Taking down hot takes: The demise of discourse for views and clicks

Aliya Klein

The definition of a hot take: “deliberately provocative commentary that is based almost entirely on shallow moralizing.” Hot takes are captivating to listen to and inspire memes like, “how could you say something so controversial yet so brave?” We always want to hear about things we can dispute, or be outraged about, or be impressed by and we often don’t stop to think about the intent and reasoning behind why these hot takes are actually so problematic and superficial. 

Even just breaking it down to the origin of the hot take makes it obvious that the concept is shrouded in bad intentions. The people and media outlets behind hot takes know they’re hot takes and are entirely prepared for people to hate them. It’s like having a little sibling who always wants to spend time with you, and when you don’t give them attention they start intentionally annoying you, so that at the very least, they receive some kind of attention (read: negative attention) from you. They want to be looked at, scoffed at, yelled at because at least they’re being acknowledged. This desire extends beyond that of just children. The media want page views. Outrage. Attention. Limited attention spans and lack of time causes the spawning of extreme opinions because everyone is competing for space in the collective consciousness of viewers and listeners — there is no one that doesn’t want to be heard and they’ll do anything for it.

On an institutional level, publishing companies pretty much incentivize journalists to scrape together some kind of hot take for their publications because these kinds of narratives don’t require a lot of research or evidence to garner incredible amounts of monetizable attention. It’s such an easy way to draw people away from real information and drag them towards the “controversy of the day.” It doesn’t even need to be anything controversial. There is unfortunately no limit to how outrageous you could make an opinion for people to not be interested in learning at least a little bit more about it. But it’s not just a media problem of hot takes. We as media consumers seek them out insatiably and provide them for essentially the exact same reasons. 

We are always trying to perform who we are, especially online. Communicating beliefs and identities is already difficult in an in-person context, but when it comes to portraying oneself in a matter of a few words there are one of two things that can happen. Either we pick a very extreme thing to say to establish ourselves as being unwaveringly on one side of a conflict, or we say absolutely nothing and feel incredibly trapped in our own beliefs because all around us are people choosing to talk about only the extremes. Only the hot takes. So many hot takes, in fact, that it starts feeling like the norm, and that you’re the one that’s wrong. 

It’s not an open dialogue anymore; it’s an easy way out. Not much thought really has to go into angering people, and not much actual evidence has to go into an argument that is only really meant to initially grab people’s attention. What good have hot takes done? At a point, it may have been that the intention was to encourage conversations about controversial topics no one felt comfortable voicing their opinions about and making and building connections, but it is certainly not that now. Hot takes are mainly produced for the sake of politicizing everything, drowning out the other side and effectively making people afraid to be intellectually curious. 

Of course, I would be remiss to end this “rant” by not pointing out the irony of this. I, in fact, am presenting a hot take even by just writing this op-ed on hot takes. Hot takes are characterized as being favored when writers are under a time crunch and have little ability to conduct thorough research and thought, and to be fair, that is exactly what I just did. That said, maybe this is worth the page view.

Aliya Klein ’22 is from Potomac, Md.