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These Festivals Need to Stop Booking White Nationalists as If Their Ideas Are Worth Debating

Steve Bannon, New Yorker, festival, speaker

Over the weekend, the New Yorker Festival—an annual “who’s who” of artists, politicians, and more, as well as a major draw for advertisers—announced that this year’s headliner would be none other than unemployed racist Steve Bannon.

The announcement got the exact response you would expect, the response that’s elicited every time a major festival or convention gives their giant, prestigious platform to someone whose entire career is built on white nationalism and bigotry.

We just went through this with Politicon inviting Milo Yiannoupolis to speak, which caused other guests to publicly renounce the convention and cancel their scheduled attendance. The outrage was so overwhelming (and so justified) that Politicon canceled Milo’s appearance shortly after announcing it.

That is, of course, exactly what happened following Bannon’s announcement. It seems ludicrous that they wouldn’t have seen this coming. They did seem to know the reaction would be negative, since that’s the only explanation for their decision to make the announcement quietly, over a weekend, shortly before tickets go on sale.

But if these festivals and conferences think they’re setting themselves up to cash in on those outrage-based ticket sales, they seem to have underestimated just how awful Steve Bannon is, and just how fed up people are of seeing bigots be given access to these platforms. We’re beyond hate-watching men like Bannon. We just want him gone.

Immediately after Bannon was announced as headliner, the festival began hemorrhaging guests.

It should be noted that this isn’t the only prestigious upcoming event Bannon was invited to speak at. He was also announced as a speaker at The Economist’s Open Future convention. Other guests are having a similar reaction.

The editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, emailed the magazine’s staff, many of whom had also expressed discomfort over the announcement, to tell them Bannon would no longer be headlining the festival. He also published a lengthy explanation of his reasoning behind booking Bannon, which had apparently been in the works for months.

Remnick had previously defended the choice to host Bannon, telling the NYT he wasn’t planning to go easy on him. “I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation,” he said.

But while Remnick may not have planned to give Bannon a place to propagate his hateful bigoted ideologies unchallenged, by giving him a place in this festival–a headliner status, no less–it gives validity to those ideas as being worth debating.

Seeing Bannon disinvited doesn’t feel like a win. The win will be when he’s not invited to speak in the first place.

(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.