Reviewing The Onion: Feb. 9, 2000
I investigate The Onion's missing stories, and The Onion calls out Ray Lewis
Welcome back to The Onion: 20 Years Later. Today, we’re looking at Vol. 36, Issue 04, from exactly 20 years ago: Feb. 9, 2000.
Thanks for reading and for your support! I’m having a lot of fun, and I hope you are, too.
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What issue is this? And what mystery have I uncovered?
This is The Onion’s fourth issue of the 2000s. I have good news and bad news.
Bad news: There are discrepancies between the 2000, 2010 and 2020 websites. Stories aren’t in the same order. Today’s website lists some stories in the wrong issue. And, most curious, there are 4 stories on the 2000 website that do not appear on the 2010 or 2020 versions.
I decided an investigation must occur. Unfortunately, I’ve been sick all week, so by “investigation,” I spent about 10 minutes Googling. Here are my findings.
Who absconded with the missing stories?
3 of the 4 stories are on the web today. The exception: “Heaven Is Over-rated!” by the dead Herman Ulysses Zweibel doesn’t appear to exist on the web today.
What of the other three? Two were published in past issues of The Onion — these are recycled stories. One is this all-time classic originally published in 1998. And “Baby-Care Tips For First-Time Parents” is from 1997.
“Valentine’s Day Kids Page!” does appear to be brand-new, and it’s … terrifying? My favorite is “Here’s my Valentine!” where the boy has carved out his own heart. The good news is you can still print and cut out the illustrations today. Get to it, parents!
Why would The Onion republish old stories? My guesses:
The print edition got extra pages because of sold advertising, and The Onion staff had to fill them quickly.
Few people were thinking about the Internet then as a traceable archive.
What was the top story, and other first impressions
I have no idea what the top story is! Was it the one-note fake magazine cover “Women: Why Don’t They Lose Some Weight,” as the 2000 website suggests, or was it “Amazing New 'Swiffer' Fails To Fill The Void,” as the 2010 website highlights?
(I have ordered The Onion’s hardcover book featuring the weekly covers, so I will have answers in 5-10 business days! But for now, bear with me.)
But forget that. I want to talk about “NFL Star Thanks Jesus After Successful Double Homicide,” which published about 1 week after Ray Lewis was arrested in the stabbing deaths of two men. As much as I talk about The Onion’s love of fake local newspaper stories, ultimately The Onion is a great American story of satirizing the rich, powerful and famous. And this story is as brutal as you can get without taking a life.
I know, I know, Ray Lewis didn’t kill anyone directly, and he has fervent defenders. But much of that wasn’t known at the time (and we still don’t have Ray’s bloody white suit). And so The Onion steps in, satirizing both Lewis’ overly performative faith and that athlete-speak of congratulating their vanquished opponents:
"First off, I'd like to say 'great job' to Isaac and Pamela, who put up a heck of a fight and have nothing to be ashamed of," Banks said. "They were terrific opponents, and it's too bad somebody had to lose a life. But the Lord Jesus Christ was truly with me Saturday night. He guided my hand when I was able to make that big hit on Isaac, and I really felt His presence when I stepped up and made that great slashing cut to bring Pamela down from behind."
Added Banks: "Jesus really let me take this homicide to the next level. Thank you, Jesus!"
Ray Lewis really talks like this. If you think I’m kidding, here’s a real quote from Lewis — 13 YEARS LATER — about what he’d say to the families of the two dead people:
“To the family, if you knew — if you really knew — the way God works, He don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory,” Lewis said. “No way. It’s the total opposite.”
Here’s The Onion, again:
"The Bible tells us that nothing is done on this Earth but that is done through God. No multimillion-dollar contract extension, no game-saving interception, no acquittal on both counts of first-degree murder happens without Him."
In the non-God category, what else did I like about this issue?
As usual, I enjoy when The Onion’s satire from 20 years ago is no longer a joke but has become our real lives. Such as:
“Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn't Own A Television”: We all know people who brag about having no TV, no smartphone, etc. etc. This article also mentions things like Calista Flockhart and the Learning Channel.
The Swiffer story. Reminding us that consumerism can’t make us happy. I feel badly for poor divorced Glenn Pulsipher:
"Dust in the wind," said Pulsipher, his voice taking on a muted tone of resignation as the TV blared. "That's all our various pitiful and deluded human endeavors ever amount to in the end. My job, my marriage--dust. All dust. And all the Swiffers in the world can't sweep it all up."
“Compliment Suspiciously Vague” reminds me of passive-aggressive emails, tweets and other online interactions.
The headline and photo “Employee Owned and Operated” is also pretty dark. The Onion staffers were in quite a mood this week.
Overall, this is a fun issue, but almost every cultural reference is incredibly dated. Mentions of Alan Keyes! Oxygen Network! The NBC show “Later”! And one of many airplane crash jokes that mysteriously stop appearing sometime in 2001. I wonder why …
Were the infographics good?
I guess Oxygen is still a network, which mostly proves I don’t pay attention. Anyways, it was brand new back then! I don’t know whether these jokes are good. I do know they feel very 2000. And that illustration of Oprah is not very good.
We also have an office-worker infographic this week! As someone who doesn’t really have an up-to-date resume, I will be using all these tips this weekend.
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
Alan Keyes. “Later” the show. The band Asia. Mars Lander. Wal-Mart.
“Alan Keyes Admits: 'I Just Enjoy Campaigning” is a blast from the past. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Keyes ran for many political offices and lost all of them, including against Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Now … most of us are like, “Who?”
