My favorite piece of film writing today is a hilarious and very well-illustrated article on The Daily Intelligencer about something we’ve all seen dozens of times and never noticed: the sheer lunacy of the newspaper headlines in the “Back to the Future” trilogy.
You all know how this works. Marty McFly measures his efforts to repair the timestream by looking at newspapers, which morph before his eyes to reflect the latest developments. When something gets fixed, the paper changes; so a headline that reads “Emmett Brown Committed” (after Old Biff ruins Hill Valley by turning it into his own personal gambling paradise) magically becomes “Emmet Brown Commended” (after Marty and Doc travel back in time and stop Biff’s plan).
It’s a clever part of the time travel conceit, and within the logic of the films, it works beautifully. But as observed by the Intelligencer’s Jonathan Chait, out of context, these newspapers — all published at various points between 1885 and 2015 by the fictional Hill Valley Telegraph — are completely absurd. Take, for example, the aforementioned “Emmet Brown Committed” issue, seen above. Is that story news? Yeah, maybe. But is it bigger news than the story that places below it on the front page? As Chait puts it, “That merits news above Richard Nixon brazenly violating the 22nd Amendment to seek a fifth presidential term?”
Probably not. But then again, this is a dystopia. Maybe while Biff was destroying Hill Valley’s economy, turning himself into a Donald Trump-esque oligarch, killing Marty’s dad, and marrying his mom he also bought and gutted the Telegraph, destroying its newsroom so that it would be incapable of the sort of investigative reporting that could expose his schemes and thus pose a threat to his sinister regime.
Or maybe it’s just a goof. Head over for the full slate of hilarious Hill Valley Telegraph headlines. As Marty would say: this is heavy stuff.
Read more of “‘Back to the Future”s Terrible Newspaper.”