There are a lot of unwritten rules in the world of media and journalism, but the most important one is that readers are fucking stupid. I didn’t make it up, I don’t believe it (necessarily), I’m just explaining to you how things work. That means that in order to get these rubes to choke down their news medicine like a haggard dog with tapeworm, you’ve got to wrap it in bacon or peanut butter and trick them into swallowing, even when it’s about something they’re interested in for some amazing reason, like who won the weekend’s box office receipts. The quickest and most effective way to do this is with an eye-catching headline. Headlines are like the face of the news story’s body, which, like most of the stupid faces you see floating around out there in the world, means you often want to smash them into a pulp. Maybe that’s just me?
Since headlines, by their very nature, are supposed to be short and punchy, somewhere along the way we decided that puns, and rhymes, and alliteration are the surest way to grab eyeballs. Why? Laziness, primarily. A deep-rooted hatred for the subject matter you’re covering, for another. Also most headline writers tend to be the least talented member on staff (at least traditionally at news dailies) and their name doesn’t go on the piece, so they don’t give a shit if they trot out one cliched pun after another. As someone who writes a lot about cocktails and bars, I can’t tell you how many dozens of times someone has destroyed my hard work on a story in one fell swoop by plopping a giant steaming turd like “So and So Raises the Bar” at the top. Because it’s a bar, you see?
Speaking of laziness, I wrote about this concept a while ago on my blog, but the lessons contained therein still apply. This type of thing is most common at tabloids, like the New York Post, one of the worst practitioners of reader condescension in the game. Here’s one classic trifecta of headline horror among many thousands they’ve sleuced out down the inky poop chute of obfuscation over the years. As I wrote then, here we have illogical, truncated alliteration: ‘Jets plan Plax play’; pointless rhyming that adds nothing to our understanding of the story: ‘Yanks weep as Sox sweep’, (the Yanks did not weep, we all know this); and the kicker, a serious story reduced to a goofy but recognizable cliche that adds nothing but the repetition of a common cliche that we’ve all heard of.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that headlines are shameful, they always have been, and they always will be. You might think that the proliferation of internet-driven content would have freed us of the shackles of idiot-pandering wordplay, but you’d be wrong. If anything, it’s gotten worse, as our attention spans have dwindled even further, and a glut of content has made it impossible for us to filter our preferred source of information. Also, and this can’t be stated enough, internet editors, particularly of the content churnalism stripe, are somehow, against all odds, even lazier and less engaged than their newspaper counterparts (except all of the ones I write for and are pitching at the moment). They literally do not bother thinking five seconds past the first obvious choice that comes to mind, because, well, obviously when you’re writing about bullshit, why bother?
Take, for instance, the news over the weekend about the success of the Disney film Wreck-It Ralph, which had a record-setting opening for an animated Disney film, bringing in $49.1 million. What might be a quick and illustrative way to convey this information to readers who are likely scanning headlines through a Twitter feed you might say to yourself if you are a headline writing person at work not wanting to work but working there still all the same? By poking readers in the pleasure center of their brain-clits with a giant dildo of cliche, do you suppose?
Consider, if you will, this headline from Zimbio: Movie Roundup: ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ Smashes All Comers
Or this one, Examiner.com: ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ smashes Disney record; ‘Flight’ soars with $25 million
Would the undoubtedly smart reporters at the Wall Street Journal break the mold? They would not: ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ Smashes Way to Top of Box Office – WSJ.com
The LA Times at least had the decency to bury the word play all the way in the opening sentence.
How about Moveline? Nope. Fuck you, they said to their readers. ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ Smashes The Box Office; ‘Flight’ Soars – Movieline
What is Flick Daily? I don’t know, but they don’t put much thought into their headlines ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ smashes record with $49 mil Neither does IMDB.com ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ Smashes Weekend Box Office; or Empire Online New Wreck-It Ralph Trailer Smashes In | Movie News | Empire; or Scholastic.com Wreck-It Ralph Smashes Into Theaters! | News For Kids, By Kids ; or Mom Start, whatever the hell that is, WRECK-IT RALPH Smashes into Theaters Everywhere on – MomStart.
Showing a surprising lack of self awareness, the good folks at a site called Mediocrity is the New Genius chime in with this zinger as well: “Wreck-it Ralph” Successfully Smashes into Theaters
Comic Book Movie: BOX OFFICE: WRECK-IT RALPH Looks Set To Smash Its Way To #1 …
Rotten Tomatoes: Wreck-It Ralph Has Smashing Premiere in this Video
ET Online changed things up a bit: ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ Crushes the Weekend Box Office | ETonline.com
The Digital Journal: Review: ‘Wreck-it Ralph‘ smashes the competition
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s headline on Bullett which will probably read something like: Angry Content Producer Smashes His Own Fucking Head In A Car Door.