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My problem with Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan - Credit: Archant

Piers Morgan and Milo Yiannopoulos share more than a love of attention: Society needs provocateurs, but it also needs us to see them for what they are

What do Piers Morgan and the far-right pundit with a high-femme persona, the self-declared ‘dangerous faggot’ Milo Yiannopoulos, have in common – besides their masculinity?

They both consider themselves embattled champions of ‘free speech’, up-against-it in order to bring us the truth. But are they?

They wield different weapons in their battle, but wage the same war, mano-a-mano against The Elites. They who determine what’s said and what’s not.

Morgan’s weapon is the friendly sofa of breakfast television.

Milo’s weapon is drag, a tradition, by the way, that he totally dishonours.

But let’s take Milo first.

As ‘Ivana Wall’, he tottered across the stages of the America that would invite him. His was a sparkling, blond-wigged persona straight out of Weimar Germany – the era before the rise of Hitler.

Just to add a bit more frisson, ‘Ivana Wall’ will sometimes sing America the Beautiful. No doubt his Make America Great Again adherents gape and applaud in all their red-capped trumposity.

Now Milo may look new and cool, but this act this old. It summons up images of that 70s film musical Cabaret with its seedy decadence, its glittering squalor. That film recreated a world that existed against the backdrop of a – let’s say – ideological ancestor of Milo’s: one Ernst Röhm, head of the 1930s Sturmabteilung or SA.

Now Milo can deny this. But what he and his followers adhere to is almost a match with Hitler’s one time right-hand man.

For example: Röhm, openly homosexual, saw what we now call ‘Toxic Masculinity’ as the True Thing, the Real Thing. ‘Strength, courage, mastery, and honour’ was the SA’s credo. It’s what the new ‘masculinists’ – like Trump, Breitbart and Milo, too, in his post-modern campiness – are really about. Because those values that are not part of this toxic masculinity are for ‘women’. And women, to these guys, are inferior. As are left wing, gay, non-white, non-Christian people. Except those that ‘The Men’ want to dally with. Women, always on tap and in deep background.

Milo channels all this SA-type culture in his showbiz attempt to summon up the dream of a society that is white, male-dominated – one that exists outside of the norms of the civilized society we’ve collectively strived to make. Milo wants this: a society in which he is free to say and do what he bloody well likes.

Back to Röhm. At first he was highly successful, with his version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun: beating up Jews; burning books and synagogues; castigating intellectuals and experts and people who could speak in more than one syllable. Free speech versus the snowflakes of the day.

Unfortunately, Röhm had no idea that his rival – Himmler, Lord of the SS (and a fashionista, too like Milo. The black uniform the SS sported was designed by Hugo Boss) – had captured the Fuehrer’s ear.

Then the reign of Röhm, Nazi Germany’s very own ‘dangerous faggot’, came to an explosive end in what has come down to us as The Night Of The Long Knives.

In addition to echoes of the SA, Milo channels those characters in the great Italian director Luchino Visconti’s 1969 film The Damned. In a kind of low-rent way.

In the film, Nazi-loving drag queens flirt with the monsters of the Third Reich. Milo is 100% decadence, you see. The fact that he gets so much air-time at all is partly because our historical, cinematic, media and political literacy now is so damn paltry.

The truth is, Milo is garden-variety right wing. He abuses freedom of speech and turns it into his thing: license. He threatens the thin veneer of civilization that we do manage to maintain. In return all we get is a cheap panto consisting of him and a bunch of rehashed old tropes. Like they used to say in American Vaudeville when an act had outstayed its welcome and we’d all seen it before: ‘Get the hook!’ (the one that appears from behind the curtain and drags you off stage).

Looks like that’s already happened. Old Milo has managed to enter an arena that is a bridge too far. In doing that, he’s discovered that ‘free speech’ can become abuse itself.

So Simon and Schuster – his potential publishers – exercised their free speech by cancelling a contract for his upcoming tome: Dangerous. His new persona summons Scarlett O’Hara, but his Scarlett is shaking her fists in the pages of Facebook, railing against the dying light of Milo’s rancid celebrity. Milo’s kind of celebrity ought to die.

On the surface, Piers Morgan shouldn’t be in the same piece as Milo.

On the surface that’s right.

For starters, Morgan is a genuine hero.

He’s the kind of hero that you see in the movies who turns to his comrades – cowering and exhibiting a natural self-preservation – who says: ‘Look chaps, I’ll take the message! I’ll go over the top and into No Man’s land!’

You know he’s going to get killed …and he does. But you want to watch a spectacle of heroism, selflessness, derring-do. Because that behaviour is what being a human being is all about.

Morgan’s courageous stand against Second Amendment zealots isn’t known to most people on this side of the Alantic. He was a star on CNN and his speaking out against America’s gun insanity might have cost him his job.

There is zero equivalent in the UK or Europe to those Americans who are obsessed with their guns. They believe (and it’s a belief) that ‘the right to bear arms’ – as stated in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution – is the guarantee of liberty; that it is a human right handed down directly from God. This is not an exaggeration.

Most of us who want sensible gun control thought we’d get it after the massacre at an elementary school that took the lives of dozens of young children. It didn’t. And Piers Morgan asked why. He asked everybody.

You learn, as a foreigner, that there are some places in your adopted new country that you don’t enter; where you can’t say: ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’. Because you’ll be shut down or worse.

But he persisted. His battle was epic and noble. I think this was about his values. There was an uproar. Then he was gone.

Back in Blighty, Morgan, like Milo, set himself up as a provocateur, aimed at the left. Why not? Society needs provocateurs, democracy needs them.

Here Morgan has become ‘the Explainer of Trump’, his Representative on Earth, the Snow White to Nigel Farage’s Rose Red. That’s his right and his business. But it has consequences.

That’s because Trump is also the man who – among many things he does – calls the press ‘The enemy of the people’. And that’s where Piers Morgan comes a cropper to me… and, it turns out, to many. He’s Trump’s shill. Trump, the guy who hates journalists.

I was one of the judges of one of the awards given out annually by the Royal Television Society. It was a great honour. I was thinking of whether to go to the awards dinner. Then I read that Morgan was going to be the compere. And I declined. On Twitter.

This is why: Not long before doing that, I had come away from watching, talking about, and judging, the work of individual journalists. Some were household names. But I had never seen them like this before. Each of them had interviewed a major figure. Each had spoken truth to power. Real power.

Some had done so at great personal risk. Those journalists – and many, many like them – not Milo and not Morgan, are the real risks to the real elite: the people who rule the world.

I had no idea that a petition had been started to ban Morgan from compering the Royal Television Society event. I don’t agree with ‘no platform’ in general. That’s why I appeared on Question Time in 2009 with Nick Griffin, then head of the BNP.

He had a right to air his views. I still believe that. Many of my friends, some who have never spoken to me again, thought that I should refuse to appear with the guy. I just didn’t agree.

Like I believe that in the case of Morgan, he should have been allowed to do the job. And face the people. Like I believe that it’s right that Milo is gone from the public sphere. Long may he stay away.

In this age of ‘gaslighting’ – where lies are peddled as truth and human values are ridiculed as weakness – we’re being severely challenged. And it’s time to take
 a stand. That’s what Trump is making me do.

That’s why it’s time to name the origin of Milo’s provocations. That’s why I sent out that tweet one morning against Morgan. Time to take a stand.

Like the MPs and Peers who stand up for Remain as an expression of their values. Like those journalists who go out and risk it all.

Like those people who signed a petition demanding that Morgan – friend of Trump – not be allowed to host a show that honours journalists. It’s about values now.

Bonnie Greer is a playwright and critic

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