Please Stop Calling Jews ‘Hot Rodents’

Comparing Timothée Chalamet or Josh O'Connor (who has Jewish ancestry) to rats invokes antisemitism, intentionally or not.

Before it was Brat summer, it was Rat summer. More specifically, Hot Rodent Summer. And I hated it.

Following the release of “Challengers,” starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, people online couldn’t stop comparing the two leading men to rats and mice. It started out wholesomely. O’Connor seems to have a genuine love of the Pixar movie “Ratatouille” and speaks about it frequently in interviews. On Twitter, a few users saw red carpet photos of O’Connor looking a bit scruffy and awkward and wrote in now-viral tweets, “He looks like a mouse who was granted a wish to be human for a day in the most complimentary way possible” and “he looks like a very kindhearted mouse who got turned into a prince.”

It was from there that people online started pointing out that, in their estimation, O’Connor looked like Remy the Rat or Roddy St. James (from “Flushed Away”) and Faist looked like Stuart Little. And thus the term “hot rodent boyfriend” and “sexy rat men” were born. Online users started identifying which celebrities they thought were “hot rodent boyfriends” and news outlets like The Today Show, USA Today, The Guardian and more turned the online trend into the mainstream, recognizable vernacular of “Hot Rodent Summer.”

So why do I hate Hot Rodent Summer? Because when people talk about “hot rodent boyfriends” or “sexy rat men” a non-zero amount of the people they’re talking about are Jews. And I need it to stop.

On a simpler plane, it’s just weird and rude to say anyone — let alone oft-cited “hot rodent boyfriends” Faist, Jeremy Allen White, Barry Keoghan and Matty Healy — looks like a rat. But when someone compares Timothée Chalamet, Josh O’Connor (who does not seem to identify as a Jew, but has Jewish ancestry), Logan Lerman, Jack Schlossberg, Joey King and Julia Garner to rats and mice, they are invoking some deep-seated vitriolic antisemitic history.

Conflating Jewishness and ugliness has a history going back to medieval times. “As laid out by Debra Higgs Strickland in ‘Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art,’ by the 12th century, the stereotypical Jewish ‘look’ was established,” I wrote for Hey Alma in 2023. “In primarily woodcuts and drawings, Jews were often portrayed as having an oversized and crooked nose and either appeared to be demon-like or consorting with the devil himself. This was done with the aim of making Jews easily identifiable as well as seeming as ugly, grotesque, subhuman and evil so Christians would not want to associate with them.”

Hitler and the Nazis would also employ this tactic during the Holocaust, when they specifically referred to Jews as vermin, parasites, lice and, you guessed it, rats. “Der Ewige Juden” or “The Eternal Jew,” a propaganda film from 1940, “compares Jews to rats that carry contagion, flood the continent, and devour precious resources,” per the United States Holocaust Museum. Nazi cartoons also often depicted Jews as rats with long noses like this one from Austrian newspaper Das Kleine Blatt. They were often accompanied with captions like, “When the vermin are dead the German oak will flourish once more” (from popular propaganda sheet Der Stürmer). Or, put more simply on a poster from Nazi-occupied Denmark, “Rats, destroy them.”

There are absolutely people on the internet today who call Jews rats, vermin and parasites to purposefully be antisemitic. I don’t think people having a hot rodent summer are among them. Even so, comparing Jews to rodents is inextricably tied to Nazism, regardless of intent.

But why stop there? Comparing Jews’ features to any animal is probably not the move. In May 2023, a Twitter user said, “men are either eagle handsome, bear handsome, dog handsome, or reptilian handsome.” They used Timothée Chalamet as the example for reptilian. Before you ask, yes, the Nazis also compared Jews to reptiles like snakes and there’s a modern day conspiracy theory about Jews being shape-shifting lizards. (“Perhaps, in retrospect, Timmy Chalamet is actually more weasel-like than lizard-like too,” a writer at Dazed wrote and an editor had absolutely no problem publishing.) Again, I don’t think anyone is intending harm. But no matter how you slice it, the line between “This Jew is not a human and hot” and “This Jew is not a human” is simply too thin.

Unfortunately, as the latter example illustrates, I see “Hot Rodent Summer” as a part of a larger trend where people online are judging appearances, of celebrities and themselves, in a way that has white supremacist undertones. In the case of “Hot Rodent Summer,” most of the other “hot rodent boyfriends” are men who come from a non-WASP background. Barry Keoghan is Irish, and Matty Healy also has Irish heritage. Jeremy Allen White has Ukrainian ancestry. When you look at male celebrities who the internet deems as “ugly hot” or “unconventionally attractive” or are generally perplexed by, they’re not WASPs either. They’re usually Jewish, Italian or Greek. And don’t even get me started on this BuzzFeed Quiz which asks you categorize female celebrities like Zendaya, Olivia Rodrigo, Jenna Ortega and Bella Hadid as “Cat Pretty,” “Bunny Pretty,” “Fox Pretty” or “Deer Pretty.”

In combination with TikTok trends like determining whether or not you have “facial harmony,” it feels like every other day the internet is serving us repackaged phrenology and eugenics with a cutesy, pop culture twist. It’s not a novel observation. Jewish culture writer Jason Diamond said as much about “Hot Rodent Summer” in his June 17, 2024 newsletter. And people on Twitter and TikTok have called out the way we talk about and classify each other’s features. But this maddening phenomenon keeps happening. So I guess it bears repeating: Think before you talk about the way someone looks. Educate yourself on the history of white supremacy and racism and how they operate.

And dear God, stop calling Jews hot rodents.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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