Sunday, 20 June 2010

sex & the art of headline writing

Call me oldfashioned, but the screaming headline 'You'd think I could GET A DATE' over an interview with the actress Kim Cattrall does kind of infer she was discussing her frustration at being single.
So quelle surprise to find she actually told Saturday's Daily Mail it wouldn't be the end of the world if she didn't find a (fourth) husband because 'I'm free to do what I want..My big passion these days is my work.' Hmm.
So far, so normal: newspaper brings a successful (ok, forget about Sex & the City 2) woman down a peg or two by inferring that she might have an enviable career but hell, nobody wants to sleep with her. The Cattrall piece is unusual only in the sheer determination required to slap a 'woe is me' headline on these quotes.
So I'd have left it there but for opening the Times's review section to a Tracey Emin interview headlined 'I've got my sex drive back.' What followed was an intelligent and balanced interview, under a weirdly phew-what-a-scorcher headline.
Sexism again, deliberately reducing women to the level of you-would-wouldn't-you rather than taking their professional lives seriously? You'd think so, but for the awkward truth that firstly much of Emin's work is about her sex life, and secondly a male artist who said he was now dying to 'go out and f*** the world' would doubtless also find it made the headline. (See Lynn Barber's interview with Rupert Everett in the Sunday Times mag the next day: headline 'I used to be so sexually driven, but that's completely turned off'. Maybe Emin could give him some tips).
The issue isn't just sexism: it's sexuality as commodity. I know why sub-editors write headlines like this, because it automatically makes more people want to read it. I just did the same in this blog title. Feel conned? Well, me too.
This will sound as if I want to rush around covering up piano legs lest they give rise to impure thoughts, but it would be nice if occasionally writing could be sold on the back of something - anything - other than the obligatory saucy Sex Quote.
As a journalist, you're always relieved to get it (hurrah! now I know I'll be able to get this dreary interview with actor hyping film/model who is the new Face of National Prune Week/preview of the Budget in the paper). But it would just vary the tone a little if occasionally the same headline importance was given to, I dunno, art. Or work. Or money (Emin's attitude to her wealth is fascinating). Or power. Or whatever.
Except it won't happen, because as newspapers go digital the one surefire way to get your article clicked on is to make 'sex' a keyword. Stand by for much, much more of this.


  1. I like this! It's made me think about what articles I am drawn to when reading. At first, I was quite proud of myself as I thought I'm not necessarily drawn to the sex ones. Then I realised, the titles that draw me in are probably even more frivolous!! ('Look 10 years younger with this new £5 cream..' for example, or 'Get Jennifer Annistons body in two easy moves...')

    Anyway, off to re work all my blog headlines with the word sex in them. Thanks for the tip!!

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  2. Yes, it's a cheap trick - the Emin headline was a bit shabby but that won't stop me changing my blog's name to 'That's Not My Rampant Rabbit' and may I suggest 'Used to have sex with somebody?'

  3. So true - you wouldn't get a headline about sex in an interview with a male actor (well, unless it was Michael Douglas maybe...). Out here I read the New York Times and I'm struck by how noticeably less dumbed-down it is than the so-called serious papers in the UK.

  4. hmm, That'sNotMyAge - not a bad idea. there's probably a fortune to be made by starting a blog about parenting called Used To Have Sex....

  5. Ha! I never want to read about sex, whether it's Kim Cattrall or Chris Huhne. Not in the least bit interested in people looking younger, ageing or cosmetics either. Half of women's magazines are wasted on me (the half flogging creams and lipsticks). What headlines do I like then? A new bit of political intrigue, scandal or gossip (not necessarily sexual), something funny, sport, something local. An odd headline for Emin, wonder if anyone (she) complained? She's an artist first and foremost, I'd have been more interested in a headline about her voting Tory...

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