I love late-night television, and if someone would pay me to do a newsletter about the history of that, I would. But even I rarely watched “Later,” and not just because it was on at 1:35 a.m. In 2000, “Later” didn’t have a permanent host. The Onion story “Police Seek Suspect In Series Of Random Later Hostings” is pretty much repeating that. It’s not great. I can’t believe I’ve written this much about it.
I don’t remember anything about the Mars Lander, so “Mars Lander Staggers Into NASA Headquarters Drunk, Broke” is lost on me.
I also don’t know the band Asia well, other than Steve Carell’s character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” has an Asia poster. (Wow, this newsletter should be renamed “Let me tell you what I don’t know”) Anyways, “Sole Survivor Of Air Crash Has Asia's 'Sole Survivor' Stuck In Head” is a harmless enough pre-9/11 premise that I doubt has been revisited. Also, that Asia song was only 18 years old then — like citing Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” today.
“The Bank Of Wal-Mart” is another saga I don’t remember, and it seems odd in this day of Venmo and bitcoin that a $1 Sacajawea coin would be minted, much less only available at banks and Wal-Mart. The fake people’s replies are pretty good, though, especially:
"What better way to honor this great Native American than to restrict her movement to a handful of small, white-controlled locations?"
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
This entire damn issue screams “Hey, it’s 2000!”!
But let’s just look at “As You Can See From My Name-Brand Clothing, I Am Not Poor,” which reminds me of every brand that was a big deal when I was in high school.
“But, as you can clearly see from my $220 Fubu jacket and $95 Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt, I could not possibly be poor.”
“See these Karl Kani jeans? Eighty-eight dollars.”
“If my total weekly take-home pay were only $175, why in the world would I spend practically that much on a Nautica sweater and pair of Timberlands?”
“But just look at these Lugz boots. And look at this Sean John baseball cap. They prove that I'm in an entirely different social class from my relatives, as well as from all those suckers who ride the bus with me every day.”
“Angela was holding her two-year-old son, but he obviously isn't placing much of a financial strain on her, as he was wearing a complete matching Abercrombie & Fitch outfit, which must have cost around $140.”
What columnists ran?
Onion publisher emeritus T. Herman Zweibel finally takes a week off in favor of his late father, Herman Ulysses Zweibel, reporting on his dislike of Heaven. Unfortunately, he ends up in Hell.
“Behold Hell's most horrific vista: an eternity in my son's bed-chamber! Well, I'd better make the most of it, and commence scaring the shit out of people.”
One of my all-time favorite columnists is The Outside Scoop by Jackie Harvey, who appears here with “It's The First February Of The New Millennium!” Harvey is a takeoff of Larry King’s folksy, name-dropping USA Today column, which itself is a very “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference.
It’s a delight to see Harvey get so many details almost right but totally wrong. Here’s one example:
I don't know why it's happening now, but Colonel Harry Potter of M*A*S*H fame seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Instead of being on TV, though, he's the star of his own series of bestselling children's books. Now I've seen everything! Hey, I don't care whether he's fighting the good fight in Korea or having magical adventures with his imaginary wizard pals, I love that gruff straight-shooter with a heart of gold!
Go check out Jackie Harvey’s archive. It’s worth the time.
What was the best horoscope?
Pisces is being rude but truthful this week:
You will be spiritually and emotionally unprepared for the events of next Thursday, though nothing particularly notable is expected to happen.
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
No! The headline “Cat Makes Break For It” was as close as we got.
What holds up best?
This is a weird issue to look back on. Everything is solid: Funny local news stories and good reactions to real news, but so little of it matters anymore. That said, “NFL Star Thanks Jesus After Successful Double Homicide” is a classic, and little vignettes into ordinary life like “Dental Hygienist Angered By Lack Of Flossing” and “Grandma Still Swallowing Okay, Grandpa Reports” continue to be things we can all relate to.
Also, I’m sorry, but “Regulation Spitefully Obeyed To The Letter” makes me laugh every time.
What holds up worst?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with “Sole Survivor Of Air Crash Has Asia's 'Sole Survivor' Stuck In Head,” but airplane crashes aren’t really a joking topic anymore. Not to mention there was an actual plane crash the week before.
What would be done differently today?
“Women: Why Don't They Lose Some Weight?” would be done differently today, I imagine, in part because of the joke’s aim and in part because newspapers rarely have Sunday magazine inserts anymore!
Like I said, this issue is generally humorous. That the jokes had a short shelf life isn’t a bad thing. It’s not like the current Onion’s endless political jokes will be memorialized in 2040.
What was happening in the real world?
The issue published Feb. 9, but printing a newspaper requires an earlier deadline. Therefore, here are news items from Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2000, as listed by Wikipedia and The New York Times front pages (subscription required):
Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV, coach retires. John McCain, Al Gore win in New Hampshire. McCain stays on New York ballot. “Online Revolution's Latest Twist: Job Interviews With a Computer.” Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashes. Tarja Halonen, noted Conan O’Brien doppelganger, elected Finland’s president. John Rocker suspended. Iraq rebuilding military sites. Jury selection in the trial on Amadou Diallo’s death. Law firms lose lawyers to “dot-com” companies. Chechnya forces retreat. Ford offers employees “a high-speed desktop computer, a color printer and unlimited Internet access for just $5 a month.” Tulsa Race Riot Commission urges reparations. Large-scale war in the Congo region. Hillary Clinton gives interview about Senate campaign.