JLo, Pepe Le Pew, greedy CEOS — 2001 was just like 2021!
We also commemorate 20 years since Starbucks began "Phase 2" of its operations. Also, news about Fox Trot, Dick Cheney, "Sham Hocks," VCRs and more.
Welcome back to The Onion: 20 Years Later, where we review the print issue from exactly 20 years ago, find out what’s still funny and examine the cultural impact. Today, we revisit March 14, 2001.
Always great to see new faces! This is a longer newsletter, but you don’t have to read the whole thing! My hope is to give a full look at what happened 20 years ago, and let you decide what stories you want to read or learn more about. And let me know if I’m doing something right — or doing something you don’t like.
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What issue is this?
What was the top story, and other impressions?
Rarely do you get a gift like this: I’m talking with a friend yesterday, and I mention, “The top story I need to write about is about no Jennifer Lopez news.” And he says, immediately, “She and A-Rod broke up.”
This story correctly conveys the nature of celebrity and media, both of which feed off each other, especially before social media. Here, the media is trying desperately to manufacture a story about JLo as if a Pulitzer Prize were on the line. This article is also a testament to how hard Lopez has worked and what she’s accomplished — she’s no less famous or busy today than she was then.
The photo on The Onion’s cover also appears — twice — in the article. It’s not a new photos, but that doesn’t stop The Onion:
One such photo, of the famous "barely there" Grammy Awards dress, has been reprinted approximately 5.8 billion times in various media outlets around the globe since its Feb. 24, 2000, debut in more than 450 newspapers nationwide. The photo, which news consumers had hoped to see again today, could not be shown due to a lack of related or even tangentially related Lopez stories for it to accompany. (See photo, right.)
At one point, real-life US Weekly editor Terry McDonell is quoted as saying The New York Observer beat him to the article “Puffy's Trial Begs for Lopez's Presence.” That is a real article you can read online now.
There’s also a 193-word sentence from Entertainment Tonight’s Bob Goen that sums up Lopez’s career while calling on America to accept that she made no news.
JLo was such a star in 2001 that a classic Onion story like “Starbucks To Begin Sinister 'Phase Two' Of Operation” was demoted to the 2nd story.
The story reimagines Starbucks’ business transformation into some combination of guerilla army, alien species and cult. For instance, Starbucks’ then-logo, the mermaid, is reimagined “as a cyclopean mermaid whose all-seeing eye forms the apex of a world-spanning pyramid.”
As a former Eagle Scout, this paragraph made me laugh:
Remaining Starbucks employees earmarked for re-training are being taught revised corporate procedures alongside 15,500 new hires recently recruited from such non-traditional sources as the CIA retirement program, Internet bulletin boards frequented by former Eagle Scouts, and the employment section in the back of Soldier Of Fortune magazine.
My personal theory is that Starbucks’ Phase Two was nothing more than Howard Schultz’s embarrassing attempt at a 2020 presidential run, but who knows?
2021 repeating itself in 2001 Onion stories
These headlines feel right at home in March 2021. I’ve talked about the Pepe Le Pew one for many years, but never thought it would be relevant again!
“Downturn In Economy Forces CEO To Reduce Own Pay Raise By Five Percent”
“Insufferable Prick Distinctly Said No Cilantro”: I don’t know if cilantro is big these days, but the pandemic has shown us that people can still be jerks at restaurants, just in new and exciting ways. Also, note the avocado salad — this guy was ahead of his time!
Another one in this category is “Attempts Made To Enjoy Sake,” which almost certainly is still happening in 2021. The story is about much more than sake — it’s a great parody of Americans who take one vacation to Japan and then act like they grew up there. Chis Gibson and Valerie Estes are only trying to enjoy sake because of their "Japanophile" friend Roger, who spend 10 days in Japan once.
"We were eating vegetable tempura when Roger suggested we order some sake," Gibson said. "Valerie and I just sort of looked at each other. She said she just wanted to get some plum wine, which we've both had before and enjoyed, but Roger insisted. And you can't really argue with Roger when it comes to things Japanese or, as he might say, 'Nipponese.'"
