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…

Be careful using superlatives – they won’t work when you really need them

Do you really need to reach for the strongest word you can think of?

Several years ago, we attended the wedding of some friends of ours. A lovely couple, celebrating the happiest day of their lives. It was a wonderful occasion.

The groom is, shall we say, a very positive chap. Excitable and effusive, he radiates warmth and positivity. He also uses superlatives a lot. In everyday life, this is charming and fun, but when making a speech on your wedding day, can lead you into some problems.

All the usual bases were covered during this speech. Thanks were proffered to both sides of the family, all who had helped, his ushers, the bridesmaids – you know the drill. In the thanks came the superlatives, and why wouldn’t they? He was delighted and having a wonderful time.

The in-laws were ‘amazing’, the people who did the flowers and the food ‘incredible’, the ushers ‘absolutely wonderful’, the bridesmaids ‘astonishingly gorgeous’, all said with gusto and depth of feeling. He definitely meant what he was saying.

But then he turned to his bride, his new wife, the absolute pinnacle of the whole thing. And there were no words left. How could she be ‘amazing’? She’d only be as good as her parents. How about ‘incredible’? Nope, already blown that one on the food. ‘Gorgeous’? What, only as attractive as the bridesmaids? He was reduced to mere noises and hand gestures as he grasped and groped around for words that were not forthcoming.

Now of course, in this instance, having used up all of his superlatives meant he came across as properly speechless in a charming, Hugh Grant-like way. We could all clearly see the love he had for his new wife, and frankly, words like ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’ would feel lacking in this situation anyway. All who have gazed at their bride and had to say something about them in front of all those you know and love will have felt this feeling. No words seem to do the job adequately.

On the flip side, though, the use of negative superlatives can have a damaging effect, particularly when said by public figures or uttered in public life. The range of events that people are expected to comment on is broad, and yet there seems to be a consistent thread of going for the most extreme word for everything.

Using a word like ‘disgusted’, however relevant to the situation, blunts it to some degree. If you’re ‘disgusted’ by hearing of the crimes of a serious criminal like a murderer or a rapist, that seems pretty appropriate. Who could argue with that? But if the Foreign Secretary blurts out some silly notion about bridges or cake, is the word ‘disgusted’ really what we should be reaching for? Using it here leaves it a less effective weapon when you next want to use it.

Let’s take some recent examples, gleaned from a brief trawl through Twitter, searching on some key terms.

John Major has called for a second vote on the EU/UK deal. I would disagree with that, but it’s a fair enough, perfectly defensible position to take. One tweet reads “John Major advocates ignoring a democratic vote – DISGUSTING”. Really? Is it not just disagreeable? Or disappointing? Another called him “an absolute disgrace”. Wow. What are you going to do when a real disgrace happens, like a serious crime or a government scandal? Use the same word?

The word ‘appalling’ is pretty strong. One might be ‘appalled’ by the expenses scandal, or perhaps the UK-Saudi Arabia arms deals. These seem fairly reasonable uses for it. But customer service? Poor website design? These are just two things that some prominent people are ‘appalled’ about.

Perhaps Twitter is not the best place to be searching for reasonable people (I avoid it as much as possible), but many people spend a lot of time there and this debasing of our language in order to prove you’re the most outraged or the most angry about something has a wider effect.

Modern politicians feel the need to react to everything with the strongest possible terms, and very often, on Twitter. It means that when there is a genuinely horrid event or an opponent does something actually ‘shocking’, these words will not have the meaning they once did. And for what? So they can virtue signal away, free of the possible repercussions of not ‘condemning something in the strongest possible terms?’ Oh, grow up.

One story that I have been following for a while and has really, shall we say, got my goat, is the reaction of the Church of England to accusations made about a long dead Bishop, George Bell. I shan’t go into the detail of the whole affair here, but suffice to say I have, on occasion, been stirred to serious anger. But in one response¬†of the Bishop Bell Group to the Archbishop of Canterbury, these men and women (fiercely fighting for the reputation of a man much revered and currently being destroyed) use words that seem mild in comparison to some examples I have given. And yet, the words have weight and force behind them.

‘Profound dismay’ may be a term further down on the ladder of superlative than ‘absolute disgust’ or ‘utter disgrace’, and yet when it is said by these highly literate individuals speaking as a collective, it strikes at the heart with frightening power, rendering those other words frail and meek. This letter was sent after previous correspondence that described the position taken by the office of the Archbishop as ‘unfortunate’, ‘disappointing’ and ‘unbecoming’.

Have no doubt, these words were said by a group of people who would doubtless, at times, have been brimming with a seething righteous anger. The group would not have formed without such a strength of feeling. But they have applied calm and reserve to their public utterances, which has meant that when the struggle has reached its high point, they can wield words with power and might.

