If something about the series of events that turned Milo Yiannopoulos from a sexist Twitter creep into a sexist Twitter creep with a book deal seems familiar, it could be because we all experienced something similar before with the meteoric rise (and painful fall) of proto-bro Tucker Max. Back in 2009, Max was a blogger trying to promote his I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell movie with a very limited budget, so a marketing whiz named Ryan Holiday came up with a crazy scheme to convince young dudes to see a movie: try to stop them from seeing it.
Holiday is now editor-at-large for the Observer, and he’s written an extensive piece about how his Tucker Max strategy has been adopted by Yiannopoulos, his supporters, and other racist/sexist/alt-right assholes who are trying to spread hate and incite fear. As Holiday explains, they promoted Max’s movie (and his book of the same name) by buying cheap ads that they would call people to complain about, by submitting fake tips about Tucker Max-related controversies to Gawker, and by vandalizing their own billboards to make Tucker Max seem dangerous, subversive, and—most of all—super cool. Holiday is now seeing these same strategies being used to promote Yiannopoulos, and he wants people to recognize how easily they can play right into the hands of these jerks.
Holiday says the trick isn’t to try to take away Yiannopoulos’ platform by protesting his campus talks or whatever, because that will just give his supporters something to rally against. Instead, he suggests actually listening to people like Yiannopoulos and giving them a chance to speak, because then the public will have a chance to hear their awful, hateful ideas and they’ll—hopefully—recognize them as being awful and hateful. Holiday says the sales of Tucker’s books disappeared when the controversy and outrage surrounding him ran its course, so he believes that Yiannopoulos and Nazis like Richard Spencer will eventually get bored or tire themselves out if everyone stops feeding their marketing machines.
The argument here is fairly optimistic, suggesting that taking the high ground will always work out in the long run. But Holiday also seems to believe that all press is good press. These days, when social media has given everyone in the world the ability to tell someone that their ideas are bad and that they should feel bad, it’s important to not dismiss the power of simply laughing at someone in the face for being an attention-seeking loser—which Yiannopoulos certainly is. After all, even Donald Trump is starting to crack under the pressure of his unpopularity, so maybe the trick to getting rid of Yiannopoulos is constantly making fun of him on TV for several months.