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Hasan Piker Can Bro Down and Demolish Capitalism at the Same Time

The original Leftist Thot and Young Turks commentator would love to make socialism look a little manlier — one bicep curl at a time

In collaboration with Junior High, a not-for-profit in L.A. dedicated to creating space for marginalized voices in the arts, MEL has produced a special print issue focused on contemporary masculinity. For the Men’s Issues Issue, six men from the L.A. area picked someone close to them to conduct an original interview about what it means to be a man today. In these conversations, which will run on MEL throughout the week, they talk about how societal expectations impact them and their work and what they think the best path forward is for men. Next up — journalist and activist Hasan Piker, interviewed by Dave Macklovitch, aka Dave 1, one half of the Grammy-nominated electrofunk duo Chromeo

To purchase a copy of the print issue — as well as a tote and pin — please click here.

You might know Hasan Piker as either a staple of political Twitter, where he’s a well-known Leftist Thot, or as a political commentator on YouTube’s biggest news channel, The Young Turks. If you can’t get enough of his Instagram or Twitter (you can’t), check out his nearly constant — and extremely popular — Twitch stream, which he hopes, in addition to funding his gaming addiction and earning his father’s respect, will inspire Americans to go full socialism. 

For people who aren’t aware of you, you can come off like a hyper-masculine cis bro, right? That’s the elephant in the room. Yet your politics are sort of the opposite of that, or the opposite of what that connotes. I want to know if you’re aware of that contrast. I think you cultivate it. I think you play into it. I think it plays to your advantage.
You’re absolutely correct. I’m aware of my hyper-masculine bro-like personality. It’s not even cultivated — it’s just who I am. Human beings are very complex. My worldview has been shaped by my experiences as a cisgender, heterosexual man growing up in Turkey and America. 

Sometimes I’ll engage in language that showcases my privilege, or my humor definitely shows that I come from a point of privilege. I acknowledge all of that. I think that it’s a constant journey and struggle to work against that as best as possible, but that’s what gives me a tremendous advantage. Of course I have a lot of privilege. I’m white-passing. I’m conventionally attractive by Western and heteronormative standards.

This also means people listen to what I have to say. That sucks for people who don’t conform, and we must do everything we can to shatter rigid structures that were created before us. While I work toward that, I try to use my privilege for good. I try to do my best to understand the struggle that marginalized communities go through and try to voice their concerns as best as I possibly can. 

I have a Discord full of complex individuals from different ethnic backgrounds, different sexualities, different religious beliefs, and most of them are on the left. Some of them are more leftist than others. I try to be open-minded to every single person.

Honestly, one of the biggest struggles is bringing newcomers into that community. That’s a huge part of community building, obviously. But in order to be able to welcome new people into your movement, you have to understand that not everyone was born as woke as we are, and that we weren’t even that woke when we were younger. It takes time.

Photography by Carly Palmour

I agree. I think “woke-ness” is acquired and developed; it’s also something that’s dynamic. It’s ever-changing. Somewhat along those lines, you and I are both part of ethnic communities.
Yeah. My goal is always to build an intersectional movement. I believe that intersectionality has to feature class as the foundation. I think that people who talk about intersectionality in academic circles also believe this. Unfortunately, that concept has been bastardized and commodified by the media, which is an institution that reinforces our hegemonic capitalist structure. Intersectionality with class is the glue that ties us together. It’s how we’re able to show a working-class white American who is living in a dire condition in a state like West Virginia, that they shouldn’t be without health care, they shouldn’t have to wait in line once every five months for dental care, they shouldn’t exist as if they live in a developing nation in the middle of the wealthiest nation on Earth. But they do because of the oppressive economic organization that we all exist under.

I absolutely believe the same. And maybe it’s optimistic, but it’s sort of the bedrock of our belief system. I want, though, to go back to the masculinity thing. The right has long celebrated a figure of hyper-masculinity, hyper-virility. We don’t see that culturally on the left as much. Are you trying to create the persona of the hyper-masculine socialist?

Are there others? Are there other Speedo-wearing, vaping, spring-breaking frat socialists out there?
Yeah, there are. I mean, this is just a hobby. I enjoy doing these things. I’ve always enjoyed organized sports, competing with people in a physical capacity. I enjoy working out. I think a lot of people, including Donald Trump, try to create a persona for themselves that’s hyper-masculine when in fact they aren’t. And I think authentic masculinity that isn’t toxic, just like traditional femininity, comes from within. And it’s not something that you’re supposed to heighten on purpose, or lean into. 

Photography by Carly Palmour

But with Donald Trump, it’s performative. He’s not a traditionally masculine figure. As a matter of fact, he’s very sassy. Qualities that you’d never really associate with traditional masculinity are present within Donald Trump. Men like him are making up for a personal insecurity they might have. I think a lot of people on the right do this. So what I try to show people — and this pertains to both the left and the right — is that you can be confident in your masculinity. That’s healthier overall than not being confident in your masculinity and trying to make up for your personal insecurities by overcompensating.