Exercising some restraint with our language would be a highly desirable step towards civility, in my view. Applying some context, reacting slowly, having some perspective – all things that would need to be in place. But we all must take individual responsibility. It’ll never happen if we constantly try to out-react each other.

Let’s take a step back, and reset.

Judge the past at your peril – who knows what we’ll be maligned for

Who knows what we will be judged for in 2118? It’s simply impossible to know.

And then there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Well, sort of. The hit 90’s American sitcom “Friends” recently hit Netflix, some people tweeted some things, and it all well and truly kicked off.

Apparently, some so called ‘Millenials’ (a group to which I, apparently, belong having only been witness to around 4 months of the 80’s) pointed out some ‘problematic’ things about one of the most popular television shows of all time. The lack of racial diversity, apparent sexism, transphobia, toxic masculinity – a veritable feast of modern Twitter cliches poured onto the internet like a spilled tub of organic houmous.

The reaction was no more enlightened. A howl of rage quickly countered, quite disproportionate to the initial crime, and blasted and smashed its way through the rather bewildered twentysomethings.

Now, let’s be clear. Friends is one of my all time favourite shows, it suited its time perfectly, and I can’t stand this horrid modern view that all things at all times must reflect all things and all people (except of course if they aren’t liberals). But that’s what it is – a MODERN view. Whilst the reaction was over the top, the silly, self-serving sobbing over how Chandler treated his dad deserved at least some of it.

I have been rather amazed, having watched some of my favourite classics again recently, at just how much things have moved in this direction, though. One episode of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ has Uncle Albert use the term ‘paki shop’ and ‘that paki’ (in purely descriptive terms, you understand, certainly not as an insult). I was quite shocked. But that is a relatively old show, most of it made before I was born. While such language makes me bristle, it was of its time (if you don’t believe that, the mere fact that it was broadcast with that word in it should make the case for you).

The IT Crowd has a whole episode devoted to the discomfort of the main characters while attending a ‘gay’ musical. Not much politically correct language there, and this from a trendy lefty writer and producer.

And herein lies the problem. Shows like Friends, the IT Crowd, The Office – they were written by as right-on lefty liberals as you would have been able to find at the time. So how can they be judged by the standards of 2018? Setting aside for a moment that the standards of 2018 are stupid and ridiculous, surely we must never watch anything from the past again?

Moving away from television to more serious matters of the past, some recent issues have involved attempting to remove statues of major historical figures from public view, and lamenting the views of otherwise heroic persons. This again is going to cause issues if we seek to constantly judge the past by the standards of today.

We judge the Victorians for sending children up chimneys. We judge the 1920s for restricting universal suffrage (despite the whole concept being, apparently, up for debate again following the referendum). We judge many previous centuries for overt racism. We judge the slave trade. But how many of things were obvious to the masses to be wrong? Demonstrably none of them.

The problem we will have is that a future generation will slam us – and it is next to impossible to work out what that thing is. The comedian Jimmy Carr once said “I know one of my jokes on my tour will land me in serious trouble – but there’s no way of knowing which one”. Clearly, we’re not trying to be deliberately offensive as Jimmy certainly is, but the outcome is the same – how can we know which of the things that we do or say now will be judged harshly by the standards of 2118?

There may be some obvious candidates. It could be our treatment of animals raised for food, but then that is already permeating pretty far into our consciousness. How about the supply chains for our clothing and electronic devices? Well again, we’re pretty aware of them. Driving around vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine? IN CITIES?! Again, it’s being addressed.

It could be that referring to any baby or child as a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ will be seen as monstrous. “How could those ignorant people have assumed their child’s gender before they had a chance to work it out for themselves?”, they may cry. Or perhaps keeping an animal inside a domestic dwelling will be looked back on with shame and anger. “Can’t believe my grandma jailed a conscious creature and referred to it as ‘hers’ – #disowned”.

If that sounds alarmist, consider this. People quickly forget the speed at which some things have entered our consciousness. Who would have guessed even 2-3 years ago how controversial it would have been to claim that there are two genders? Slightly further back, that a marriage is between a man and a woman? I remember the word ‘gay’ being used as a pejorative on the playground at school, quite unchallenged. Sure these things are changing now (and fast), some rightly, others questionably – but should that give us a warning sign?

I don’t want to stray to far into predictions – I think I’ve made my point. Maybe those things will never come to pass. But the point remains – we simply cannot know. And we’re for the most part going about our lives as best we can, just like our ancestors did. If we want to be remembered fondly as people who tried, but were of their time, the biggest favour we could ourselves is giving the old great-great-grandparents a break. They tried their best.