I know, I know, I’m about to write a hot take of a hot take and you probably think it will kill my criticism before it starts. But the reality isn’t that I’m trying to move us beyond the hot take, that I’m putting the message out into the ether hoping it will be accepted, critiqued, and expanded on. I’m returning to the roots of the hot take, to reframe a situation rather than focus on attacking a particular person, political group, or tactic. Because I don’t need to take down the hot take — it is already dead.
The rise of the hot take did not really surprise anyone (aside from the most milquetoast white liberals). It became a popular form of writing with the advent of internet platforms that utilized the free form style of blogs but reached a far larger audience: sites like Huffington Post, XOJane, and yes, Medium. And it was also predictable based on the political moment: as Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements broke through media silence on oppression, the people of the US were forced to reckon with the idea of privilege in a confrontational way that had not been seen on that scale since the New Left.
While it is easy in hindsight to condemn the naivety and recklessness of the early purveyors of the hot take, it certainly served an important purpose. Delete Yr Account just had a great episode about this strategic use of shame which covers the topic better than I could. And some Left publications like Feministing, Rewire, and Truthout (I use these because I’ve written hot takes for all three) used the form to get larger publicity for radically alternative ideas that would likely not get much traction without that click-inducing controversy.
But then came the 2016 election and hot takes began to invade nearly every facet of our 24/7 media landscape. Some independent Left media tried valiantly to remain out of it (like the Best of the Left podcast) but it would always intrude. Even if the platform did not allow comments, the hot takes could be appended whenever the content was shared on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media outlet. Twitter especially became a constant back-and-forth of hot takes, climaxing in pure absurdity with the now infamous “game theory” twitter thread.
As the late-comers like Garland wielded the form with an unrivaled clumsiness, it became a joke and meme as nearly everything on the internet does. We bemoaned every time we were exposed to a new hot take though we likely had written one ourselves not that long ago. And like all memes, it has begun to become stale, with its former purveyors diving into purely detached conspiracy theory (liberals focusing on Russia, the Right focusing on Pizzagate and Lorde knows what else), focusing on producing substantive work, or taking the internet less seriously. When you spend every week going to rallies, calling electeds, organizing workplaces, etc., the petty bickering and importance of writing the next great hot take suddenly feels hollow. Even the ever-contentious Jacobin, known for such hilariously bad hot takes as calling Tom Brady a worker, has begun to tone it down.
There are casualties of this transition away from the hot take medium. And one was put into focus today. Last week, Current Affairs published a much-hyped hot take by “neoliberalism expert” Yasmin Nair. The overall subject of “The Dangerous Academic Is An Extinct Species,” despite the title, is difficult to parse out but one thing is clear: Nair does not like George Ciccariello-Maher. The crux of her argument about him in particular is that his rebellious act of making a joke about the white nationalist term “white genocide” was not that rebellious, that his position in the university was not threatened by it.
Now anyone who knows me knows my own bias about Ciccariello-Maher. But the sloppy construction and research that Nair put into the piece became all the more apparent (if it were not already so from her strange reference to Leelah Alcorn) when it came out that Ciccariello-Maher is being investigated by his employer Drexel University. Fittingly this detailed research and substantive examination that Colleen Flaherty puts into this piece for Inside Higher Ed stands in stark contrast to the tangential hot take of Nair.
And it is all the more ironic that Nair focuses in on Ciccariello-Maher because his risks are not simply limited to stirring up trouble on social media. His books tackle the subject of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela in a way that is not just ill-received in this country but enough to get you accused of supporting a “dictator.” Just today the massive nonprofit Human Rights Watch shared a new propaganda video encouraging more imperialist intervention as a solution to the country’s crisis:
And this is why the hot take is slowly but surely dying out in the Left. The state of the country, from a still-stagnated economy despite the brief “Trump bump” to the new wave of imperialism directed at Syria and North Korea, is one that demands the best of us and all of us. We can no longer afford to spend our time writing haphazard hot takes to lash out at some figure who annoys us.
Nair blocked me on social media when I asked her to back up her accusations about Ciccariello-Maher, so I doubt that she will read any of this. But if she did, my hope would be that she would reconsider her current priorities and employ her talents in more constructive matters. That isn’t to say that criticism is dead — I will always proudly wield the Marxist (or if you prefer scientific) maxim to critique everything. But why we critique, what our goal is and what we hope to come afterwards, matters. And no matter how brightly a hot take may burn at first, it isn’t long before it fizzles out.