"Mason-Dixon Line Renamed IHOP-Waffle House Line" turns 20 today
But that headline is about the only timeless thing from this very morbid 2001 issue of The Onion
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 April 25, 2001.
This is one of the darkest, most morbid issues I’ve covered. There’s also a lot that’s out of date, like 2001-era coverage of Pride parades and the self-explanatory headline “First Chapter In History Of Sino-American War Of 2011 Already Written.”
On the other hand, the front-page headline “Mason-Dixon Line Renamed IHOP-Waffle House Line” remains one of the most enduring jokes despite its brevity. Read on as I try to comprehend this 20-year-old issue.
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What issue is this?
The print issue in 2001 had 2 republished items, if the 2001 website is accurate: “Poison-Prevention Tips” from March 2000, and “Ask The Cheat Guide To BloodLair” from Jan. 26, 2000. I reviewed that issue but somehow forgot to mention it.
This great headline is no longer online: “Spelling-Bee Runner-Up Bursts Into Tears Whenever Anyone Says 'Proprietor.'“
What was the top story, and other impressions?
I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk through much of “Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance Of Gays Back 50 Years,” but it was the top story 20 years ago today.
What I am qualified to note is that this is the latest attempt by The Onion in 2000-01 to comment on gay people and gay culture, and this version is better-executed than usual. Yes, it’s wildly over the top, and likely dated or inaccurate in other ways. The bright side is that The Onion is focused on a target: straight people who blithely accept stereotypes as fact and let their opinions of people’s worth be affected by a few parade floats. I’ve documented other Onion attempts that were muddled and too eager to mix in slurs and insults.
There are some jokes about the community’s parades, balanced against a historian who reminds us that the community is “reclaiming their enemies' worst stereotypes about them and turning them into symbols of gay pride.” And the “50 Years” in the headline seems itself a bit of a comic exaggeration, although maybe it was selected for being a good round number.
There are also jokes within the jokes, as the line “several Hispanic dancers in rainbow wigs and miniskirts performing ‘humping’ motions on a mannequin dressed as the Pope” is picking on Catholicism as much as anything.
For sure, one reason these types of Onion stories feel out of date is because of how much has changed in social and cultural norms, not to mention the law, over the past 20 years. This story published in a much different world. Lawrence v. Texas was two years away from being decided, for example, as was the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling mandating gay marriage there.
Meanwhile, The Onion published what feels like the 200th mention of a plane crash or in-flight terrorism. It’s probably only 6 or 7 mentions, but these were fairly common before 9/11!
“Best-Laid Plans Of Mice And Men Faulted In 747 Crash” is morbid, but it’s also a clever tactic to have federal investigators wax poetic instead of investigating a plane. In the words of National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Frank Whelan, quoting Hermann Hesse:
“Death can be sweet if we answer it in the affirmative, if we accept it as one of the great eternal forms of life and transformation."
Could you imagine The Onion printing that in September 2001?
411 people were on board this plane! But all American Airlines and the NTSB offer are quotes from Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, “Macbeth,” C.O.S. Mawson, A.E. Housman and “Hamlet.”
The Onion deserves tremendous for being so well-read, or at the least for possessing some collections of famous quotes.
Finally, I want to mention “The Cincinnati Riots,” which was The Onion’s coverage of real-life unrest after an unarmed Black man was shot and killed by police. The Onion asks fictional people for their opinion and receives a quip about the “WKRP” TV show, a defense of sports-related rioting and discourses on the feelings and intelligence of police.
There’s also this real downer to end it:
"I'm sure that if Cincinnati's blacks and whites just sat down and talked honestly about their feelings, it would combust into violence 10 times worse than those riots."
Anita Holcomb • Speech Therapist
For everything that’s way out of date in this issue, this one is strikingly not.
Area People doing Area Things
“Area Father Must Have Read Some Drug-Slang Brochure Or Something” is a little dated in that D.A.R.E program sort of way, but it does succeed at the trope of “teenagers don’t understand their parents.”
We’ve got some real silliness, such as Rodney Dunbar asking his son if he was “pressured into attending a raver party, where kids dance and take party drugs like truck driver, co-pilot, Georgia home boy, and doctor.”
Dunbar knows so much about drugs, including Ecstasy and Ketamine, that he drives his son to go to the school dealer and learn more. No word on whether he also bought anything.
And this paragraph is chock-full of old-timey references:
In the past, parents would use drug slang from their own generation, assuring their children that they "don't have to smoke doobies to be cool." More parents, however, are turning to current slang, picked up from articles about drugs in Time and Newsweek, investigative pieces on 60 Minutes, and movies such as Traffic, as well as from drug-slang brochures.
Other fun stories from this week’s issue:
“Bananas Again Sweep Primates' Choice Awards” is a joke construction The Onion leaned on multiple times. This one works, especially the idea of real-life Dole CEO David Murdock attending. 2002’s “Horatio Sanz Sweeps Latin Emmys,” not so much.
“Area Woman Judges Everything By Whether It's Cute” is yet another obvious joke. The vivid details — Van Gogh, the iMac, 'N Sync, Renée Zellweger and babies in pumpkin suits are all deemed cute — elevate this beyond a cookie-cutter “Women, huh?” story.
“Depressed NRA Member Half-Hoping Son Will Accidentally Shoot Him” somehow is more morbid that plane crash story. The NRA was frequently in the news in 2000-01, hence this coverage.
“Restaurant, Staff Patronized” is a short tale of a Boston lawyer correcting waitstaff on Manhattan clam chowder and old-fashioneds.
