One of the perks of living in New York City is that every once in a while you get to see the masters of the daily tabloid headline science go hed-to-hed. (I probably don’t need to say this but “hed” is ink-stained newspaper and magazine shorthand for headline).
I know it’s not a matter of world-shaking significance, but I did have a feeling of anticipation picking up the papers at my local bodega yesterday morning to see how the New York Daily News and the New York Post would handle the late breaking mystifying O.J. arrest.
What I discovered was a true challenge for the connoisseur of the headline art. The News gave us:
IN THE CAN
While the Post went with:
Who won? How to judge? The News went with the more literal version. “in the can” meaning obviously in jail. Although it must be pointed out there’s a troubling additional connotation to “IN THE CAN” which unfortunately calls up associations with the Larry Craig story.
The News probably wanted to get the punning conflation of canned orange juice and “the Juice” in jail. But it’s slightly off: in addition to the Larry Craig connotation creeping in, the fact is orange juice rarely comes in a can, so the equation doesn’t exactly work. It doesn’t really call up an instantly familiar punning joke since OJ usually comes in a carton unless it’s the increasingly rare frozen o.j.
. (Hey, what about:
wouldn’t that be an improvement? Hire me!)
On the other hand consider the Post‘s choice. Their hed “O.J. IN A CAN” reads more mellifluously, but it’s slightly a cheat because while you get the orange juice container connotation immediately, you lose just the slightest instant recognition of CAN as jail. A small but noticeable sacrifice. Each paper found the canned O.J. trope irresistible yet fell slightly short of the potential for tab hed perfection.
The gold, no, platinum standard was set a quarter-century ago by the Post‘s infamous
IN TOPLESS BAR
I know: you probably don’t think close exegesis of tabloid headlines is a worthy occupation. But I would point out the subtle insinuation of the ancient philosophical question known as “the mind/body problem” in the HEADLESS/TOPLESS hed. I don’t think tabloid sensations should be disdained the way many look down their noses at them, but rather, studied for what they reveal about the nature of human nature, both the perps and their readers.
And as author of %%AMAZON=037550339 The Shakespeare Wars%%, I believe in the close reading of all language including popular demotic headline- speak attunes us to the evolution of the way we use and think about the ambiguities of words.
I’m going to go out now and get today’s papers–and some OJ–and I’ll let you know if they’ve topped themselves.