Other fun things in this issue
“Area Man Less Capable Than Own Watch” feels a little out of date — watches are more than ever a vanity display of your wealth, old-timey class or the latest technology.
But nothing is more dated than that watch and that mustache. An amazing combo.
This story is yet another early 2000s Onion story that highlights a blue-collar worker — in this case, print shop employee Len Halicki. He receives a watch for Christmas (a real watch company in Suunto, by the way), which sounds like a nice beginning. But that’s about the only nice thing here. The story is mostly a recap of how Halicki doesn’t understand the watch, has no sense of style, can’t show up to work on time or do assigned tasks, and isn’t attractive.
"Unlike Len, the watch has a rugged, handsome face," cashier Mary Lupino said. "And it doesn't have a big, bushy mustache that looks like it fell out of the '70s."
Added Lupino: "The watch's face is also scratch-proof. Len found out that his definitely isn't when he drunkenly tried to kiss me at the holiday party."
This was a goofy, fun issue to read. Here are a few other stories I liked:
“Dubious Inclusions Damage Credibility Of Entire Record Collection”: The Onion wrote fairly often about record collections back then. I guess there were a lot of 1970s music buffs influencing this trend. Poison and The Eagles are the offensive records, by the way.
“Women's Prison Riot Feels Gratuitous”: This is a mockery of … stereotypical male thinking about women’s prisons? A subgenre of adult films? It’s a weird read, even if I get what The Onion was trying to do.
“God Loses Decision-Making Coin” is classic Onion coverage of God as omnipotent and also cursed by human foibles. It’s also got that one photo of God that The Onion always uses.
Were the infographics good?
“The Meat-Substitute Boom” is a story ahead of its time, as meat substitutes are an ingrained part of society today but were new-ish then.
The jokes are not sophisticated and probably don’t hold up, although “Sham Hocks” with that damn goofy pig is a hall of famer in my book. And I guess I also like “Soysters Rockefeller.”
I don’t know what to think about “Least-Recommended Toilet-Training Books For Children.” I’ll leave judgment up to parents. The Berenstain Bears joke makes me laugh because it’s so aggressively juvenile.
Speaking of parents, you get a double dose of fun this week with “Toy-Buying Tips For Parents.” So … there’s a wholly unnecessary slur in this list of tips, which mars what is mostly a bunch of advice guaranteed to cause injury to your children.
I appreciate this as a fan of Old-Fashioneds:
It's amazing how much kids can learn about chemistry the old-fashioned way. As soon as you get home from work, demand that they mix you an Old-Fashioned.
What columnists ran?
I will warn you — I didn’t really understand “I Have A Way With 25- To 34-Year-Old College-Educated Women Making $30,000 To $50,000 Per Year” the first time through. I thought it was mostly some kind of early pickup-artist column.
But then I realized that it’s mostly an absurdity — a marketer whose work requires thinking in terms of demographics, and he’s lost any ability to think or function without applying demos.
This column is sort of like the Smoove B columns in that both men are obsessively detailing how a date with them will go. But where Smoove is all about detailing the luxuries, the no-expense-spared efforts and the inevitable lovemaking, Gary Langenkamp just wants to talk about customer personas.
He has learned from his mistakes, at least:
I haven't always had such luck with women. For years, I tried dating blue-collar/service-industry employees making between $15,000 and $20,000 per year, only 19 percent of whom had completed education beyond high school–the segment of the population most likely to visit Sea World, shop at Wal-Mart, read True Story, and watch QVC. Big mistake. These dates tended to be significantly less enjoyable than those with women who own a $1,000-plus computer, drink diet soda, watch Nightline or ER, and possess at least two credit cards.
A $1,000-plus computer! And it was probably enormous.
Anyways, here’s hoping Langenkamp found his dream woman:
I could see us buying a home together in a cute little seaside town with a violent crime rate of under 300 crimes per 100,000 population and a cost-of-living index hovering right around 100. Then, after a few years of married bliss, we'd start thinking about having a few dependents. That would be so wonderful: me, my spouse, and our 1 to 3 children living happily ever after.
I do love how the advice columnist’s answers are book jacket blurbs endorsing a FoxTrot best-of book, including the creator of Funky Winterbean. Even for this column, this is a very silly pretense, but I enjoyed it.
