Introducing the ‘Headlines Game’

Something to make the news a little less depressing…

Before we start, I’m saying it up front. This is meant to be light-hearted and not to be taken seriously. So please don’t.

Many people find the news depressing, often to the point of giving up on it. Reading opinion pieces in particular, especially in this modern age of viciousness and bile, can be overwhelming. It’s understandable.

I read them a lot, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, but generally trying to get a breadth of opinion is, I find, good for me. I like to seek out those who I know will wind me up, simply to keep on top of the current arguments of my opponents. It is only by understanding the other side that you can fully understand yours. That in mind, the Guardian and the Telegraph are good places to start.

But I get it, it can get heavy. So I’ve been playing a game recently, just for my own entertainment, that you’re welcome to try.

You’ll have heard the term ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Well, a similar adage could be applied to articles and columns – ‘never judge a piece by its headline’. It’s often sensationalised and strips the nuance out of what the writer is trying to say, particularly with opinion pieces. So the game is as follows: just react instantly, and without much thought, to each headline, as though that’s the whole article. Be sarcastic, be funny, don’t be nuanced, go against your own beliefs even, but act like that’s the whole piece. I’ve taken the top Guardian opinion pieces as of this evening (even though I won’t post this until tomorrow midday) and done the same with the Telegraph. It should go without saying (but let’s be honest, this is the internet), that the reactions are not supposed to reflect your own views 100%, it’s just a bit of fun.

My results are below.



Killer cyclists? Let’s not forget the real threat on our roads

Let me guess? Straight white males, Guardian writer?

Steve Bell on Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit – cartoon

Not sure I want to see that in cartoon form…oh her ‘lawsuit’, my apologies.

Has the UK become a country that really doesn’t like children?

Nope. Next.

Jeremy Corbyn should offer pro-EU hope, not more fears about Brexit

HAHAHAHAHAHA. You put the terms ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘pro-EU’ in the same sentence. You still haven’t spotted it have you? Bless your little cottons.

We understand the solar system, so why do people still struggle with gender?

No we don’t, and these seem to be two quite different things, mate. Maybe you should deal with them separately?

The far right hates vaginas. Why doesn’t this anger the left more?

Does it really? Questionable. Maybe as much as the Left hates penises I suppose…

Feminists have slowly shifted power. There’s no going back


‘Elite’ is now a meaningless insult that’s used to silence criticism

You’re probably right. Bit like ‘fascist’ isn’t it? Or ‘racist’. Or ‘sexist’. Or ‘homophobe’. Or ‘transphobe’. Or ‘Islamophobe’ There’s loads isn’t there? Both sides can play this game if you want to.

How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy

Ooo do tell, I’d love to know.




Britain cant prove that Putin was behind the Skripal poisoning – but we must act nevertheless

Sounds like a plan, Fraser me old mate. Guilty until proven innocent, how very Soviet of you.

Why the TPP has allure for US and post-Brexit Britain

Does it though? We’re not even in the Pacific. We are in Europe though…

Ruling out greenbelt removes a key lever to resolving our housing crisis

Doubt people want to live at a music festival anyway.

Let’s not focus solely on the downsides of being female, but celebrate what women can bring to the table

Like the dinner? AM I RIGHT GUYS??? Oh come on, you served that to me on a plate…NO I DIDN’T MEAN…never mind.

Who wouldn’t want their grown-up children living with them again?

Me. Next.

Civilisations shows the Greeks were as image obsessed as we are – but should we judge them?

Yeh, sure. Why not?

Here’s what men need to do to tackle gender inequality and injustice

William Hague, you’re a straight white male and therefore disqualified from speaking, albeit helpfully, on the subject. Check your jolly privilege, sunshine. Gosh. Go cycling or something…

Labour reaps with Munroe Bergdorf what it sowed with Toby Young

Do we really want to play this game? Trawling our social media histories can’t end well for anybody.

There’s a storyline in the TV show ‘The Thick Of It” in which the main characters are subject to an independent inquiry on the subject of ‘leaking’. Leaking had become one of those practices that everyone did, everyone knew was going on and just got on with it. Whether it was a genuine scandal, or just the way the government worked, everybody knew that it wouldn’t look good with a full media glare shining on it, despite the fact that this was exactly how the media got their stories.

So when one of the parties (the party of government at the time) announces an inquiry in order to gain some political leverage, the whole thing looks like it’s going to collapse. Ollie, a special adviser almost crumbles at the news. “An inquiry into all of leaking – all of leaking! We are so…! We are so screwed.”

To which Alastair Campb…sorry, Malcolm Tucker replies, “He’s done it. That chinless horse-fiddler. Our f***lustrious PM has opened Pandora’s f***ing Box and curled a massive steamer right into it.”

Which is to say, well done mate. We’re all going down now. And if I am, I’ll be dragging you down with me.