“Antarctic Observational Comic Running Out Of Ideas” is a truly original twist on a common theme, and I like that our comic has won the “Molson Ice/Edge Gel South Pole Laff-Off” three times.
Were the infographics good?
Nice to see the mention of “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child, which was the No. 2 single in the U.S. at this point. As you might have guessed, my response would have been “Why anyone would want to watch Survivor?”
Ironically, “Survivor” was beaten in the ratings by “E.R.” in the week this issue was written.
Remember how I said this issue was dark and morbid?
“The Organ-Donor Crisis” does contain a genuinely funny combination of “Dawn of the Dead” and public service announcement, but it also contemplates harvesting homeless people’s organs and encouraging vehicular manslaughter of children.
I had forgotten David Crosby had a liver transplant, received in 1994. I mostly remember him being the donor father of Melissa Ethridge’s child.
What columnists ran?
No regular columnists, but we have two solid guest writers offering classic Onion themes. First is “These Nerf Guns Really Liven Up The Office,” which shows us that white-collar workers want to blow off some steam, too.
Software manager Robert Ulm had tried foosball, but it was too competitive, while ice-cream breaks led to lost productivity. Nerf guns are the Goldilocks of the office, apparently. Ulm has even more ideas, and we’re left with a cliffhanger ending:
As big a success as the guns have been, though, I can't sit back and rest on my laurels. Morale doesn't stay up on its own. Sure, nominal raises and attractive new business cards help some, but it's the little things a manager does that keep an office fresh and vibrant. But the big question is: Are the Super Soakers I ordered going a little too far?
The Onion is also great at relationship advice, and “All Women Don't Know What They're Missing” takes a regular “it’s their loss” sentiment and adds a healthy dose of delusion. Justin Stroebel is prolific, to be sure — at least when it comes to approaching women and immediately facing rejection.
Stroebel is absurdly oblivious to how the way he talks is a big part of the problem. Maybe some readers will be reminded of someone in their lives! He’s discouraged but not defeated, as he rationalizes his plight:
Obviously, I'm just not meeting the right type of women. The only sort of woman I ever seem to meet is either short, tall, thin, smart, serious, overweight, ditzy, career-driven, aggressive, fun, shy, family-oriented, or of medium height. It's hardly worth the effort talking to that kind of girl.
Most “Hey, it’s 2001!” reference
Probably everything in the "Survivor” infographic, since it’s hard to remember a time when reality TV felt so new — and where CBS was the best source.
What was the best horoscope?
I had such a difficult time choosing this week’s horoscope. There are jokes about Disney, syphilis, the Challenger shuttle and more. I’m going to mention two, since it’s my column and my rules.
While “exploiting the stereotype to prove a point” is a tactic The Onion used too often 20 years ago, this is deliberately stupid, which I think helps. Reminds me of Dave from “Happy Endings” and his Navajo heritage backstory, which came from a Navajo writer.
Aries | March 21 to April 19
You will learn that you are 1/64th Chippewa. Honor your heritage by finding a use for every part of the burrito.
This is “Twilight” minus the Vietnam part, right? I haven’t read the books or seen the movies, so I’m just assuming.
Pisces | Feb. 19 to March 20
Your fascination with the Vietnam War, combined with your love of romance novels and vampire myths, cause you to produce the worst work of fiction ever.
What holds up best?
“Mason-Dixon Line Renamed IHOP-Waffle House Line,” of course. It’s great shorthand for most people east of the Mississippi.
But as far as actual Onion articles, I would say “These Nerf Guns Really Liven Up The Office” for its corporate manager perkiness and pep. These stories of “culture-building” are only more prevalent today.
I also want to highlight “Grimacing Congressman Quickly Drafts Legislation For Charley-Horse Research,” which I haven’t mentioned yet. Why? Because it’s a short, succinct and cynical view of how our elected officials operate: They don’t care about issues until they’re affected, and then they only care abuut that issue.
What holds up worst?
This issue is well-written despite so many of the topics being dated. For the most part, I read these articles and thought “Wouldn’t write that now or in that way” than “Good lord, how could they do that?”
That said, “Depressed NRA Member Half-Hoping Son Will Accidentally Shoot Him” seems unusually callous given all the mass shootings of the last 20 years, It’s too easy to imagine the 10-year-old son shooting the NRA member — and that’s the joke?
What would be done differently today?
I think it’s clear “Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance Of Gays Back 50 Years” is least likely to be rewritten today.
Note that there are no real mentions of politicians in this issue, other than the charley-horse congressman.
The Sino-American war headline is a clear response to the recent events of China holding 24 Navy personnel. Today’s Onion could certainly craft a U.S.-China war story, but it might not predict a year.
What real-life people were mentioned?
William Delahunt. David Crosby. Destiny’s Child. David Murdock. Vincent Van Gogh. Anne Geddes. Renée Zellweger. 'N Sync. Donald Carty. A.E. Housman.
The photographer Geddes is in “Area Woman Judges Everything By Whether It's Cute,” while then-American Airlines CEO Carty is quoted in “Best-Laid Plans Of Mice And Men Faulted In 747 Crash.”
What was happening in the real world?
Here’s the real-life news from April 16-22, 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:
Unrest ongoing in Cincinnati. Pulitzers announced. NYT discovers well-off take gap years. English gaining hold as a global language. Media companies get easier path to acquisitions. EPA keeps Clinton-era wetlands rule, looks to address arsenic, soot particles. International Space Station adds robot arm. Peru, CIA contractors mistakenly shoot down airplane with missionaries aboard. NYT profiles the Federalist Society. FBI ignored warning about Robert Hanssen. Booksellers drop suit against Barnes & Noble, Borders. States short on prison guards.