The Take Economy

This is going to be extremely meta, so go ahead and roll your eyes and do the “jacking off” motion with your hand right now and get it over with.

Something I’ve noticed is that online writing is very much focused on the idea of the “take cycle.” Your take is, I guess, your perspective on a given issue of importance. There are some connotations to the term “take:” the issue in question must be either current (the McDonald’s tweet) or an enduring, classical historical question (the Holodomor). The life cycle of a take-able event is quite short. As I write this on March 16th, it is too late to prepare new takes on the BBC interview guy’s kids busting in To do so would be the commit that most grievous of Internet sins: being too late. The immediacy of modern life and the 24-hour news cycle is frequently commented upon, but always in an “eh, what can you do” sort of way. We all agree that trying to bring a fresh perspective to an event from six days ago is hopelessly tardy.

What makes the inevitable flood of “takes” a cycle is that they tend to move in a predictable way. You get your initial wave of takes, the ground zero, which generally are just “this is hilarious/awful.” Trump’s budget guts the NEA? Terrible. Tragic. That’s a take, though not one anyone would call hot. These are just reactions. Type 0 takes.

Pretty soon, though, you get your first wave of real takes. They generally take the form of “well, actually…” Well, actually, Trump stabbing Art in the face with a corkscrew is good, because…. These are your Type 1 takes. They’re hot. Does that imply that they’re dangerous, like industrial machinery? Or does it imply that they’re fresh, takes pulled directly from a big stone oven and laid reverentially on the windowsill? Does the fresh aroma from these takes make you hover off the ground while licking your lips in an exaggerated fashion?

This covers the first 24 hours after an event. After that you start getting some variety. Type 2 takes generally take one of a few forms. Either they’re “Yes, actually,” takes, which are just direct rebuttals of Type 1s. Yes, actually it sucks that Trump is letting billionaires pay to piss on Mark Rothko paintings. These takes are a little bit less vibrant because they’re just restating the thesis of the Type 0 takes, and nobody likes to be derivative. Everyone wants to be fresh. These takes have cooled enough to eat. They’re lukewarm takes.

Type 2 takes can also take the form of “here’s something you hadn’t considered.” They aren’t as nakedly Pro or Con on the issue. Could Trump’s Pay-to-Pee program create the next Andres Serrano? HMMMM? Didn’t think of that, did you? It’s very important to the author that you hadn’t thought about the issue like that yet. These takes might actually be interesting, because they require generating a novel idea more complex than Thing (Not) Good, but since by this point the issue has been covered from every conceivable perspective authors will generally contort themselves in knots to find some fresh angle. There’s no value in being the second person to point out that Pope Francis is Redeeming the Argentine Catholic Church, but there’s at least some in Is Francis the First Post-Gamergate Pope?

The Type 3 takes are the herpes sores of the take environment: the inevitable, unwelcome byproduct of sweaty frenzy the night before. Thing is Problematic! If it becomes Your Take on Thing is Problematic, it’s a Type 4; at this stage, it’s more about “if you enjoy thing, it reflects poorly on you as an individual.” More precisely, it reflects poorly on you as a member of the mushy socially-progressive enlightened consensus of social media. These takes are digging deep, mining the bedrock for trace evidence that your enjoyment of the BBC anchor’s paternal embarrassment reflects your support for patriarchy and desire to return to the 1950s. As ever, when you dig too deep, you hit magma. These takes are hot. Molten! These takes uncurl wings of fire and a whip of burning quicksilver, scorching you with the furnace blast of their breath. Beware these takes. They are too hot to handle.

Finally, we reach Type 4, the meta-takes. The takes about takes. Your Take is Problematic is an old favorite, but you’ve gotta go deeper than that. What about “These BBC Anchor Takes Reveal The Fissure in the Democratic Party?” “The Responses to Trump’s Piss Plan Shows Liberal Hypocrisy on the Arts.” These takes have cooled a bit and are coated in a shell of hardening obsidian, glossy in the artificial light dripping from your screen. This shell protects them from deep scrutiny, and keeps us from learning that they are truly hollow. They echo when you knock on the outside. There’s no “there” there.

I guess this is a Type 5 take, the truly auto-fellating take about takes about takes. I can’t be the first person to write an article like this. Maybe someone will write tomorrow about how this piece reflects a lack of fresh ideas and a post-ironic rejection of social media, and the great snake Jormungandr will grow another loop to encircle the world ever more fully. Eventually, all will disappear under its ophidian bulk, trapped in a lightless, scaly hell, all life crushed out of us under the weight of every conceivable take on every conceivable situation. The lights will go out and we’ll sit there tapping at dead keyboards in front of blank screens, hoping to be the first to publish Why The End of Humanity is Bad for the Global South.

What bothers me the most about all this is the commodification it represents of the most basic human social activity, communication. A take is just your opinion, packaged and sold. It’s half of a conversation. You, the human being, the talking ape, you are reduced to your viewpoint on one issue, simplified, drawn down to the most basic unit of thought. Your thoughts are a mine, and you are the miner: sent down there with your pick and shovel and your little hat with a candle on it, you extract the take from the wall. How you feel about the world around you is a rich vein. It’s not about “authenticity,” whatever that means; it’s about novelty, about producing something other people want, and it guides the way you perceive the world. It takes a conversation and turns it into a deal. I’ll barter you my take for yours. It renders the world in economic terms, even if you’re not paying a cent for it.

Takes are fundamentally reactive. The take economy says that your every reaction is a good, something to publish, something to earn you praise and infamy. We all sit there with bated breath, counting down for the next shoe to drop, and then breathlessly scramble to produce the most novel, the most interesting, the most valuable reaction to it. The hottest take.