“Your Prayers Can Save the World’s Fattest Cat!”

Genius.  In only eight words, this tabloid headline covers the crucial topics of religion, fat, and cats.  From the first word, “your,” the reader knows she is the true topic.  She has power: she can solve the most serious version of a particular world problem (the problem happens to be feline obesity, but that is a real problem, as many cat owners know).  Indeed, she is a savior.  And what’s more, there is a way to lose weight (having others pray) that is easier than eating less and exercising more. The only possible improvement I can imagine–and I’m not certain it is an improvement, in part because it is three letters longer–is “Your prayers can save the world’s fattest kitten.”

The headline, which I noticed last night in the grocery-store checkout line, reminded me of a passage from Sarah Schulman’s novel Girls, Visions and Everything.  The main character, Lila, writes fiction:

The very first things Lila had ever written were for the local Supermarket News.  That was great practice.  There was an event, say, the price of grapefruits.  There was an audience.  Her job was to describe the event….There was no looking around for subject matter, only for description, a task she took very seriously.  Did prices plummet, or were they slashed?

Some lawyers and law professors might model their writing on Cardozo or Holmes or even Scalia, but I’ll bring that anonymous headline writer and Lila along for the ride as well.

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6 Responses

  1. Edward Swaine says:

    Sarah, as always, a genius topic — but as to the last para, is it really either/or? I can imagine a pretty fierce contest for “Legal Epigrams That Should Have Been Tabloid Headlines,” and one of my first nominations would be Holmes: “Three Generations of Imbeciles Are Enough!” Imagine seeing that headline on a tabloid at the checkout line, with an unflattering picture of your favorite entertainment dynasty, and a story about waning popularity; it’s a sure-fire seller. Certainly better than as jurisprudence.

  2. Frank Pasquale says:

    I like the concision contest. Here’s a story from our DHS Secretary:

    “[There was] a writing contest in which the instructor said that he would give the highest grade to the student who could write the shortest story containing four fundamental elements of fiction and the four fundamental elements were religion, royalty, sex, and mystery. Religion, royalty, sex, and mystery.

    And the story that got the highest grade went something like this. “Oh, God,” said the Queen, “I’m pregnant, and I don’t know who did it.””


  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    Great observation. But why is the reader “she”? I, for one, wouldn’t mind learning about how to become a cat savior, especially if I could also catch up on the latest dalliances between White House occupants and space aliens for no extra cash.

    This no doubt owes something to a famous National Lampoon cover from 1973, as well as, perhaps, to a 1980s-era parody, “Manager’s 30-Second Guide to Weight Loss During Sex” and its ilk.

    What I wish is that law profs would apply this kind of attentive rhetorical analysis to what they read and write for a living, especially the stuff that talks about “efficiency,” “opportunity costs,” etc. While nowhere near as as artful as the tabloid headline, the impact of this literature is no less based on hidden assumptions and anxieties, professional and otherwise.

  4. Samir Chopra says:

    I think journal article titles have definitely become cleverer over the years, though I think too many academics seem to think punning is the only form of wit that should make an appearance in a journal title.

  5. Hannnah says:

    this is sooo stupid…i thought it was gonna be about a really sick fat cat that was dying and i could pray for!!! instead its some stupid head line thingie…so stupid…gosh u ppl r stupid and dumb…idiotic ppl!!!!

  6. Sarah Lawsky says:

    I hope Comment 5 is serious–if so, it wins the thread.