There’s a certain kind of book you really see only at the airport. You know what it looks like: glossy, with an airbrushed famous person on the cover and a catchy title. You know what it reads like: frothy, full of anecdotes and one-liners, meant to be finished in one or two sittings. It’s supposed to capture the moment and capture your attention in equal measure.
In December, news broke that Simon & Schuster had paid the anti–political correctness crusader and conservative troll Milo Yiannopoulos $250,000 to write such a book. Despite a lot of bad press, you can see why the publisher thought it was a good idea. Airport books are often written by pundits, and Yiannopoulos, a good-looking guy with a sharp tongue, is among the most charismatic and popular of the new breed of pro-Trump micro-celebrities who have grown up on the internet.
You can imagine the pitch: Dangerous as the first great airport book of the Trump era.
Promotional material touts it as “the most controversial book of the decade.”
Recently, BuzzFeed News obtained a draft of Dangerous that Yiannopoulos turned in to Simon & Schuster in early January 2017. It's a version that the author strongly distanced himself from in a conversation with BuzzFeed News, calling it a "sketch" that has "been substantially rewritten since then."
The author's agent, Thomas Flannery Jr., told a slightly different story. Asked by BuzzFeed News how close the January draft is to Dangerous as it currently reads, he said "For the most part the content is the same. The file you have — that's basically before a line edit has been done. Simon & Schuster never did a line edit."
Regardless, if the version of Dangerous that comes out on July 4 is anything like the draft, it will be a terrible book, not good by any measure. (Well, except one: the fact that it is currently the #5 most sold nonfiction book on Amazon this week.) And in the two most important duties of its kind as an airport book — to reflect the zeitgeist and to entertain the reader — the draft is a staggering failure.
To begin with, there is little news in the Dangerous draft, unless you believe the specifics of Yiannopoulos’s beauty regimen to be newsworthy. (“Because soap can be drying, I apply body butter or Kiehl’s moisturising cream to my arms, chest and back. I use La Mer hand lotion,” he writes in a strange homage to American Psycho, the most famous book by his “literary hero,” Bret Easton Ellis.)
More damningly for a draft by a catty ex-journalist with a million grudges, it contains literally no gossip. There’s hardly even anything juicy about the author himself. Fans hoping to gain deeper insight into Yiannopoulos’s background will be disappointed, if the book has not undergone fundamental changes prior to its official release. The 81,000-word draft contains almost no information about the author’s upbringing, education, personal life, or career before his reinvention as an icon of the new online right. Yiannopoulos talks a lot in the draft about the sex he’d like to have, but barely at all about the sex he’s actually had.
Likewise, the draft does not offer a behind-the-scenes look at Breitbart, the far-right media outlet that Yiannopoulos worked for until resigning amid controversy. (Yiannopoulos does, however, specially thank former Breitbart head and current White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in the acknowledgements.) Nor does it reveal anything much about the grassroots, internet-savvy, youthful, pro-Trump movement that emerged in 2015 and that is largely responsible for Yiannopoulos’s popularity.
Indeed, the draft seems to feature only two characters, beyond a procession of nameless shrieking liberals: Yiannopoulos himself and his assistant, Allum Bokhari, whom the author describes as “a fiendishly clever, witty, and handsome young writer, who, incidentally, probably wrote that last sentence.” An analysis with iThenticate, an anti-plagiarism tool, revealed that the draft contains dozens of instances of self-plagiarism, with sentences and even paragraphs lifted directly from Yiannopoulos’s stories on Breitbart. (By Yiannopoulos’s own admission, parts of his Breitbart stories were written by interns.)
Yiannopoulos would not address portions of the draft that appear to be taken from his Breitbart columns. "If I choose to publish a book of my Breitbart columns in the future," he said, "I will publish a book of Breitbart columns. Dangerous is a completely original, almost 70,000 word book." Yiannopoulos declined to share a current version of the Dangerous draft with BuzzFeed.
Absent narrative, what happens mostly in the 200-odd pages of the January Dangerous draft will surprise no one who is even passingly familiar with Yiannopoulos’s shtick through his Breitbart columns and television appearances: half-winking invective spewed at the forces of identity politics and “cultural Marxism,” peppered with the author’s trademark self-regard. Yiannopoulos compares himself in the draft to Nietzsche, De Tocqueville, and Azrael, the biblical angel of death.
The book draft is organized by sections named for groups of people Yiannopoulos claims hate him. They include “Why Other Gay People Hate Me,” “Why Feminists Hate Me,” “Why Muslims Hate Me,” “Why Black Lives Matter Hates Me,” “Why Ugly People Hate Me,” “Why the Media Hates Me,” “Why Twitter Hates Me,” and “Why Establishment Republicans Hate Me.” (An Instagram of a more recent draft shows that Yiannopoulos has removed the “Ugly People” section.) Each of these sections features enough arch name-calling to astonish a sorority and will shock precisely no one who has been on the internet in the past three years.