We have the luxury to afford to say, “Hey, this isn’t a binary.”
Yeah. And maybe this is problematic for me to say, but I do feel — and I hope people don’t think that this is being paternalistic or white savior complex-y — as someone with that privilege, I have a responsibility to do my best. To do everything I can to undo oppressive structures, oppressive constructs, and utilize my privilege for what I believe is good, to fight for progress, to get reactionary people to pay attention to what I have to say and then sway them in a different direction. 

How do you articulate your socialism with your feminism?
Feminism that doesn’t root itself in uplifting women of the working class cannot be true to the egalitarian principles at the foundation of a feminist ideal. A problem that you see in contemporary feminism, and it’s not monolithic of course, but contemporary feminism loses sight of the intersectionality that has class as its foundation. And I call this shallow liberal feminism — or shallow liberalism. Some other people like to call it white feminism. 

Photography by Carly Palmour

There are also different elements within that. There are different kinds of movements within the feminist umbrella that are reactionary like TERFs, trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or SWERFs, sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists. But even beyond that, most of the contemporary feminism that we see — that doesn’t find its roots within a Marxist construct — oftentimes misses the mark entirely on what feminism is supposed to accomplish. And we’re two masculine dudes talking about this, so obviously it’s going to be frustrating for some people to hear.

Let’s just privilege-check ourselves a bit.
Listen, they can check me on this all day. But I come with the receipts. And the people that have taught me this are socialist feminists themselves. So I’m not making this up as I go along. This is Angela Davis; this is her perspective. And this is perfectly represented, for example, in Nike ads that play all across the Western hemisphere, specifically in countries that have ransacked the developing world and have benefited tremendously from imperialism, colonization and slavery. These ads that run for Nike in countries like the U.S. showcase powerful women, powerful athletes. And these women absolutely have tremendous accomplishments and they’re genuinely fighting the good fight in their own way. But the commodification of that activism…

There’s a massive capitalistic exploitative juggernaut behind all of it.
And what’s backing that, though? Nike can play these ads about women in hijabs and how Serena Williams is incredible — and they are incredible and what they’re doing is incredible — but the way that they do this is still at the expense of exploited labor in the developing world inside of sweatshops where it’s predominantly women working in dire conditions. Nike wouldn’t be able to reach its profit margin without relying heavily on developing world exploitation. So that’s the frustrating reality and the inherent contradiction in shallow liberal feminism. On the one hand, you’re showcasing representation and women in positions of power. But the entire machine is fueled by women that are being oppressed.

Changing subjects, a moment of honesty. Since #MeToo, has your behavior changed personally, and if so, how? Because I think it’s safe to say that mine has in my conversations and in my public stances as an artist, but also in my private life.
It definitely has. One of the things that I’ve said consistently throughout the beginning of the #MeToo movement and all the way until now, is that sexuality is very complicated. Gender is very complicated. And even within the socially taught heteronormative understanding of the sexual binary — which doesn’t exist and is falling apart at this point — it’s really difficult to figure out the realm of acceptability. Now people will say, “Oh, come on, consent,” like it’s that easy. It’s not. It’s not that easy, because there are still always going to be gray areas. That’s an ongoing conversation that needs to be had.

Photography by Carly Palmour

And, of course, I’m on the side of women. I’ve definitely changed the ways that I talk to both women and men, explicitly because I don’t want to confuse anyone. I don’t want to ever be in a gray area. I want to minimize that gray area as best as possible. One, in an effort of self-preservation, certainly. I’ll admit that’s the real side of things. But more importantly than that, in an effort to make sure I minimize harm, because there’s always going to be harm in relationships. Relationships are complicated.

I want to make sure that this interview doesn’t come off as sanctimonious and overly confident. This is ever-evolving, ever-changing. As men, as white-passing, cis, heterosexual men, we have a lot to learn. And I think we’re faced with new challenges, and I think there’s a lot of progress for us to make in our private interactions, in our private relationships and also in the acknowledging of our privilege in certain spaces. Would you agree with that?
I do, and it’s an ongoing dynamic, which is precisely why I try to be as understanding and as welcoming as possible to people who are receptive to that change. That’s at the heart of what I believe in. And that’s how I try to build a community. I’m a little bit more open-minded to people’s privilege blind spots. And intersectionality needs that understanding, I think. Otherwise, your movement is going to shrink into smaller and smaller fractions until it’s just two people fighting about whatever sectarian differences they have that they consider to be a grave offense. When, in fact, the much larger problem at hand is structural and needs to be dealt with through solidarity. This extends to every aspect of our lives, and every aspect of our lives can be improved. It certainly extends to dating and masculinity and femininity and sexuality and gender constructs, as well. So, yeah, I’ve grown up a lot.