In Praise of Cold Takes

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t exactly tend to be at the cutting edge of media consumption. And I’m not only referring to the fact that I spend most of my time being overwhelmingly emotional about medieval literature, although no doubt that contributes to the phenomenon. I just… don’t have the hang of pop culture — rarely do I like something before it’s cool, and more often I like it after it’s cool, when everybody else has moved on.

I suspect this is my natural state, which means I’m not entirely suited to the online culture of immediate reactions and hot takes. Back when I used to participate more actively in fandom communities, I found the pressure to engage immediately or be bombarded with spoilers a little overwhelming; I remember racing upstairs to my laptop after every episode of Doctor Who to see how Tumblr was reacting, and I was devastated if I had to miss an episode and catch up on iPlayer later, because I’d inevitably see spoilers before I had a chance to watch the episode for myself.

Now that most people’s TV consumption is asynchronous streaming, there isn’t quite as much pressure to watch a new episode within one specific one-hour slot or risk having every possible twist ruined for you, but spoilers still abound. I didn’t have Disney Plus when the second season of The Mandalorian aired, but within about a day I’d seen dozens of gifs of the big reveal. I’ve never watched WandaVision, but it seemed like the day the final episode aired, my entire Twitter feed was quotes and discussions of quotes.

(I’m not so anti-spoiler as I used to be, and since I had no particular interest in WandaVision and knew it would be a while before I could catch up on The Mandalorian, these didn’t bother me hugely in terms of ruining twists. But I saw enough grumpy tweets about spoilers to know that others felt differently — and there are certainly other things I’d have been more bothered about having spoiled for me.)

I tried, for a while, to be part of that kind of culture, discussing pop culture with a sense of immediacy. I always gave spoiler warnings (at least online; apologies to the friends who had spoilery text messages from me back in the day), but I’d be writing posts about Sherlock the day after an episode aired, trying to capture a fleeting readership; when I wasn’t blogging here I’d be on Tumblr, engaging with meta and discussion and reblogging copious amounts of gifs.

And back then, well, maybe sixteen-year-old me had the energy to go from consumption of media to Opinions About Media in half an hour flat, but these days? Not so much. In fact, these days even Consumption of Media can feel like too much, especially if it’s something new and unfamiliar that my brain has to try and process. Sometimes I just want to reread or rewatch.

This pressure to constantly be on top of The New Thing is why I ended up giving up bookstagram. There, it wasn’t spoiler-based pressure, but there was still an unspoken pressure to constantly post about new releases, buy new books, be able to talk about all the ‘big’ YA books… and I realised I wasn’t actually interested in that. Because, frankly, I’m a contrarian who hates being told what to do. Having to watch something now, read something now, talk about it now, just to stay on top of some fleeting zeitgeist? Everything in me rebels against that.

It always has done, I think, in hindsight. As a teen I had a singular disinterest in ‘fitting in’, to the point of being frankly snobbish about things which were popular. While I could have toned down the latter, the former explains why I was late to the party with a lot of the popular YA books of my teens — practically all of The Mortal Instruments had been released by the time I picked up the first one, The Hunger Games was well on its way to being a film by the time I raced through the trilogy, and I never really understood the Divergent hype.

So why, as an adult, did I try to force myself to behave in a way my teenage self would never have done? Aren’t we meant to grow out of the need to fit in, not into it?

Don’t get me wrong, I like to know what’s happening in the book world. When I used to do reviews, I enjoyed getting sneak peeks at new books, and it was satisfying when I went to bookshops and found I’d already read most of the new YA on the shelves. I liked feeling like I had my finger on the pulse. But I also love rereading. Or finding random books in the library that came out ten years ago. And I’m not always interested in the ‘trendy’ or ‘popular’ books.

So when I only have the energy to do one or the other… the new stuff (being generally expensive and less accessible than older things I already own or can access via libraries) tends to be what has to give.

And it’s not that I’m never impatient and excited enough for a TV show or a film that I’ll watch it as soon as it comes out — while I’m not the ‘midnight showing’ kind of person (tbh, before lockdown I went to the cinema about twice a year), there’ve been plenty of TV shows that I’ve gone out of my way to watch as soon as they were released.

But mostly, I just like to take my time about cultivating my opinions. I don’t want to have to have a hot take immediately. I don’t want to race online after every film I watch, when I’m still trying to decide how I felt about it; I’d rather give my thoughts a bit of time to develop before I try them against anybody else’s. Engaging too soon in the constant online discussions can leave me unsure what I felt in the first place, when all of my opinions have been displaced by somebody else’s.

And, yes, I think part of it’s my fear of confrontation. When everybody’s yelling about a book, I’m scared to throw my thoughts in the ring. I’d prefer to come back ten years later and talk about it then, when everybody else has moved on. When I have a strong emotional reaction to a piece of media, I’m nervous about that response being dismissed or criticised while it still feels new and raw.

Beyond that, though, I do like the perspective that comes with time. Maybe it’s the academic in me, obsessed with rereading, looking for new perspectives. Maybe it’s the medievalist, who thinks anything after 1500 is suspiciously newfangled and should be viewed with caution (although since I keep drifting into 17th century manuscripts these days, I may have to get over that). Maybe I’m just very tired, and don’t have the energy to have opinions non-stop.

Probably it’s all of them. I’m an anxious, tired, thoughtful, sensitive medievalist and I like to give my opinions on pop culture a good half decade to mature before I let them out.

In other words, this blog is a hot take-free zone. All takes here will have been left in the back of the fridge for three years until they grew mould that I had to scrape off and then maybe I’ll reheat them and hope they’re still edible before I serve them up. In six months to six years from now, you might get to hear my thoughts on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but probably not before, and in the meantime I’ll continue to have opinions about YA books from 10-15 years ago.

At least that way, I don’t need to worry so much about spoilers.

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  1. I love what you said about “cultivating” your opinion. Cultivation takes time and thought and intention. And, hopefully, also avoids some of the missteps and mistakes that “hot takes” can have, especially in hindsight.

    • Finn Longman says:

      Absolutely. On the one hand, I have a tendency to let my opinions get supplanted by those of whoever has the loudest voice — I rarely have the confidence to hold onto them — but on the other hand, it can be really useful to explore other viewpoints to see how they might allow me to add more depth and thought to my own opinions. Especially, for example, when it comes to how a piece of media might affect marginalised communities; there’s a lot I wouldn’t have picked up on, if I don’t belong to those communities, so seeing other people’s perspectives can help me refine my understanding. And I think the word ‘intention’ there is key. It doesn’t necessarily happen automatically (not everything NEEDS a cultivated opinion!) — it’s a choice to look at things in depth and analyse them.

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