The draft features a set of arguments that are set on repeat, like a player piano: Women are dumber than men, black people and Muslims are more violent than whites, fat people have no willpower, Milo has a better sense of humor than the gay establishment, and so on. Why any troll, racist, sexist, or teenager would pay for the version of Dangerous this draft presents when it exists on 4chan in endless supply is a mystery. At least the hatred there is more interesting. Why any business traveler would pay for it given the smorgasbord of entertainment options that characterize air travel in 2017 is also a mystery. A lot of things about this draft are a mystery.
Simon & Schuster dropped Dangerous in late February, following the emergence of video in which Yiannopoulos appeared to condone pedophilia. (It’s now set to be published on July 4 under Yiannopoulos’s own imprint.) A few lines from the Dangerous draft stick out as particularly troublesome in the context of the pedophilia flap. In a sentence about his career as a journalist, Yiannopoulos jokingly describes his “not resisting" a Catholic priest's "advances” as a “mistake.” (In a press conference resigning from Breitbart, Yiannopoulos said that he was a victim of pedophilia.) And in a section about Black Lives Matter, the author jokes, “I’ve lost count of the number of black youths I’ve lifted out of poverty. Admittedly, I send them back the next day in an UberLux.” Let me be clear: Noxious as they are, these are the two least boring passages in the draft.
Yiannopoulos would not comment on whether specific lines from the draft will make it into the final book. "That manuscript has absolutely no relation to what we are printing on July 4," he said. "I'm not interested in answering questions about a book that doesn't exist."
To the extent that the Dangerous draft features actual stories and anecdotes, they are mostly gleeful recapitulations of online outrage cycles — from GamerGate to Ghostbusters — that have long since settled into the cultural dustbin. As Yiannopoulos freely and repeatedly admits in the draft, his is a reactionary culture that depends on angering people vis-à-vis the controversy of the day; in this sense, the fact that most of the trolling recounted here takes place prior to the author’s ban from Twitter is telling.
Ousted from Twitter last July for inciting a campaign of abuse against black actress Leslie Jones, Yiannopoulos turned to that other reliably overheated public square: the US college campus. The final section of the draft, “Why My College Tour Is So Awesome,” recounts his Dangerous Faggot Tour and details the various headaches he has caused for university administrators around the country. Again, though, the section is so light on actual specifics that it could have been cobbled together from local news clips; for all his gifts as an instigator and all his proclamations of his own debauchery, Yiannopoulos doesn’t seem to have any instincts as a storyteller.
And just as Yiannopoulos can’t manage to hold our attention, he struggles to make a case in the draft for himself as being particularly relevant in 2017.
Yes, he’s eager to have us see him as a product of the excesses of identity politics and left speech codes in media, politics, and academia. “Do you think anyone would put up with me if it wasn’t for the left?” he writes at one point. “I’m unbearable!” But while US universities may be perennially susceptible to right-wing trolling, speech codes in the first five months of the Trump administration seem to be chilling liberals as much as anyone. It’s hard, in this sense, not to read the Dangerous draft as a relic of 2015 and 2016.
Indeed, a copy of Yiannopoulos’s contract with Simon & Schuster obtained by BuzzFeed News shows that the author and the publisher reached terms on Dec. 13 that required him to turn in a draft on Dec. 31. That suggests that a lot of the Dangerous draft had very likely already been written. For a writer who depends on the outrage du jour for oxygen, that’s an awfully long lead time.
The Dangerous draft dwells on the way that Donald Trump was well-positioned to take advantage of Americans’ anger over speech policing — exceedingly well-trod territory. The real problem with the United States, Yiannopoulos argues — and the thing that made him and President Trump possible — is not liberal politics, but all of the rhetorical and performative grievance that liberal politics has enabled. “Indeed the ‘we just want the same treatment’ brand of feminism is unarguable,” he writes in the draft; it’s just all the ugly man-hating that isn’t. But what the draft doesn’t consider — possibly due to its submission date or because Yiannopoulos doesn't care — is that Trump could use Americans’ anger over speech policing to help catapult himself to the presidency, and then immediately begin taking actions to harm the “we just want the same treatment” brand of feminism.
Indeed, the basic argument of this draft of Dangerous — that you should be able to say offensive and outrageous stuff and not have to apologize for it — no longer seems very dangerous at all, at least for the person making it. In fact, that argument seems to have already prevailed, and is playing out today at the highest levels of US politics. This draft reads like an artifact weeks before the official publication of Dangerous, because it doesn’t give a thought to what the powerful people who say offensive and dangerous stuff do when they win. The president told the Russians about classified intelligence because he felt like it and he didn’t face any consequences! Who cares if some English carpetbagger says mean things on the internet? The United States has bigger things to worry about than Milo Yiannopoulos now. ●
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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