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On Thursday, December 29, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer and editor at Breitbart News who is widely considered to be an “alt-right” hero (although he rejects the title), signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions. The amount he will be reportedly receiving for this autobiographical work is $250,000.
Milo Yiannopoulos, as the title of his book celebrates, is a dangerous figure for a variety of reasons, most of which are seemingly contradictory. He likes to paint himself as a rebel to all sides but is staunchly conservative and anti-feminist, seems to think that because he is gay, he can’t be homophobic (despite his brazenly anti-gay rhetoric) and that because he fetishizes black men, he can’t be racist. Breitbart News was extensively discussed during the recent presidential election, as its chairman Steve Bannon led Donald Trump’s campaign and has been appointed as the chief White House strategist. The site, which Bannon proudly describes as “the platform for the alt-right,” produces stories that run the gamut from being merely problematic to being outright racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, and more.
Milo Yiannopoulos himself is behind such pieces as “The Solution To Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off,” “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” and “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It’s Time to Get Back in the Closet.” These exemplify the issues he has become notorious for—namely, that third-wave feminism is a cancer and advocating for equal rights is at best, whining, and at worst, oppressive to the now-marginalized white men (to rectify this oppression, he has started a “Privilege Grant”). His bigotry extends to the community he ostensibly represents; he not only believes trans women are mentally ill “gay men dressing up for attention,” but also had the audacity and hatred to single out a single trans student and make odious remarks about her at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” of college campuses across the US.
Unsurprisingly, a storm of criticism broke out on social media following The Hollywood Reporter’s announcement, and I found myself in the thick of it, urging friends and strangers alike to write to Simon & Schuster publishers and publicity teams. I saw dozens and dozens of other calls to action that day and spent the next determining who to contact with concerns. And as can be expected with anything related to Milo Yiannopoulos, I also received numerous anonymous, trolling messages. Most of the Twitter hatred I got (and eventually blocked) discussed how I look, how I couldn’t possibly be Jewish and criticize Yiannopoulos, and how I’m obviously helping him since his book is already #1 on Amazon (although, as Alexandra Schwartz pointed out at The New Yorker, it has achieved this ranking under the niche category “Censorship & Politics”). Some writers, such as Pauline Campos, agreed on this last point: “I am convinced,” she wrote to me, “that speaking out is only going to sell more books and get him a bigger advance on the next book. Call me jaded, but I’ve seen this play out before with other What the Hell book deals.” She added, “It’s books like this that fund the small deals for the unknown writers. I might think he’s a giant prick. But the publishing industry can’t survive without this kind of thing. As shocking as it may sound, I welcome this deal. And am grateful now for every author that has an advance of any size sent their way for a book S&S may not have been able to fund otherwise.”
Whether or not Simon & Schuster move around their funds this way, we don’t know. Big publishing is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to how and where they spend their money. After all, publishers are corporations, and corporations are rarely ideological crusaders. That being said, there are those within the corporations who are, if not crusaders, at least far more socially responsible and believe in progress that doesn’t involve effectively advocating against women’s rights.
Which is precisely why I never once used the word “boycott” in any of my calls for action, nor did I support or speak up for those who were calling for it. The Chicago Review of Books, for example, has made the decision not to review any S&S titles in 2017, a decision I disagree with. Others see it as potentially helpful. Literary critic and journalist Anjali Enjeti told me that while she’s not boycotting Simon & Schuster herself, she had hoped that “the calls for boycott would have pressured S&S to cancel their publishing contract with Yiannopoulos by now… since this hasn’t happened yet, I don’t have any problem with any media organizations, like the Chicago Review, that decide not to review [his] book or the books of other S&S authors.”
Publicist Alaina Leary reminded me that Threshold Editions have always published works by authors like Yiannopoulos—some of their other writers include Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney, all heavyweight conservatives. And because S&S is a corporation with many varied imprints, Leary believes that “it’s really indie and smaller publishers paving the way for diversity, inclusion, and really radical change in the industry.”
To those in favor of a boycott, I would like to point out that Simon & Schuster is the home of 37 Ink, which was formed by Dawn Davis—who previously ran the Amistad imprint at HarperCollins, where she was known for publishing successful books by African-American authors. At 37 Ink, she has broadened her scope to a wide variety of authors with differing cultural experiences. Additionally, this year S&S launched Salaam Reads, an imprint aiming to “introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.” This kind of imprint in a time of increasing Islamophobia (often, unsurprisingly, a topic at Breitbart), is essential to mainstream understanding of a faith and culture that is so often misunderstood. Muslim author and reviewer Saadia Faruqi told me that “it is critical that we in the reviewing industry support this effort,” and that she’s concerned about the proposed boycott that reviewers, specifically, are calling for. She added that “In a Trump era, the books that Salaam Reads will publish may mean the difference between fascism and democracy.”
Even without a boycott, however, disappointment is rampant. Abbe Wright, Editor of Read It Forward, told me that she is “sorely disappointed that S&S has decided to give Milo Yiannopoulos a platform from which to amplify his hate speech.” Even after being banned by Twitter for his infamous bullying of actress and comedian Leslie P. Jones, Yiannopoulos hasn’t lacked for coverage or platform. Universities are still paying him good money to lecture and humiliate students, millions are still reading Breitbart News, and now, he is being offered what he describes as a “wheelbarrow full of money” in exchange for a book that will certainly be every bit as hateful as his other writing.