20 years ago, The Onion ran a "best of" issue
With the staff taking a week off, The Onion reprinted some 1990s stories — do they hold up?
Welcome back to The Onion: 20 Years Later, where we review the print issue from exactly 20 years ago, trying to find out what’s still funny and examining the cultural impact. Today, we look at the issue from June 14, 2000.
This is a special issue, because The Onion 20 years ago took a week off and instead reprinted old articles from the 1990s. Imagine that: In mid-June 2000, there was apparently nothing urgent in American society for The Onion to comment on.
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What issue is this?
This was Vol. 36, Issue 22, the 21st published Onion issue of the 2000s, as The Onion skipped March 29, 2000.
All the stories are online, but the issue itself has been offline for many years. Here’s what the website look like in 2000.
What was the top story, and other impressions?
I enjoy the meta commentary of “Clinton Calls For National Week Off To Get National Shit Together,” given that The Onion staff was presumably also getting its shit together.
This article originally ran July 23, 1997, with President Bill Clinton complaining that “a lot of shit has piled up that I have not had the chance to take care of.” Little did he know how much busier and stressful his life was going to become.
Also noteworthy is the long-running Onion saga on Al Gore being forced to help Clinton move objects. As we learned in March, Gore was guilted into helping Clinton move into the White House in 1993 and was on the hook for moving him out in 2001. Here, Clinton wants to move a couch he found on the street into the White House.
"Al Gore said he would help the president get it upstairs," McCurry said, "but then he took off to attend some technology summit in Geneva, so he never did."
God is a recurring Onion character, always depicted with some version of that photo. “God Answers Prayers Of Paralyzed Little Boy” is one of the great Onion stories, and of course it’s a cruel tale, but I think it works because nobody thinks God would do this. You either don’t believe in God or you think God would help this boy.
Editor’s note: My apologies for overexplaining the joke.
Thankfully, everyone involved is stoked to have heard directly from God, even if it’s not quite the news they wanted. And God counseled Timmy Yu to not give up.
“God strongly suggested that Timmy consider praying to one of the other intercessionary agents of Divine power, like Jesus, Mary or maybe even a top saint,” Timmy’s personal physician, Dr. William Luttrell, said. “The Lord stressed to Timmy that it was a long shot, but He said he might have better luck with one of them.”
Criminal justice and the media
The story that might have the most relevance today is “Murder Suspect To Be Tried By Media: Overworked Justice System Grateful For Help.” I’ve worked in some form of media for 15 years, and I also served on an 18-month federal grand jury. Both have great people working hard on behalf of society; unfortunately, both also showcase the shortcomings in our institutions and our fellow citizens.
The Onion kind of feels the same way, if this statement by Los Angeles District Attorney Benjamin Dozier is any indication:
Dozier was unfazed by the criticism: "I can guarantee you that Mr. Craig will receive the same fair trial from the media that he would have received from America's first-rate judicial system."
Rescue mission for a tank top
I was concerned “Area Tank Top Strained Nearly To Breaking Point” would just be a medley of fat jokes, but I think it is cleverer and more original than that in two ways:
The tank top itself seems to be the main character, both in the photo cropping and in how all the concern is aimed at the tank top’s health, not the health of “owner/wearer” Todd Fontaine.
This is essentially a local newspaper’s City Council story about an infrastructure project, except the infrastructure is a man’s tank top. Like many local government articles, we have quotes from elected officials and citizens, a proposal from an engineering firm seeking a city contract, and disagreement over laws and enforcement.
That said, the tank top, which is not quoted in the article, will be sacrificed for the greater good:
"Once a larger top is secured around Mr. Fontaine's midsection, it will be safe to send in a team to cut away and remove the outdated, obsolete tank top within," Bob Kelcher, a Raemisch & Herzog spokesperson, told the Smyrna City Council Sunday.
Old-school wrestling fans will love “IOC Clears Pros To Wrestle In 2000 Olympics,” including trash-talking by Jerry "The King" Lawler and Paul Bearer, as well as Hulk Hogan in his “Hollywood” phase. This January 1998 article omits actual 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, who didn’t start at WWE until the summer.
I’ve never had HBO and have watched almost none of its shows, ever, but my understanding is that “HBO Presentation Fails To Deliver Promised 'Brief Nudity’” is no longer a problem.
Hard to argue with the logic of “Report: Aspirin Taken Daily With Bottle Of Bourbon Reduces Awareness Of Heart Attacks."
This week’s batch of headlines without stories:
“Area Woman Tired Of Men Staring At Her Breast Implants”
“Sun-Dried Sparrow Carcass Washed Away With Hose”
“Charles Durning Hocks Up Four-Pound Chunk Of Phlegm”
Were the infographics good?
This March 1999 infographic “Military-Recruiting Woes” is silly and goofy, but I get why The Onion reprinted it. Recruiting probably hadn’t rebounded 15 months later, and every joke here is focused, even if they aren’t all amazing.
That said, I love “Zero Liability,” “30 Seconds over Toledo” and “The Vominator.”
But quoting the German slogan from Auschwitz? I’ll apply my general attitude here of disliking half-assed measures. In this case, if The Onion wanted to use that phrase, craft a whole article around it! Go big with some kind of joke/satire/parody. Don’t hide it in a random infographic.
