by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
October 1, 2003
YOUR HEAD HERE
SEATTLE, Wash.--When King Edward VIII finally decided that he would abdicate, that he would rather be married to the divorced American woman than enthroned in single blessedness, and that Duke of Windsor was not such a bad title after all, the Times of London did not announce this to its readers with this headline: King to Cabinet: I'm Outta Here.
This column is about headlines and what has happened to them. What has happened is what I suggest with my invented example.
But first, to ward off letters, let me say that Ink Soup is hardly blameless in this matter. For Whom the Cell Tolls? Or The Unnatural Becomes the Pitcher in the Wry? I don't apologize for these beauts, especially since I no longer know whose they are, mine or my editor's. But Ink Soup is gleefully on the fringe of journalism, if there. You don't read me to find out whether Bush has resigned (Dubya Quits), much as I might wish you did.
What has happened to headlines can best be conveyed by some actual examples. These are all genuine, though I omit the papers' names to save space.
When the FCC decided that the "shock jock" Howard Stern was a journalist, one genuine journalist came up with: Stern Is Ruled a Newsman...Puhleez. The following comes from the weekly food section of a paper: Eeewww,
What's That in the Apples?
No one who has been around and conscious for the last fifty years would have the least trouble reading those two headlines with the proper intonations- exasperation in the first and disgust in the second. Not every reader would immediately see the point of this: But Who Says the Heights Have to, Like, Wuther? (And even those who know Emily Bronte's famous novel would have trouble looking up the dialect verb "wuther," which means "to be stormy.")
The reader would have to be slightly better educated to appreciate (if that is the word) such headlines as: Look Back in Ingres or Swinging Bachelor's Peril: Beware of Geek Bearing Kid.
If you know that the French painter's name is a close rhyme for "anger," and that an English play was entitled "Look Back in Anger," the first works for you. It takes a little more learning to hear beneath the feeble pun of the second a version of Virgil's line Timeo Danos et dona ferentes, or "I fear the Greeks even when they come bearing gifts."
But to understand most of the headlines that I have in mind, all you need is a tolerance for bad puns and low colloquialism:
In Texas Fight, One Democrat Finally Blinks.
Summer of Sun? We Wuz Robbed.
The Yuan and Only.
How a State Can Go From Bad to Flux.
Eat Globally, Dine Locally.
Hey, Doll, You Ought to be in Picture Windows.
But enough. If self-conscious and self-admiring cuteness is your cup of tea, you'll like this trend: "True Modesty is Something all Academics can be Proud of. Oops!" Isn't that adorable?
What is the future to be? Once you get the hang of it, making up a cute head for the obituaries is not difficult: Who's Dead as, uh, Doornails?
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.