On Wednesday, Phil Rudd, founding drummer of the rock greats AC/DC, was arrested in New Zealand and charged with a series of crimes, including attempting to procure a murder. It’s a sad story for fans of the band, but there is at least one upside. The story has given the media, and people on social media, an excuse to engage in our most hallowed of traditions: predictably banal headline jokes.
AC/DC’s lengthy catalog contains a song called “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.’’ It’s a song about a hit man who offers his very competitively priced services to those who need someone taken care of fast—just like the thing that allegedly happened.
You can see why this would be an irresistible bit of synergy for the laziest content-churners of the world. “Here’s one thing we’ve heard of related to another thing we’ve heard of!’’ It just makes damn sense. And it would be fine if you couldn’t instantly expect that almost every single other rewrite of the story would make the exact same connection. I haven’t seen such an orgy of repetitive predictability since earlier this year, when Chris Christie found himself on a “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.’’
Sure enough, here came the New York Post, who never met a pun too obvious to turn down, with this twofer lede:
“He wanted a dirty deed done cheap—now he might be on the highway to hell.’’
That em dash might as well be stage directions for putting sunglasses on.
TMZ was even more ham-fisted, blasting the joke in a huge font: “Arrested for Dirty Deeds…’’
The New York Daily News underplayed its hand somewhat, but nonetheless felt the need to let readers know that they too knew about one of AC/DC’s most well-known tracks. “No Dirty Deeds details, including who Rudd allegedly solicited and who he allegedly wanted dead, were available,’’ they wrote. CNN’s HLN, to its credit, at least acknowledged that everyone was thinking what it was thinking: “In an ironic twist, one of AC/DC’s biggest hits was a song in 1976 called ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,’ about the life of a hitman.’’
It went on and on, up and down the media food chain, over and over. Here’s the Columbus Dispatch: “Dirty Deeds? AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd accused of trying to arrange deaths.’’ Gawker tucked its reference into a tag, which seems downright restrained. Nearly every other account of the story from publications that let the big meatball coming right down the plate pass by at least pointed out that AC/DC had, in fact, released an album called “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.’’
And that’s before we even get to the hundreds—maybe thousands by now—of jokes on Twitter, riffing on the same idea. Because the key to comedy is to say the exact thing people are expecting at the exact moment they are expecting you to say it.
It's just journalistic malpractice to report this story and not headline it Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. http://t.co/J1Kb8VGbns— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 6, 2014
if your headline for this AC/DC drummer murder-contract plot isn't DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP i don't even know what to do with you— rob harvilla (@harvilla) November 6, 2014
Thank you. Your joke about Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap has been successfully registered. It is number 000016773. Save this for your records.— volte (@vvvolte) November 6, 2014
I’ve wondered before just why so many copycat puns show up in headlines now. Certainly in part it has to do with the fact that we’re all sub-literate morons, incapable of digesting any bit of information unless it comes candy-coated in pop culture nostalgia. It also has something to do with the fact that most online writers have about three minutes to get their regurgitated post about any news item up for fear of being lost in the deluge of repetition. But good god, people—have a little bit of pride. If you’re going to insist on using a referential joke, at least dig around for 30 seconds and look for something slightly less obvious.
“Guns for Hire,’’ perhaps? It’s right there, begging to be used. In fact, a lot of AC/DC’s catalog could double as lurid headlines—“Big Gun,’’ “Big Balls,’’ “Shoot to Thrill,’’ “Danger,’’ “Nervous Shakedown,’’ “Damned,’’ “Evil Walks,’’ “Flick of the Switch,’’ “Gimme a Bullet,’’ “Gone Shootin’’ “Dog Eat Dog,’’ “Breaking the Rules,’’ “Cold Hearted Man,’’ “Hell Aint a Bad Place to Be,’’ “Jailbreak,’’ “Meltdown,’’ “What Do You Do for Money Honey.’’
Instead of being creative, though, today’s news cycle is littered with a bunch of dirt cheap jokes. If only a flick of the switch could result in puns being made illegal, all the headline writers being fired, and Twitter being dissolved.