‘Niedzvieckian’ Prize Goes to Writer Most Burned by His Own Hot Take

Or how not to start a dialogue.

By David Beers 16 May 2017 |

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

In media, the hot take rules. Commentators compete to supply a surprising angle on any subject suddenly at hand. The goal, sort of like piloting a hot air balloon, is to crank up your burner until you float to the top of the roiling weather system that is social media.

Now we have witnessed the hottest take on hot takes. Hal Niedzviecki is a true innovator in the field. As editor of Write magazine, he invited Indigenous writers to contribute to a special issue of his publication. He then prefaced it with his own piece arguing there was no such thing as cultural appropriation.

Hot takes can’t be subtle. This wasn’t. “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation” is how Niedzviecki, who is not Indigenous, led off his editor’s note. Which urged writers to “set your sights on the big goal: Win the Appropriation Prize.” And ran under the headline: “Winning the Appropriation Prize.”

Niedzviecki’s genius was not to wait around for the news cycle to provide fodder for his take. Instead, he methodically created his own opening by employing unwitting partners. In his role as editor, Niedzviecki recruited voices who shared perspectives borne of being culturally appropriated and excluded — so that he’d have the perfect foil for his counter-intuitive take before any of them got to talk. Burn!

So fiery hot was Niedzviecki’s take that you likely have heard about the result. He resigned under withering criticism from diversity advocates in The Writers Union of Canada, which publishes Write. Then Andrew Coyne (Postmedia), Ken Whyte (Rogers), Steve Ladurantaye (CBC) and Jonathan Kay (The Walrus) tweeted their support for Niedzviecki as a martyr for free speech. Kay got so worked up it somehow pushed him to quit as editor of The Walrus.

Four days later, Niedzviecki is making the rounds of news talk shows offering his evolving takes on his original take and all the takes others have offered. That’s one long smoldering take.

Here’s my take. From this day forward there should be a prize called the Niedzvieckian.

To win, the year’s most Niedzvieckian take must:

1. Insult a large group of people for their concerns.

2. Not show any interest in understanding their concerns.

3. In making the insult, betray one’s implied good faith relationship with the group insulted.

4. Pretend to start a dialogue when it really polarizes and shuts one down.

5. Be embraced readily by the most privileged people related to the take.

That’s a tall standard, but Niedzviecki has proven it can be done.

I think I have a shot. Taking a cue from Niedzviecki himself, my gambit requires laying the quiet groundwork of roping in some unsuspecting foils. This I can do by guest editing a special day of The Tyee.

In crazy expensive Vancouver, renters commonly get kicked out by landlords who spruce up their units and charge a bunch more. The kicked out don’t like it, and call the kicker outers “renovictors.” It’s zeitgeisty.

So I shall invite people who have been booted from their apartments to write in The Tyee first person articles about their lives and experiences. Those in hand, about to be posted, I shall publish my editor’s note: “Winning the Renovictor Prize.”

I shall lead with this: “I don’t believe in the term renoviction.” I will argue that freedom of economic expression must be served. People who renovict add diversity of housing forms and accent wall colours to our society. People who complain about being renovicted are dangerous to that ideal.

I will say the best kicker outer of low-income renters should receive the Renovictor Prize. It’s “the big goal.”

Then I’ll sit back and await the helpful dialogue I have fostered. (I will not mention that I have paid off the mortgage on my four-bedroom house. What does that have to do with anything?)

What if rich developers delightedly tweet their support for the Renovictor Prize? Even raise money for it?

Well, what would Hal Niedzviecki say? Ah, here we go, courtesy of what he told the CBC today:

That’s “disgusting” of them. It “completely takes out of context the argument I was trying to make.” I “feel terrible” if I invited those renovicted writers “into my home, so to speak, and then I insulted them.” It was “unintentional.” Can someone explain to me how one little take could ever have made life so unbearably hot for me? “I can never have imagined that my words would be taken so out of context and really mischaracterized.”

The Niedzvieckian. It sets a high bar in journalism prizes, “the big goal.” But that’s why we journalists give ourselves so many awards. When we’re hot, we’re hot.  [Tyee]

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