Monopolies and Toilets: The Onion from 20 years ago, April 19, 2000
The Onion reports on the Monopoly monopoly, the phrase "make love," who won't flush the toilet at work and the discovery of "time."
Welcome back to The Onion: 20 Years Later. Today, we’re looking at Vol. 36, Issue 14, from exactly 20 years ago: April 19, 2000.
I hope you’re enjoying these reviews! It’s a great hobby and a welcome distraction for me. Please share this with anyone who loves The Onion or who just needs something that’s not #coronavirus to read.
And if you’re new, please sign up below. One weekly fun email, no cost, no demands.
What issue is this?
This is the 13th published Onion issue of the 2000s, even though it says issue 14. The print copy also says April 20-26, but all the stories have been dated April 19 online as far back as 2000. The photo above is from The Onion’s book collection of front pages and is what print readers saw. Here is the website in 2010 and in 2020.
What was the top story, and other impressions?
20 years ago this month, a federal court ruled against Microsoft in an antitrust case, saying it acted like a monopoly, primarily in how bundled the Windows operating system with Internet Explorer. I was surprised The Onion didn’t comment on his last week, but here we are with the news that Parker Brothers also lost an antitrust case in “Federal Judge Rules Parker Brothers Holds Monopoly Monopoly.”
Here is Rich Uncle Pennybags giving separate Senate testimony:
I love this article so much. I talk a lot here about The Onion’s strength in creating a fake universe of local news, but this is one of the best examples of skewering real news while creating something new and even funnier.
All the details are what makes this a classic — it’s not just the obvious “Oh, a monopoly? How about a Monopoly monopoly!” gag many of us could think of. The article is written like a real case occurred, complete with the length of the judge’s ruling (62 pages), all the various Monopoly-related products, a quote from the prosecutor (MILTON BRADLEY!). and a report on Parker Brothers’ other business woes.
(Side note: By 2000, Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers were actually a combined subsidiary of Hasbro. So Milton being the prosecutor is a bit of internal sabotage!)
We also here about the many alleged Parker Brothers crimes — or, basically, the things you do to play the game of Monopoly:
Prosecutors also accused Parker Brothers officials of money-laundering, both in offshore accounts and so-called "under the board" money. Parker Brothers attorneys argued that the extra funds were due to a bank error in the company's favor, but prosecutors cited tax forms showing that the company opted to pay a flat income tax, per Atlantic City law, rather than have 10 percent of its gross worth calculated. Receipts for a luxurious diamond ring taxed at $75, presented late in the prosecution phase, proved similarly damaging to the defense.
That $75 tax for a diamond ring is pretty damning. Milton Bradley also questions the leadership and moral character of Rich Uncle Pennybags:
"Clearly, this is not the squeaky-clean company Mr. Pennybags would have you believe it is," Bradley said. "And while we're on the subject, what about Pennybags himself? How reputable is he? This is, after all, the man who, in 1997, attempted to cover up his second-place finish in some sort of bizarre beauty contest for elderly men."
Also, the Thimble was interviewed by a throng of reporters after testifying.
Who knew we’d miss office toilets?
My second-favorite story was “Mid-Level Manager Forced To Find Out Who Isn't Flushing The Toilet.” Again, what elevates this story is the heartbreaking amount of detail. Poor Bill Tepfer of Shademaster Tent & Awning Supply can’t solve this toilet problem in the second-floor bathroom, even after vowing to check the bathroom every hour. Employees are unhappy, and emailing their complaints.
Tepfer can’t even try to scare off the unknown culprit because “Dilbert”-level bureaucracy is in the way:
Tepfer said he believes a sternly worded sign reminding employees to flush would be an effective measure. However, he noted: "An entry in the employee handbook clearly states that, 'In order to maintain a professional atmosphere, no paper or cardboard signs are to be posted in or around any shared employee areas, including the break rooms, hallways, or bathrooms.' So, unfortunately, that's out."
On a personal note, the article notes the stress of only have 2 restrooms for 44 people, and that “long lines” are forming for the other restroom.
Let me tell you, my office has many more than 44 people in it when there’s not a pandemic, and we have 1 men’s room and 1 women’s room. So Shademaster Tent & Awning Supply employees should stop complaining!