The guide “Caring For Your Car” is no longer online, but the Internet Archive has a preserved copy. There are many, many jokes, and most of them are extremely silly.
“Your car’s tires should be rotated regularly, or the car will not go anywhere,” is my favorite: simple, direct, stupid but smart, and nearly timeless.
What columnists ran?
I’ll give evryone a respite from T. Herman Zweibel and his column “Huzzah For The Death Of A Child!” this week, other than to point out that I just learned that the writer of his columns was Maria Schneider, who also wrote the Jean Teasdale and Herbert Kornfield columnists. What a range to write for all three distinct voices!
Dear readers, Smoove B. has always been my favorite Onion columnist, quite possibly because he has such a distinct voice, always goes into absurd detail, and always has a story arc of declaring his love, declaring how, where and when he will woo, and how the love will be consummated.
There are also many shoutouts to products, and the whole thing being set in Cincinnati is a nice bonus.
Smoove’s columns are unabashedly about seduction, or his idea of it. That said, “Turn The Lights Down Low” is pretty explicit even for him. Reader, beware. Sadly, the next Smoove B. column isn’t until May 2001.
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
Bill Clinton. Mike McCurry. Al Gore. Tony Blair. Ronald Reagan. George Fisher. James Kilts. Charles Durning. Chevy Chase. God. Juan Antonio Samaranch. Vader. Disco Inferno. Golddust. The Undertaker. Jerry "The King" Lawler. Aleksandr Karelin. Stone Cold Steve Austin. Paul Bearer. Kane. Mitch Albom. Cactus Jack. Dude Love. The Headbangers. The Legion of Doom. Iron Sheik. Farrooq.
McCurry, Blair and Reagan are mentioned in “Clinton Calls For National Week Off To Get National Shit Together.”
Fisher and Kilts were the real-life CEOs of Kodak and Nabisco, respectively, who are mentioned in “Kodak, Nabisco Apologize For Drunken One-Night Merger.”
Chevy Chase is briefly mentioned in “Insurance Salesman Celebrates 15th Year Of Quoting Fletch,” which also contains one of the only signs The Onion re-edited this issue before printing it. You see, “Fletch,” starring Chase, is a 1985 movie, and the original 1999 headline was “Area Insurance Salesman Celebrates 14th Year Of Quoting Fletch.” Insurance salesman Marty Cutler’s age remains 31 in both versions despite nearly 15 months having passed.
The final 17 names in the above list are from “IOC Clears Pros To Wrestle In 2000 Olympics,” including a quote from Mitch Albom, who handicaps the international competition against the US pro wrestling lineup:
“No other nation on earth, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, which has the Iron Sheik and Farrooq, can match that."
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
Every article here is from the 1990s, but I do want to recognize this line from “Caring For Your Car.” I could imagine cellphones being a divisive symbol of class before they became more widespread. On the other hand, I never lived in the few places with full-service attendants (hello, New Jersey readers).
‘When at the gas station, remember not to operate a cell phone near the pumps. The full-service attendant might experience a fit of class-consciousness and beat you to death with it.”
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
Clinton took the top story, as we’ve seen. And thankfully, there was an animal, as The Onion’s Point/Counterpoint column was about pets: “We Gave Rex To A Nice Farm Family vs. They Had Me Put To Sleep At The Vet.”
First, we have Marjorie Dorner lying to her child about the fate of Rex the dog. Thankfully, Rex delivers the counterpoint (from the grave?), and notes the owners’ callous nature:
“Your mom and dad didn't even wait until the deed was done. They just mumbled something about being late for another appointment, wrote the check, and made a beeline for the door. The vet asked them if they wanted my collar, and your mother just sort of looked puzzled and said, ‘What for?’”
What was the best horoscope?
This collection of horoscopes from April 1999 is highlighted by Aries:
Aries | March 21 to April 19
Stop yourself from gaining weight: Wrap your midriff in aluminum foil to block the CIA’s orbital stomach-control lasers.
What holds up best?
This is a tricky question. I think most of these are enjoyable, but many wouldn’t be known today to Onion readers except for diehards. That doesn’t mean they don’t hold up, just that their fame didn’t endure.
“God Answers Prayers Of Paralyzed Little Boy” still works, in my opinion, in that if you liked it 20+ years ago, you’d probably like it now. It’s not a happy story, but it plays well as a mutated tale of God answering prayers.
“Murder Suspect To Be Tried By Media: Overworked Justice System Grateful For Help” doesn’t quite work as well, in part because the “media” is now a million different things, not just newspapers and some TV channels. And, you know, the high-profile killings where even securing an arrest is difficult. Still, there’s a lot to like, particularly in how The Onion skewers everyone.
What holds up worst?
I mentioned my issues with the rollercoaster infographic.
I also don’t know whether “Gym Teacher Loves Forcing Children To Dance” succeeds — what exactly are we picking on the gym teacher for? Is he an eccentric? Is he a threat to the children? Is there some topical thing I’ve completely missed? Maybe I’m the wrong person to make this determination?
What would be done differently today?
Could you imagine The Onion right now saying, “We’ll be back June 21!”
I know, a print publication with a website that duplicates the newspaper’s stories is not the same as a full-fledged website, social media, etc. But still! There’s no off-hours anymore, for better or worse.
What was happening in the real world?
We’ll revisit this next week, as while there was plenty happening in the real world from June 5-11, 2000, none of it affected this issue.