Tim Parks observes that “nothing prejudices the way a reader comes to a piece more than its headline”:
[T]here is a long tradition of giving a sharp alliterative, punning headline to a story that fuses the event itself with the paper’s angle on it. “The Royal Fail,” read a British headline a few days ago on the government’s privatization of the Royal Mail postal service. When papers push this technique to ironic extremes—usually on minor items—the headline becomes more interesting than the piece, a riddle that can only be solved by reading story: “All Kicks off as Hunk makes Flick of Chick being Sick,” is another in today’s Sun. It’s worth reading the British tabloid press if only for the crazy inventiveness of their headlines.
I was nursed like a media baby on Fleet Street headlines and puns. Back in the day – we’re talking late 1980s – Mike Kinsley used to bring me into his office when he wrote the headlines for the pieces in TNR. I regarded it as a high honor to have my Brit-brain picked for subversion, fun and pun. Sometimes, of course, the writers of the various pieces were not too happy with our larking about. Parks reflects on his time as a NYRblog contributor:
A piece on how my novel Cleaver was entirely transformed in the German film version Cliewer was originally titled, “How the Germans Annexed My Novel.” This sounded like war-talk to me. But unlike newspapers, the blog is sensitive to feedback and the title was quickly changed to “My Novel, Their Culture”—at once more effective and less potentially offensive.
Effectiveness is our only concern at the Dish:
The smaller pleasures are misnamed.
Update from a reader:
Don’t think I didn’t notice (and delight in) the Pet Shop Boys references in your TNR headlines back in the day.
Busted. For a while, I surreptitiously titled every Diarist I wrote with a PSB song-title. No one at the office had a clue. I always wondered if it was merely a mega-in-joke for me. Apparently not. Which just put a big grin on my face.