The language of love
The third piece I want to briefly discuss is “Area Man Creeped Out By Request To 'Make Love.’” There’s no bad guy in this story, but I’m marginally on the side of Wake Forest senior Patrick Fuller.
Look, romantic love is a nice thing. But it’s not a third casual date between two college seniors, not when you leap from kissing to candles and requests like “Make love to me, Patrick” and that his date was "ready to take you inside."
I have received push-back on this from a close source, and I’m happy to hear your thoughts! But either way, I love the use of “inappropriately romantic” in this quote:
"She had all these scented candles lit, and there was a bottle of wine to go with the spaghetti she'd made. The radio was even turned to the classical-music station. It was really inappropriately romantic. We're not, like, deep, impassioned lovers or anything like that."
All good so far. What didn’t work?
This April 19, 2000, issue of The Onion is top-heavy. You’ve got all-time classics in those first two stories, and there are other quiet gems, such as “Waiter Seriously Needs His Apps” and the Captain Marvel-foreshadowing “Hotshot Test Pilot Removes Helmet, Reveals Female Status.”
And I can’t go forward without quoting this from The Onion’s report on scientists discovering time:
"No longer will the extinction of the dinosaurs, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Earth-Xabraxiq Pod Wars all collapse into a single point," theoretical physicist Dr. Lawrence Chang said.
Unfortunately, this issue also has some duds and some questionable choices.
“I'm Not A Wino, I'm A 'Why-Yes'!” is a great headline, and I absolutely appreciate the idea of the author buying into feel-good positivity, thus finding the motivation to double-down on his drinking. I just don’t know how fun it is for many folks to read. But hey, that’s a venial sin, as us Catholic-raised folks would say.
Same with “New Spiritually Correct Doll Lets Children Show Where And How Jesus Touched Them.” I don’t know whether the accompanying photo weirds me out or adds to the joke.
More alarming might be an infographic called “The Columbine Legacy" to mark one year since that shooting. I mean, I never want The Onion to shy away from a topic, but how much funny was there to mine here? Similarly, the Jesse Helms headline/photo, which can be seen on the cover image above, has some wordplay but … I’m not qualified to try and parse the humor there.
Nobody’s perfect. The best of this issue shows The Onion’s range in taking shared experiences and twisting them into delightful parody.
Were the infographics good?
This is OK. I always wish these contained my jokes, but that’s just my preference. Apologies to anyone out there named Karen Finley.
There was also that Columbine infographic! What an … interesting choice. The jokes themselves aren’t bad, but I guess I would ask: Who was the audience for this?
This last infographic/illustration is one that appears in the print edition and on the 2000 website but isn’t online today. It’s a goofy take on Easter cards. Here’s the joke: the Easter Bunny is Jesus, and Jesus is the Easter Bunny. Enjoy!
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
WHO director Johann Bruckhörst-Kliebe. Bill Clinton. Leonardo DiCaprio. Jesse Helms. Rep. Charles Stenholm. Rep. Floyd Spence. Rep. David Dreier. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Sen. Carl Levin. Tim Russert. Jesus.
The then-director of WHO shows up in “Report: Most Terrorists Do Not Start The Day Off With A Good Breakfast,” admonishing about poor nutrition being a staple of terrorism. It’s a harmless story, but so obviously a pre-9/11 story.
All the congressmen and senators, as well as Tim Russert and Bill Clinton, are featured in “Congress Wonders If It's Even Making A Difference Anymore.” I’m not moved by this story of congressmen complaining about their very easy jobs, even as a parody, but it’s fine for what it is.
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
Jokes about terrorists’ inner lives feel like 2000, as does the Columbine anniversary. But I’m going to go with a happier — and weirder — event: “The Clinton-DiCaprio Summit.”
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
Why, yes he was! Twice, in fact. He tries to cheer up the legislative branch in “Congress Wonders If It's Even Making A Difference Anymore.”
Then, he appears in what apparently was a real-life thing: Being interviewed on ABC by "Titanic” star Leonardo DiCaprio as part of an Earth Day special.
ABC News staffers were angry about this move. ABC claimed Clinton surprised them by asking for Leo; the White House denied this. Apparently, the interview that aired was only a few minutes, and the Elian Gonzalez story overshadowed it.
(Also, DiCaprio got into a charity bidding war in 2013 for a day with Bill, so this interview wasn’t enough to sate him.)
