In my time in the United States as a Graduate student, I became familiar with a style of American sports analysis that was called the ‘hot take’. A hot take was essentially a viewpoint idiosyncratic to a pundit or a talking head on the panoply of channels on talk radio or on television in programs like ESPN’s ‘Around The Horn’ which used to usually idly play in the background during most afternoons I was home. The ‘experts’ on these programs would talk about players, teams and coaches discussing endlessly what they thought of their latest performance or failure. Some segments specifically put the pundits in the spot to express his or her viewpoint one way or another, often right after something has happened – say a fancied team lost a playoff game – giving them no time or chance to reasonably and critically analyze the event.
The hot take is a much derided style among those who care about things like facts, data, objectivity and sanity. After India’s semifinal loss to eventual champions Australia at the World Cup last week, the hot take syndrome hit right home when one of the major Indian cable news channels, Times Now, (owned by the same group who owns The
Typo Times Of India) started viciously crticizing the team in general and captain M S Dhoni on particular for the defeat and branded their bit of analysis, as is their wont with most stories they cover, with a banal and stupid Twitter hashtag. The hashtag #ShamedInSydney did not go down well with grieving fans coming to terms with a hard loss to a tough opponent.
An exit from a major tournament for a fairly talented team will always attract post mortem, some of the criticism will be justified, some just rants and hot takes. You don’t usually expect mainstream media to go the way of hot takes and that is the line Times Now crossed. Most of their criticism went ad hominem, attacking or example, Dhoni’s purported lack of emotion after the loss. But most hot takes work because they find some support among some segment of fans. In this case the uproar against the hot take was instantaneous and there was virtual consensus.
The casualty as usual was the idea of a measured and objective debate and critique of where India may have gone wrong in that game. This is a worrying trend, not because we need to eliminate armchair fans debating their team (it is one of the quirks of sport that keeps it so exciting and entertaining), but because it begins to erase the line between vendetta and critique. Lost in the hunt for TRPs, eyeballs and the need for instant incitement and ‘outrage’ is the art of actually having a debate.
I have been watching cricket for over 25 years now. Defeats still hurt. Wins still give me a heady high. I vent frustrations out at the television and social media often during games. And I am acutely aware of how they represent my failings from being an ideal cricket fan. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stand to see the same thing becoming institutionalized. I stopped watching the news almost 15 years back. Maybe you should too.