There’s also this intriguing claim:
Simply put, Bill Amend's Fox Trot does for the American family what Cathy Guisewite's Cathy does for the single woman.
Most “Hey, it’s 2001!” reference
This quote from watchmaker Olaf Peterssen in “Area Man Less Capable Than Own Watch” is a delight. I haven’t thought about “Powerpuff Girls” in many, many years.
"As watch technology continues to advance, the gulf between the abilities of timepieces and their owners will only widen," said Peterssen, speaking from the company's headquarters in Finland. "A person like Len Halicki is probably better suited to a plastic Powerpuff Girls watch from a Burger King Kids' Meal."
What was the best horoscope?
One time at a bar, a guy near me was spouting off about something science-related, and someone in the group challenged his expertise. He said, “I’m a scientist.” The group murmured and accepted his authority for a few seconds, until another person blurted out, “You’re a social scientist!”
This horoscope reminds me of that.
Sagittarius | Nov. 22 to Dec. 21
Just because you once shoplifted a candy bar in Toronto, that doesn't make you a "suave international criminal."
What holds up best?
JLo, of course. She’s an icon then and now.
My 10-year-old son does nothing but hole up in his room and play on his computer all day. I'd like him to get out more, enjoying the fresh air and the company of other kids, instead of living in cyberspace.
What holds up worst?
The slur in the “Toy-Buying Tips For Parents” article feels like another instance of The Onion wanting to say that homophobia was bad, but not realizing that ironically shouting some terrible language without much context isn’t really better than doing so unironically.
What would be done differently today?
Sadly, we would not have “VCR Fast-Forwarded With Toe.”
Once again, there would probably not be a joke about an airplane crash, as seen in the God story about “Designing Women” star Dixie Carter:
God said He hopes to locate the coin before 7:15 a.m. Thursday, when United Flight 251 takes off from Seattle with actress Dixie Carter on board.
What real-life people were mentioned?
X-Ray Spex. Al Green. The Pogues. Portishead. Poison. The Eagles. Brian Eno. The Flying Burrito Brothers. Jennifer Lopez. John Norris. Bob Goen. Jill Smolowe. Sean “Puffy” Combs. Britney Spears. Christina Aguilera. Terry McDonell. Tommy Hilfiger. Bill Amend. Cathy Guisewite. Queen. Cynthia Vahlkamp, Howard Schultz. Wynton Marsalis. Branford Marsalis. Dick Cheney. George W. Bush. Billy Joel.
The first 8 names are all musicians mentioned in “Dubious Inclusions Damage Credibility Of Entire Record Collection,” while Queen is mentioned in the horoscopes.
Norris was an MTV News reporter, Smolowe wrote at People, while Spears, Aguilera and Hilfiger are also mentioned in the JLo story.
Vahlkamp really was Starbucks’ chief marketing officer in 2001-02 and is quoted in the Starbucks article along with Schultz.
The Marsalis brothers are mentioned in “I Have A Way With 25- To 34-Year-Old College-Educated Women Making $30,000 To $50,000 Per Year.”
Cheney’s real-life hospitalization and surgery was discussed in “Dick Cheney's Heart,” which also mentions Bush and Billy Joel.
What was happening in the real world?
Here’s the real-life news from March 5-11, 2001, omitting the few days of production before The Onion’s print date. News is from InfoPlease and the front pages of The New York Times (subscription required). Movie and music charts are linked:
Vice President Dick Cheney hospitalized. Congress repeals Clinton-era workplace regulation. U.S. Hispanic population up 60% in 10 years. School shooting kills 2, injures 13 in California. NYT profiles OxyContin’s rise. FAA seeks no-bid contract for upgrading air traffic control system. IRS steps up tax-evasion raids. Bush not interested in North Korea talks. UN alleges Iraq seeking kickbacks in “oil for food” program. Ariel Sharon takes charge in Israel. Congress works on tax cuts. 14-year-old sentenced to life without parole in murder (later overturned). U.S. wants Slobodan Milosevic arrested if aid is to continue. “This is the first time in American history we've had a president and a prime minister.''