80’s. So the artists gave voice to the inner sense of loss.

Manson’s (along with other artists at the time) first couple of albums, and his stage persona, gave us a chilling voice and image of the darkness we were all feeling. He pointed out the hypocrisy of Christians (“you can’t smell your own shit on your knees”), the emptiness of materialism and fame, the joylessness of life and need for meaning. Nine Inch Nails was another favorite of mine, laying out the absolute emptiness of every aspect of modern life in his “Downward Spiral.”

You don’t have to agree with all the morals of these guys (I certainly don’t) to realize their work was very moral in nature. Manson’s antics, his mock crucifixion, sex acts on stage were irreverent to say the least. But, along with having fun being controversial, Manson and Trent Reznor of NIN were screaming from the other end of the spectrum; trying, on some level to restore balance by calling out the new normal as not good enough. As a Christian, I could say these artists missed the point of Christianity and misdiagnosed society’s ill in this sense. Or we could simply see their antics as a reminder of how lost and needy people are. People need meaning. They need deeper relationships. They need Christ (even if they don’t know it). I chose to see these examples (and so many others in 90’s music) as beautiful, terrifying portraits of the human heart.

Milo isn’t an artist in the same sense, but he’s certainly a provocateur. As the societal thread has moved left at a dizzying rate in terms of political correctness, of silencing or exalting groups of people because of their skin color or gender, of loss of individual identity and responsibility, it is inevitable (and a blessing) that a provocateur would rise up to oppose it. The added motivation for Milo to be extreme in his speech is that one thing he challenges is suppression of speech. He gets up on stage and berates ugly people and says things like “lesbians don’t actually exist” to rile people up. Often what he says is ridiculous and obscene and you can justly simply be opposed to it. But I have come to see that he says some of the horrible things he does because a huge element of his position is “I can say whatever the hell I want.” The importance of freedom of speech is important enough to Milo for him to make an utter ass of himself to stand up for it. And maybe I am casting him in too noble a light. But whatever his intentions, I still see this good in what he does.

I have to say that I admire Milo over Manson because he is far braver. The culture Manson criticized is much more open to criticism and the elite have been criticizing it since the 60’s. In fairness to Manson, his role was less to take society on as a whole, but to point out certain areas of normalcy that weren’t satisfactory. I also see Manson, after his brief stint of provoking, fitting in very nicely with the Hollywood elite. This was concurrent with general shift of the cultural thread which moved progressivism from an extreme (and rebellious) position to the new norm. He continues to rebel even though the rebellion has won. For Milo, the rebellion has just begun.

In any case, a provocateur is not concerned with being balanced in relation to where the thread is at any given time, but is concerned with correcting a perceived imbalance. Provocateurs are, on some level, people of deeply held convictions. And I guess I want to point out that what Milo is doing is no different from what Manson and Reznor did in the 90’s. It is easier to accept dark, 90’s rock that hates on Christianity than it is to accept a crazy conservative today that hates on Islam and gay culture. But I would suggest part of the reason for this is that the thread has shifted so far to the left. We are torn between convictions and cultural relationship, while some are content to move further in the opposite direction just to irritate. I would add that the position of the thread today is especially alarming because it’s not just that a certain worldview has become more prevalent, but because that particular view has become militant in it’s suppression of the other, and because the view is manipulated more by an elite than the general populace. For these reasons, Milo is in far more danger, and, in my estimation, much more needed.
We normal people aren’t typically going to set up camp with provocateurs. And that’s good. We have to interact and get along with people at work and on Facebook. And a good provocateur doesn’t need us. They are used to being alone. But I think provoking is necessary; whether it is found in shocking art or risque comedy. And of course the best and most needed humor and satire will be found in the opposite direction of where society is heading. I can relate to these characters in that I have always intended to be a provocateur in my own music, and in my way of expressing myself (as noted at the beginning of this article).

I am a fan of provocateurs. I believe they often have a heightened perception of Lewis’ “ought” even as they do and say many things they ought not to. I feel that one way to retain a healthy moderation is to embrace the extremes which serve to course-correct.