I began this statement at the start of the year when Milo Yiannopoulos’s book deal had just been inked, but after watching Yiannopoulos’s islamophobia and transphobia validated by supposedly progressive blowhard Bill Maher over the weekend, and then reading Monday morning about his ultimately rescinded invitation to be the keynote speaker at CPAC, I felt newly inclined to add my voice to the chorus of those opposing him. I spent some time Monday revising the statement and by the time I was done, I read that Simon & Schuster had cancelled his book deal. Regardless, their initial actions and their repercussions are still worth discussing.
Simon & Schuster’s decision to offer Milo Yiannopoulos a quarter of a million dollars, which further legitimizes his national platform, is nothing short of odious. This sort of enabling behavior is intolerable, opportunistic, and unacceptable. Simon & Schuster’s statement on the matter “we note that the opinions expressed [within our books] belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees,” is a cop out.
Paying a neo-nazi a large sum of money is a political act. Increasing the reach of a cruel bully who has used his publicity and notoriety to target individuals for harassment is a political act. Validating the perspectives of an islamophobe/ transphobe/ white nationalist is a political act. Simon & Schuster should be held accountable for this decision. A full boycott of their books—for review by critics, for sale by buyers at bookstores and individual consumers—would send a clear message to the company.
Simon & Schuster’s argument that Yiannopoulos is entitled to this platform on the basis of free speech is based on a flawed understanding of free speech as a concept. Publishers reject books every single day for a variety of reasons, many far more banal than the author being a hateful demagogue who has used his meager fame to encourage the targeted harassment of marginalized people, especially black and trans women. Rejecting a proposal is not a form of censorship. (If it is, then most of my classmates in the creative writing class I took last year are actively being censored on a weekly basis. Some of them are possibly even being censored multiple times a week.) The idea that there are no ramifications for spewing garbage misunderstands that speech is not an individual act—it's dialogic, an interactive process in the public sphere. Our response to such vicious and violent speech should be a very loud and very clear no.
As an author on the Simon & Schuster roster, I whole-heartedly support this boycott, though frankly, it may not be enough. Perhaps simply boycotting until the dissolution of Yiannopoulos’s contract is short-sighted. The entire Threshold Editions imprint, which has published work by Glenn Beck, Bobby Jindal, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, among others, both stokes the fears of and profits from the recently galvanized American Right.
Yiannopoulos’s presence on Threshold is not a coincidence. In an interview with Business Insider regarding his search for a publisher, Yiannopoulos stated “Threshold Editions at Simon & Schuster were my first choice, and I was thrilled they wanted me.” In a sense, Threshold Editions helped create the environment in which a Milo Yiannopolous could thrive, and they continue to expand his platform because it profits them directly.
Since publishing it’s first crossword puzzle book at the beginning of 1924, Simon & Schuster has worked on a business model of predicting market fads and quickly publishing books to correspond. It’s no wonder, then, that they offered to publish a memoir based on my briefly-popular blog, for instance. But this mission statement, to simply exploit whatever market is available to consume books, has led them down the unconscionable path of collaborating with a narcissistic bigot, and while this is never a good look, it is especially heinous in the current political moment.
During the writing of this piece, Simon & Schuster nullified Milo Yiannopoulos’s book contract. This is good news. It’s very heartening to learn that a white supremacist is no longer going to be given a substantial sum of money. However, Simon & Schuster didn’t cancel the contract because of Yiannopoulos’s hateful beliefs. They didn’t cancel his contract because of he defended racists, because he targeted black women, trans women, undocumented people, and rape survivors for harassment by his vitriolic fans. They cancelled it because he made statements that were construed as advocating for pedophilia, and that has alienated much of his right wing fanbase. (The irony of a man who wants to “defend women and girls” from the phantom threat of transfeminine bathroom assaulters admonishing the mainstream to be more forgiving of some pedophilia is not lost on me, but that’s the subject of another essay.) Simon & Schuster caved, not because of ethical issues, but because he is no longer as commercially viable as he was before these statements came to light. As Roxane Gay pointed out, Simon & Schuster did not act according to conscience, they acted according to commercial interest.
In a way, the rejection of Yiannopolous by CPAC and Simon and Schuster only confirms their commitment to the entire neo-nazi and conservative Christian platform -including white supremacy, transphobia, islamophobia—by using Yiannopolous to corroborate all too common homophobic beliefs that queer men are dangerous and prone to pedophilia. Yiannopolous himself might suffer a momentary setback but the agenda he supports is furthered. To be clear, he was removed to preserve the growing ‘alt-right’ not to thwart it.
The boycott of Simon and Schuster should stand until the dissolution of Threshold Editions in its entirety.
This piece was co-authored with Rebecca Giordano. The matter was brought to my attention by Tom Leger of Topside Press, who has been a key figure in organizing the boycott since the deal was announced. For a concise list of Yiannopolous's previous actions, see this list compiled by Bitch Media: https://bitchmedia.org/article/bad-things-milo-yiannopoulos-has-done-case-his-new-publisher-cares-just-kidding-they-totally