Cold Takes: A Sort of Manifesto
I am over the hot take.
Fireworks in the night sky.
I am over the hot take. I have been over it, maybe since I first heard the term, but I have now reached a point of no return.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve read one, or ten, a hundred or even a thousand.
A hot take is a type of take that offers a quick and messy view of an event, a moment, or a person. It’s a take that moralizes with little reporting or nuance. It’s an opinion, often paraded around as news or that pretends to be analysis.
It’s a take so hot that it scorches the brain with ineptitude and shallowness while giving us easy to bandy about evidence that shores up our own opinions. It’s a take that often confirms our own view of the world. Or it doesn’t, so we discard it quickly and look for the next take.
In our saturated 24/7 media culture, hot takes dominate and overwhelm. Magazines and newspapers seek to have the first piece up about whatever is happening right now and the quickest opinion somehow emerges as necessary and important, when it is, perhaps, neither. Writers react and write rather than pause. Urgency replaces thoughtfulness.
Everyone wants to be the first one to say something, anything really, before the news cycle moves on.
And provocative and polarizing opinions prevail. Pundits stake their claims, no matter how cynical, silly, offensive, dangerous, or stupid. Everyone wants to be the first one to say something, anything really, before the news cycle moves on. (And it moves on so damn quickly.)
The story of the moment appears like a firework shooting up into the sky, bright and mesmerizing. It’s hard to take our eyes away from it. The hot take is the boom in its wake, which makes you clap your hands over your ears. And all those hot takes disappear just as suddenly as the firework’s flash and noise.
In the rush and the heat, I fear we all lose.
Yes, experts, journalists, and analysts can respond in fast, smart ways. Quick commentary does not always equal bad commentary, but it often is. Hot takes feel sloppy and contrived. (And even the label, “hot take,” appears too closely related to one of my favorite descriptors, “the hot mess”).
They lack the information we actually need as an event unfolds. They cling to tired narratives of how the world works. They plug stories into well-worn cliches whether the stories belong there or not. They offer judgment but are often light on facts. They never quite dig deep enough. They don’t question the rush, the urgency, but feed it. People clamor to have a say, but do we really want to listen? And days later, italicized corrections abound at the bottom of the page. Facts emerge as rumors. Apologies are issued. But, who’s paying attention by then?
Instead, I want something else. Something less like a firework that doesn’t leave me covering my eyes or shaking my head waiting for my hearing to recover. I want the cold take, the thoughtful, distanced view. A slower piece built upon context, history, reporting, and analysis. That builds the story however it needs to go, not the tired, expected path. That takes the time to dwell and think. That questions the narratives we prefer and searches for new, better ones. That seeks answers that aren’t easy or predictable. That avoids the cut-and-dried versions of life that hide the mess and contradiction to make everything seem simple, when life never really is.
I want the cold take, the thoughtful, distanced view.
I want my takes ice cold. Without easy moralizing. Without opinion pretending to be analysis. Without the frenetic rush. I want takes that weather time and not dissipate in a hour or a day. Takes that stand out from the ever-present noise of the internet. Takes that make us stand still for a moment. Takes that require a pause, so we can reflect and think and learn.
And, as a reader, I need takes that require me slow down to appreciate them and guide me through difficult topics in spite of their difficulty. I hope for takes that aren’t simply placeholders, but say something important that we must hear. They should show us something we didn’t already know or make us question what we assume is common knowledge. These takes shouldn’t shy away from ambiguity and nuance. Instead, they should reside in both. Maybe, even dwell in them. It might be too much to ask, but I also want them to be as lovely as they are true.
I prefer cold takes, and I hope you might too.
This essay was originally published at my site on October 1, 2015. I updated and revised it for 2018. Because, dude, 2018, should make us all stop and think about what the hot take is doing to us and what else we might need right now.