Monday, April 20, 2009

Headline Art

By Stanley Fish
The New York Times

Ever since my first book, “John Skelton’s Poetry,” was misclassified by Books in Print as an edition, I have tried to come up with titles that announced (sometimes in words that were too clever by half) that the content between the covers was original and even outlandish. I think I got pretty good at it — “There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech and It’s a Good Thing Too,” “Self-Consuming Artifacts,” “Professional Correctness,” “Is There a Text in This Class?” — but I can’t hold a candle to the headline writers of the New York Post. I am not thinking only about the famously attention-grabbing headlines like “Headless Body in Topless Bar” (the title of a compilation put into book form by Post staffers), but of headlines that demand interpretive work of a kind usually associated with modern poetry.

In some cases it’s just the work of unpacking the surface of a pun, as when a story about the actor Robert Downey’s platform shoes was headlined “Downey is well heeled” (April 8), or when the catcalls that greeted Astor heir Anthony Marshall’s appearance in court were described as a “Jury of his jeers” (April 3). It is easy to understand after a moment of reflection that “well heeled” is usually a reference to wealth and that the word we are presumed to hear in the background of the second headline is “peers.” (The intention would seem to be to contrast the faux-aristocratic Marshall with his down-to-earth detractors.) [Click for MORE]

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