The Emotional Landmines of a ‘Hot Take’ Article

image source: Pixabay
image source: Pixabay

Editor’s Note: The writers of the Patheos Muslim Channel recently opened up about their feelings on the hot take, a quick response to a current event, political debate or issues of the moment. The following response comes from columnist Nakia Jackson.

I love a hot take. When I read about a newsworthy or controversial situation, I appreciate the pithy commentary that sums up my own first impressions, or the witty counterpoint that I hadn’t even considered when I’m three-quarters into my first cup of coffee for the day.

Hot takes can sharpen the public focus on complex or obscure issues. A seemingly innocuous remark that somehow ruffled feathers across the globe can take years of experience to grasp, or a hot take can sum up the generations of tensions and conflicts that lay behind it. Hot takes don’t always get it right, but for a quick rundown of the most salient aspects of an issue or event, they’re excellent.

And, I do not ever plan to write one.

Controversial issues or events unfold in ways that make it very unlikely for me to write or offer a hot take. Hot takes emerge when an event happens, or someone makes a remark that sparks strong emotions and heated debate. That can’t happen in a vacuum.

There’s always a deeply nuanced history behind these kinds of controversies, and without knowing that history, I can’t know where the emotional landmines are. People who write hot takes sometimes know this history, but just as often, they miss crucial aspects that turn their Twitter mentions into a place where angels fear to tread.

My email inbox is enough of a mess without a flood of angry corrections, objections or worse.

In the aftermath of an event or remark, you’ll often see pieces that illustrate the historical and cultural context behind the controversy. These will often include remarks made by the people or groups involved in the controversy, their previous associations, and historical events that helped shape the situation. As the pieces come together, what seemed to be a benign remark can take on harsher tones, and the responses that sounded unreasonable initially make much more sense.

For those of us who aren’t directly involved or affected, it’s a job to keep up with the flow of information, let alone attempt to contextualize it. Getting fragments of a story in real time has its uses, but grabbing the first few bits and crafting a nuanced and well-reasoned stance based on them is a serious challenge.

I was an adult before the age of social media. I was in high school the day of the Oklahoma City bombing and in college on 9/11. I recall not only the uncertainty of not knowing from whence these attacks came, but also the error-prone speculation of the experts. Lots of experts use and encourage caution, but when faced with an unusual event, even the best of us can stumble.

This is complicated by having a public that can only get snippets of a discussion filled with debate and rumors. I’m not sure if the rumors are necessarily worse than someone in a position of authority calmly stating things that turn out to not be true. Hot takes that turn out to be wrong can do more damage when they’re delivered by a person perceived to be an authority, despite attempts to withdraw statements and control damage. Nobody will mistake me for an authority on anything, but I strive to not submit anything I must retract later.

But even when they’re wrong, hot takes can still serve an excellent purpose. I grew up in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, i.e. after Watergate, WWII, or any other event that kids assume I must have witnessed personally. I’ve become quite fond of a podcast on Watergate that follows aspects of the scandal in present tense — that is, they try to convey the uncertainty and novelty of an unfolding crisis, rather than presenting the events as unchangeable destiny.

You aren’t given the sense that right must prevail, that corruption will certainly be unveiled. You see the investigation as many see ongoing investigations right now. You don’t know who’s correct, let alone who will win. You follow the stories that are no longer considered central to the scandal, but at the time, looked as though they might be the undoing of powerful men. Listening gives you the sense of having stepped back 40 years in time.

Hot takes serve as an emotional and intellectual time capsule for the events they cover. They can be done within mere minutes of the start of a controversy, and their lack of context is a type of context. They can capture the prevailing initial public reaction or a minority view. Because they are done so quickly, first impressions shape them and are shaped by them.

In retrospect (which can happen as little as a day later), they show us the process of reacting to controversies, rather than giving us a sober, neat synopsis of events that didn’t look sober or neat when they were happening.

Hot takes can also come from people we’re not used to listening to. As an event unfolds, traditional news media can be slow to report, let alone comment. People who are near the center of a controversy or event can be the best resource for providing context, and they are usually not the experts we’re used to seeing on news commentary shows. While they don’t always have the polished vocabularies and credentials we expect, the authenticity and experience they bring are invaluable. Anybody looking to understand an issue needs access to the perspectives that these sorts of hot takes provide.

I’d describe my approach as a leftover take. I like to take note of my initial reactions, then look for context and consider other responses. I don’t dismiss my initial reaction. It has its own validity. But I like that reaction better when deepened and mellowed by additional information, and the time to reflect on what my initial reaction represents.

Takes are wonderful when hot and fresh, but the next day, when emotions and reasoning processes have melded, they form something you can enjoy for much longer.

Besides, anybody with a pile of laundry as large as the one in my house has no business trying to stay on top of anything else.

Nakia Jackson is a mom, musician and writer. From her first (terrible) story at age six to the ad copy and background music she sells to keep the family in yarn and Cheerios, creating has been her life’s breath. When not creating, Nakia enjoys family excursions designed to show the world that normal is merely a setting on the washing machine. Her column, Another Kind of Voice, is published in the last week of every month.

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