“Nobody wants to talk of the fact that men are killing themselves in droves”, exclaimed Milo Yiannopoulos to the packed crowd in Theatre L of the Newman Building. These comments were as part of his talk, “Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far?” on Thursday, 28th January. Jointly hosted by the UCD Economics Society and Philosophy Society, his speech was overshadowed by the range of topics he covered in a lengthy a questions and answers session that shone a light on some of society’s tragic problems which hide in plain sight.
Yiannopoulos is a Technology Editor at Breitbart, a conservative American news organisation. He is also a regular guest with Kay Burley on Sky News, and is well known for his trolling on Twitter. As part of his talk on political correctness, he spoke of the backlash faced by those who dared to threaten the establishment. Noting how people can make arguments about spaces and wage gaps in the economy, he said that once you question PC culture itself, you get a disproportionate response, which he believes is “profoundly anti-intellectual”.
Yiannopoulos is well known for his flamboyant public persona, through which he plays the role of an agent provocateur. He spoke of how he attempts to utilise it by being a “troll for good” in order to help shift the Overton Window onto issues which the media does not address. A political term coined by Joseph P. Overton, it refers to the range of topics that the public is willing to discuss at a certain time. Raising views and ideas which fall outside the window of discourse can harm a person’s reputation and standing in society.
Yiannopoulos sees himself as part of the vanguard in shifting attention onto important issues. This tactic was clearly on show on Thursday night. By starting off strongly with his more controversial views, the self-declared “most fabulous supervillain on the internet” gradually wound down to less provocative issues, ones which are not often discussed. While Yiannopoulos’ talk may have been lighted hearted, he raised a series of issues in the Q&A session on the current problems facing society.
His most salient point came at the end, and received a rapturous applause from the crowd. In his typically blunt fashion, he called out the failure of western media to cover the plight of men. He said the “greatest and most unforgivable failing” of the media over the past 30 years has been its lack of coverage on male suicide, which he believes is an “epidemic”.
In the UK, male suicide rates in 2013 have returned to 2001 levels, and have been steadily increasing over time. Suicide rates in Ireland have increased over the decades, while the act of committing suicide itself was only decriminalised in 1993. Based on statistics from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the Irish suicide rate is similar to international averages, with men around four times more likely to take their own life. CSO figures for 2012 list 507 suicides, comprising of 413 male and 94 female victims. Estimate figures for 2013 suggest the male to female suicide ratio may have exceeded 5:1.
Due to the large demand to see Yiannopouluos, the organisers were twice forced to switch venues. Originally scheduled to be hosted in the Fitzgerald Chamber in the New Student Centre, it was relocated to Theatre O in the Newman Building. However, the talk had to be moved at the last minute, ending up in the large Theatre L.
Conor McCabe, Auditor of the Economics Society, said that Campus Services were “very accommodating” about changing the venue at the last minute. He admitted it was “was certainly a bit stressful at the time but thankfully nothing went wrong and we were able to proceed with the event.”
Before the talk, a number of non-UCD students had expressed an interest in attending the event, which was supposed to be for students only. However, they were allowed in after it became apparent that the new venue could hold everyone.
As Yiannopoulos had previously been banned from speaking at some campuses in the UK and US, there remained the possibility that a disturbance could arise during his UCD talk. Planned appearances at universities in the US, including Ohio State University, have also been cancelled at the last minute due to issues regarding students organising against his speaking.
Ahead of the event, the UCD Feminist Book Club circulated an open letter addressed to the Economics Society among campus media outlets calling for the event to be shifted to a debate format, reasoning that Yiannopoulos “has already gained himself a huge platform to air his views from”. They argue that Yiannopoulos’ views often go unchallenged in face to face settings, with him opting to rebut through social media channels
However, McCabe said that “nothing of the sort took place” at the talk. He personally believed that Yiannopoulos “seemed to be very well received by the audience.”
The College Tribune asked both the UCD Economics Society and Philosophy Society a series of questions on the talk. McCabe’s answers represent his own opinions, not that of the Economics Society or its committee. The Philosophy Society declined to answer the questions. Its Auditor, Adam Cullen, stated that the society’s “ethos is to provide an impartial platform in relation to all issues social, political etc. I am afraid in keeping with that ethos the Society is unable to make an official statement relating to events so as not to appear to favour one side of an argument over another.” A scheduled interview with Milo Yiannopoulos was cancelled due to illness, which his assistant attributed to his heavy workload and travel schedule.
For students who may need assistance, they can contact organisations such as UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) Welfare Officer Clare O’Connor (01 7163112 or email [email protected]), the Samaritan’s Dublin Branch (01 8727700), or Pieta House. Youth Suicide Prevention Ireland (YSPI) is one of four charities UCDSU and several societies are raising money for during RAG Week 2016, from 1st -5th February.
- Cian Carton, News Editor