If your reading habits are marked more by page clicks than page turns these days, chances are you’ve come across a “hot take” — or 20.
After a recent contretemps over BuzzFeed’s shaky definition of the hot take, it’s arguably become the favorite, much-maligned bane of modern, self-proclaimed “smart journalists” everywhere.
In case you’re still reading books (pfft!) and haven’t encountered the fairly recent phenomenon, according to that most august of reference guides, Urban Dictionary:
“Hot take: An opinion based on simplistic moralizing rather than actual thought. Not to be confused with a strong take.”
(Wondering what “actual thought” looks like? You’ll have to ask “Penis Armada,” the scribe behind that post.)
At any rate, I must warn you that I haven’t spent too much time studying the evolution of the hot take, which probably makes what you are about to read a hot take because, “writing incisive analysis requires time to process, reflect and refine one’s arguments.” That, incidentally, is according to Alex Pareene, a writer at Gawker, where the tagline is, er, “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.”
In addition to failing to take the requisite time to process, reflect and refine my take on the hot take, you should also know I didn’t source this column at all. Which to the cultural left’s arbiter of all things that matter, David Sirota, makes this unfit for publication:
All of this pretentious fingerwagging at the hot take just makes me want to defend it out of a sheer desire to antagonize the media’s self-appointed ruling class, a desire that, not surprisingly, definitely makes this a hot take for The Washington Post’s Philip Bump: “It’s not necessarily intentionally contrarian, but it is written in such a way that you can tell it’s a bit of a troll.”
My willingness to mess with Bump, et al., aside, there are fairly obvious, substantive defenses of the hot take, too.
For one, long-form journalism is an invaluable and rapidly diminishing practice, but there’s nothing wrong with opinion that is controversial or offered quickly (unless of course you disagree with it).
Overwrought analysis is not required to make opinion valid or compelling, and emotional, uncomplicated points of view are often more interesting for their simplicity. Nuance for nuance sake is indulgent and distracting. As Strunk and White put it in “The Elements of Style,” “Vigorous writing is concise.”
Opinion writing can also exist as a mere conversation starter. A hot take is a jumping-off point for debate to begin. Writers who think otherwise — that opinion writing should be so thoroughly constructed and architecturally fortified that columns are essentially conversation enders — probably think a little too highly of their own wordsmithing ability to #changetheworld.
It also seems like the handwringing over hot takes stems from a decidedly retrograde and slightly paranoid attitude about where media is today.
The desperate desire to limit the number of opinion makers by setting arbitrary and cartoonishly elitist rules recalls a bygone era, when real estate in newspapers and magazines was scarce and column space awarded to the privileged few.
In 2012, even the usually sanguine New York Times magazine writer Mark Leibovich, once called a “modern-day Balzac,” lamented, “So many people are giving us their ‘take’ on this … We are a nation drowning in ‘takes!’ “
Why is this bad? The Internet democratized news production and consumption, which is only troubling if you’re a fan of Pravda.
Judging opinion writing, of which there is admittedly an abundance, by how long the author waited to publish it, or how many sources he called, or how tempered her opinion, is the meaningless busywork of a pseudo-academy afraid it will be penetrated and usurped by the knuckle-dragging barbarians at the gate.
The disdain for hot takes is a disdain for the petit bourgeois. To these thoroughly common peasants subsisting only on hot takes, the modern-day media-elites scoff and say, “Let them eat cake.”
Hot takes aren’t a threat to journalism. But journalists who think theirs are the only opinions that should count are. And to them, I’d like to quote one of the greatest writers of all time, G.K. Chesterton: “What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.”
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