Both parties are constantly trying to one-up each other, looking for any tiny crack in the armour to ram a sword into and prise power. But they both know there are some roads that they can never start down, because they know the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and take them all out.

It’s starting to feel like the modern day version of this is what the Spectator have started calling ‘The Digital Inquisition’. And Labour and the Left generally must be starting to regret opening this particular Pandora’s box and curling a…well, you get the gist.

Only recently, the journalist and director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young stepped down from a new advisory position that he taken up in the Office for Students following an unprecedented campaign against him that was based on a trawl of his social media history. It turned out that he had said some unpleasant and shocking things in the past, and this was brought into the full media spotlight for all to pick over.

He was jumped on – Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips, Owen Jones, all took chunks out of him and the government for this apparently unwise appointment. I saw plenty of it from my own friends and connections on social media. Petitions, campaigns and reposting of his old tweets were paraded around for all to sign, join and despise.

Now, I’m not (here, anyway) taking a position on this. You’re welcome to make your own mind up on whether Mr Young was an appropriate choice for this post. My point here is that this tactic is not something that will only hit one side of the political divide. This has been proven in the last week, as Labour found themselves caught in their own net.

The transgender model and campaigner Munroe Bergdorf had been appointed to the Labour party’s LGBT advisory board, but stepped down after a similar campaign showed some highly unpleasant comments that she had made in the past on social media.

I’ll be completely honest, in my opinion this person is a deeply unpleasant individual with some shocking, awful opinions. I’ve heard her speak where she can give as much context as she like to her views, and I find her to be ill-informed and spiteful. She is, as far as I’m concerned, an idiot.

What I don’t like, and will defend her as much as I will defend anyone on this point, is the stripping of context around something that someone has said and presenting it as the whole truth. This is something I will come back to in a future piece, but for now let’s just say that whenever you see a small quote, especially when used to attack or smear someone, ALWAYS look for the context around it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve read something, thought “well there’s no amount of context that could give that any credence”, only to click the link and find it more understandable. So please, when you read anything about what Munroe has said, read it in its full context. And do yourself a favour and do the same for Toby Young, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else you’ve taken a dislike to.

I really don’t want to play this game where any appointment is followed by a trawl of their history. We will have to get to the point where we’re going to have to see our past selves in the context in which they were said, and give each other a break. Can any of us really admit that we’d be happy for anyone to trawl back into our archives before we’d had a chance to do so ourselves?

It doesn’t help that everything we have ever said on social media is presented (if you search for it now) in the modern UI (user interface) – that is, whatever Twitter or Facebook looks like now. Imagine we could see a post from 2010 in the UI that 2010 Facebook had. It would already put it into its context effectively. Old photographs and videos are black and white – it gives them context immediately. If we could put them all into full HD colour, we’d subconsciously be applying our modern biases and culture to an age that didn’t have them.

If you want to do this, then fine, but it’s going to take us all down. I promise you, though, it isn’t a fight worth having, and it’s up to all of us to take responsibility as individuals to start giving people a break. This starts with your enemies. Because I can assure you, if you don’t apply the same rules to those on your side as you do to your enemies, you will be open to justifiable attack.

And you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Do people really still care about the Oscars?

Are they really choosing the ‘best’? How can we know? And who are ‘they’ anyway?

I’ll be totally honest up front – I’m not that much of a film buff. Sure, I like films. But I’ve always been more of a book and TV series person. I go to the cinema maybe once a year and rarely pay attention to the latest films. When they’ve been out for a while, then maybe I’ll watch them, but otherwise I don’t feel the need to queue up for the latest Star Wars or see Les Mis on opening weekend. That isn’t a judgement on those that do, I should point out, it’s purely a personal preference.

This does mean that watching any awards shows pertaining to film, such as the Oscars or the BAFTAs, would never really interest me. I wouldn’t know what was going on, I wouldn’t have a horse in the race and I can think of more interesting ways to spend an evening. Again, personal preference.

What I can’t understand is why those who genuinely do love films and really do have favourites and want to watch a contest between heavyweights winning properly big awards would still watch the Oscars. If that is what you want, the Oscars surely isn’t that anymore? It’s like people who like music and want to see a load of singers perform to see who is the best that year watching Eurovision – you realise that isn’t the basis of the contest, right?

Of course, Eurovision has long been seen, even by its most dedicated supporters, as just a big load of fun, a political and televisual pride parade. There may be some groaning and whingeing that the truly best performers aren’t being properly recognised, some may even feign ignorance as to why this could even happen. But they all know that Greece has only voted for Austria because German finance ministers have crushed their economy and they want to spite them in some way – and Eurovision is their democratic outlet. It’s completely transparent – we all know what’s going on, and so being upset that some Estonian metal/grunge band are higher than a Spanish singer who can actually hold a tune would be patently absurd.