Where was I going with this? Oh, right. Anyways, The Onion asks people on the street for their opinion. The answers reveal a level of political cynicism that should remind us in 2020 not to think the late 1990s/early 2000s was some sort of era of harmony.
What columnists ran?
Last week, we learned his son is a 7-foot-tall Frankenstein’s monster-resembling creature. Zweibel revels in the opportunity to raise another hell-raiser, fondly recalling his other much older sons’ prowess at being “charming brats.”
G. Talmadge and R. Buckminster, my twin sons, were fond of fomenting individual mayhem and then blaming the other boy. V. Lucius was quite fond of clubs, with which he would often beat me.
Unfortunately, N. Aeschylus’ combination of loose child-rearing and mechanical strength might have already killed a servant.
An emergency! I must go! Just now, Standish attempted to restrain poor N. Aeschylus from consuming a pint of 40-weight rock oil and was surprised by the boy's vigorous response. I must now direct my servants in fetching Standish's limp body from the mansion's roof. My boys have always been a precocious brood!
Will Standish survive? We shall see.
Also returning this week, as woeful as Zweibel but with neither the servants nor the body count, is Jean Tisdale in “Jean Teasdale Living.” She’s struggling with her career, her body and her marriage:
Not only that, I put on nearly 15 pounds. One day, as hubby Rick was leaving for work, he looked at me and said, "You'd better get out of that bed and start moving, or soon we're gonna have to knock out a wall just to get you out of the room." (Boy, I can always count on Rick for moral support!)
I’ve never connected with the Jean Tisdale columns. She’s written with a consistent voice, has a clear personality and style, so it’s not really The Onion’s fault. She’s always grinning through awful news, which is maybe what bugs me.
It gets worse for Jean. She decides to become a homemaker, but day one is less than productive, involves a vomiting cat and nearly kills herself mixing ammonia and bleach. And there’s even more trouble on the horizon.
The Onion doesn’t mess around— Jean Tisdale has nothing going well and is more determined than ever to push through it. A for effort on this one.
What was the best horoscope?
This isn’t the happiest Onion issue, is it? Let’s cheer ourselves up with Virgo:
Virgo | Aug. 23 to Sept. 22
Your plan to rob Fort Knox with a ragtag bunch of old Army buddies will go off without a hitch, leaving you plagued with feelings of guilt.
What holds up best?
“Mid-Level Manager Forced To Find Out Who Isn't Flushing The Toilet” is a classic tale of middle management drudgery and the worst of office BS. While many of us can’t be in the office right now, this story will live on.
What holds up worst?
The Columbine jokes. To be fair, The Onion eventually shifted to its “'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” feature, which if not funny is at least poignant.
What would be done differently today?
I wonder whether the Monopoly monopoly story would exist, if only because a story like that is rarely cranked out in a day. If a Microsoft-like ruling occurred today, The Onion would probably run several items or mentions within the first 36 hours, and then move on.
There was also nothing about the 2000 campaign. I’m guessing this is because Al Gore and George W. Bush had no remaining challengers, and so the campaign was muted, if not halted. The Congress story makes sense because there was a publicized budget battle (over the massive government surplus!) happening, among other legislation. So, Congress and bills were topical.
What was happening in the real world?
The Onion published April 19, but printing a newspaper requires an earlier deadline. Therefore, here are news items from April 10-16, 2000, as listed by InfoPlease and the front pages of The New York Times front pages (subscription required):
Elian Gonzalez’s return to Cuba is ordered, but Miami relatives resist, and a federal court is asked to intervene. Ralph Nader gears up for another presidential run. Congress passes bill limiting pre-trial asset seizures. NYT continues profiles of “homicidal rage” and other gun violence issues. Women, men say dating scene in Silicon Valley is terrible. Myanmar rebel army led by twin 12-year-olds. Pulitzers awarded. US spy agencies suffer from computer problems. Peru elections lead to fraud allegations. South Carolina votes to recognize MLK Jr. Day, ,move Confederate flag away from capitol dome. NASDAQ in a bear market. Dow also sinking. Smith & Wesson tries to redefine gun settlement terms. American Federation of Teachers seeks test for new teachers. NYT looks at how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation might spend its $22 billion. IRS data: Poor audited more frequently. Protests in D.C. against the World Bank. South, North Korea to meet.