But with the Oscars, they still try to pretend that it’s all about being the best. ‘Best Actor/Actress’, ‘Best Film’, ‘Best Soundtrack’. Have we not already realised that it’s nothing of the sort? It’s purely a night for political propaganda, virtue signalling, pointing out institutional racism, sexism and the like, and maybe making a first pitch to be President. I’m not even saying this is a bad thing, but that’s what it is. Fine if that’s what you want, but is it not just tedious now? How can you sit through it? It used to be seen as bad form – now, if you don’t stand up to the latest oppression craze, you’re done for.

Being much more into sport, watching competition is still exciting. Yes some teams have more money, some teams have better players, there’s plenty of unfairness, but the unfairness is there for all to see. But, take football – it’s still 11vs11 (men, natch) on a pitch and whoever scores the most goals wins. Simple as that. We all know the rules, we can all see the difference in talent between the two teams, and off we go. As far as the sporting competition goes (forget the finance and the boardrooms), as long as we can be sure that nobody is cheating and there’s no match fixing, it’s transparent.

Who decides what the best film is? Based on what criteria? Can we trust them to be impartial? How? Apparently they are 91% male and 76% white. 

Already Hadley Freeman in the Guardian is talking about something that sounds to me like ‘not picking what you think is the best’.

“After a tumultuous year for the film industry (and the wider world) the Academy will face ridicule unless it starts giving prizes to the truly important films.”

Important films? Not the best films?

It all looks to me like a census taking exercise. The awards given should reflect society in general – even splits between male and female winners, an appropriate slice of winners who are black, latino, any other race you want to include exactly according to their population split.

Again, fine, if that’s what you want. But will you be able to really trust that the ‘best actor’ or ‘best film’ has been chosen? And does it even really matter, with it being so apparently subjective anyway? Arguably, the fact that this doesn’t naturally happen anyway would suggest that there is intrinsic bias, but with a process so shrouded in mystery and so subjective, how do you correct that without rankling one tribe or another? We’ve probably never had awards that have genuinely been given to the best. I’m more than willing to concede that the apparent whiteness or maleness of the history of the awards probably points to exclusion of some sort or another. I get that, and I can completely sympathise with the view that it looks very much like an old guard carrying on with the status quo. But doesn’t that just drive home the point? It will never, and can never be fair if it is subjective. If we’re saying that in the past, people have just been chosen because they’re white and male, then it’s never been fair?

There are suggestions that unless the Oscars moves into line with this sort of thinking, it will die. That may very well be true. But in getting there, it may kill itself anyway.

I’ve always tried to stay away from identity politics as a matter of principle. It’s so much more interesting to hear what people think and why they think it than base it all on their skin colour or their chromosomes. But this seems to be an increasingly naive view. As someone who wouldn’t care less if the whole Academy, or Houses of Parliament, or boardrooms were completely full of black, M-F trans disabled immigrants, as long as they have a diverse range of viewpoints, I seem to be in the minority.

What that does mean is that as soon as we start agitating for equality of outcome, I get bored and give up watching. I can’t trust the outcome, so who cares? I know what my favourite film is, why do I need that validated by a load of over-remunerated victims of one sort or the other banging on about the plight of their favourite thing that week? I’d have no problem making 100% of the decision makers black women. Let them all choose the best film. Not a white guy in sight, if that’s what you want. It’s subjective anyway, they can pick whatever film they like.

A system like the one that chooses the Oscar winners, so visible and so powerful can never survive a collision with identity politics. The two are currently powerful, and only one can remain standing. I know which one my money’s on. There can never be a system that everyone would be happy with.

It would be great if there were a system to be able to choose who or what was genuinely the best, but I don’t know of one. Perhaps you would be kind enough to point one out – I’ll gladly listen. Maybe it would produce a whole roster of white winners one year, or all black winners, or all female winners, or all male winners. But applying quotas, whilst giving the diversity that is desired, would always leave questions to be asked.

Last weekend, Manchester City beat Arsenal to win the English Football League Cup. Cool. Nobody can argue with it. City are richer and have better players, but they played on the same pitch with the same referee with the same rules. They won the trophy and nobody whinged. Maybe my simple mind needs these simple rules. But why anyone can still be bothered with film award shows is beyond me. Least of all getting upset about the outcomes.

I just can’t see how you could enjoy yourself when you’re just ticking off diversity sheets and not being interested in the actual art. It seems a pointless waste of everyone’s time and effort when you’ll all just end up at each other’s throats anyway. Just assign the awards based on population splits and be done with it. That way, it’ll be transparent and we can all get on with our lives. Let that be the criteria from the start, and let’s drop this facade that we’re choosing the ‘best’. If black people have already won three awards, then no black person can win the next one – it has to be a latino. Would that not make it simpler and fairer?

Or see which actor can score the most baskets from the free throw line and give them the little golden statue. If it helps, I can all but guarantee you more black winners if you do.