RIP Cardinal Carroll O'Connor, and more from The Onion 20 years ago today
The little things matter: A cashier who allows line-cutting, NPR listeners who care, the failed pursuit of love and a hipster who keeps doing mainstream stuff.
Welcome back to The Onion: 20 Years Later. Today, we’re looking at Vol. 36, Issue 17, from exactly 20 years ago: May 10, 2000.
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What issue is this?
What was the top story, and other impressions?
Remember when Time magazine was a thing? Or magazines? Or print? Back in 2000, all these things were still rolling along, and what Time published could shape the national conversation.
Time really did publish a fancy Earth Day special issue in April 2000, but in “450,000 Unsold Earth Day Issues Of Time Trucked To Landfill,” The Onion imagines that it was a colossal failure and that Time did more to destroy the Earth than fix it.
This is very much the modern Onion article style that I’m not a fan of: Take a real-life event, change a few details and call it a day. That approach doesn’t require much imagination is lacking, and the article is more commentary than satire.
That said, I enjoy the detailed description of how the unsold magazines were collected, transported to a warehouse and eventually dumped into “the world’s largest landfill.” I love a good logistics story (it’s an occupational hazard)!
Annoying people we meet in our lives
Thankfully, this week’s Onion also features satire about the minutia of daily life — closer to the small-town newspaper parody it’s always been good at.
We have “Cashier Allows Line-Cutting To Go Unpunished,” which I enjoyed in no small part because my local supermarket, Safeway, is the setting. This also reflects how vindictive people become at small slights, with shopper Ida Sims demanding someone be punished — the line-cutter, the cashier — or she’ll punish Safeway by going elsewhere.
There’s also “Man Paid More Than Enough To Put Up With This Shit,” which imagines a world in which a 25-year-old PR associate is making over $100,000 (in 2000, no less!). If only we had this refreshing honesty more often:
"Normally, I'm not the type of person who'd put up with the kind of shit I take daily from Mr. Frankel," Schad said, "but my six-figure salary and unbelievable benefits package more than make up for it."
I live in Washington, D.C., where many, many people love NPR. I have no strong opinions other than, as an editor, I’m grateful for more news outlets, not fewer. But I definitely recognize real people in the short article “Civil Unrest In Sierra Leone Concerns NPR Listener.”
Finally, “Local Hipster Over-Explaining Why He Was At The Mall” is a delightful deep dive into a supposed hipster who keeps violating the rules, like shopping at Williams-Sonoma, owning Kid Rock’s “Devil Without a Cause” and much more. The last paragraph is a beautiful summation — also, thank goodness Keri Russell isn’t known only for “Felicity” anymore:
Among the other items Larsen has over-explained recently: how he knows who Keri Russell is, why he ate at Bennigan's, what he is doing with an Entertainment Weekly subscription, and why he saw the movie Keeping The Faith.
Love, love, love
Love is a big theme in this week’s Onion, although it’s entirely about love gone wrong.
Our star story is “Man, Woman Refuse To Lower Standards For Each Other.” As regular readers might guess, I love this story because it’s not based explicitly on a real-life event, and there are endless details that only the most dogged reporter would ever uncover. I also like that this story doesn’t go for cheap jokes that mock our protagonists, just-exiting-their-prime Eileen MacKay and Doug Traschel. Instead, it points out the contrast of how they disdain each other even as everyone else thinks they are an obvious match.
Coworkers almost immediately began pointing out to Traschel and MacKay all the things the two had in common, including their mutual interest in Mexican cooking, popular fiction, and old movies.
Isn’t that nice? Alas, it was not to be. If you dare, comment or email me what you think happened to Eileen and Doug, now 59 and 60 years old, respectively.
Love, or its opposite, also surfaces in these stories:
“Congress Votes To Intervene In Local Wedding” — alternately, I’m available to judge the odds of your relationship’s success without requiring federal legislation!
This photo is captioned “Ann Landers' Advice Arrives 11 Weeks Too Late.”
Were the infographics good?
This is a weird one, but sure. The idea of a Keebler Plant foreman makes me laugh, and also, why don’t these factories have fun names? “Keebler Plant #17”? C’mon, Keebler.
I remember this “Friends” salary dispute more than I remember the actual show (with apologies to my friend Anna). Two things about this infographic:
The jokes are really random. But with 10 of them, we’re all guaranteed to find at least one we like and one we really hate. For me, I simultaneously laughed and groaned at “Five galleons of textiles from the Orient.”
What the hell is up with those outfits?
What columnists ran?
Hollywood columnist Jackie Harvey is back, and I like this column better than his last one. The title of “Darva's Baring Her Congers In Playboy!” refers to Darva Conger of the ill-fated Fox special “Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire,” which The Onion covered in March 2000.
Jackie Harvey is always writing about recent events (and getting the details wrong), and I frequently consult Google because I don’t understand the references. But I want to highlight this one paragraph, which is one of my favorite Harveyisms of all time:
Item! Cardinal Carroll O'Connor, best known for playing Archie Bunker and heading the world's largest Catholic diocese, has passed away. Who else can make the claim that they soothed the world with spiritual salve and tickled our collective funnybone? He was a wonderful man, and no meathead can ever take that away from us.
I appreciate the silliness of articles like “Barryploegel.com Will Never Be Accused Of Having Too Little Information About Barry Ploegel” — there should always be room for such goofy enthusiasm. Barry Ploegel is also a great name.
I write this newsletter to overanalyze, and so I must mention that this article is simultaneously dated and prophetic.
Every reference in this paragraph. I also created some MIDIs in 1999-2001, to be fair.
“Future historians need not wonder who this enigmatic "Barry Ploegel" fellow was. They need only access my site to find an abundance of photos of me, a selection of MIDI Music that I composed, and excerpts from my very own Babylon 5 fan fiction.”
He plans on finding a girlfriend through reading the personal ads.
Barry is many, many years ahead of most copy editors in treating “cyber-” constructions as one word — “cyberstroll” and “cyberspace.” He does say “web site,” however.
He understands the value of owning your own platform and the popular saying “if you’re not the customer, you’re the product,” as he created his own website rather than rely on GeoCities (RIP).
Onion publisher emeritus T. Herman Zweibel is back, commenting harshly on the Microsoft antitrust decision in “Save The Soft-Wares.” He brings some real 1910 energy to this column:
The thing that boils me most is all this trust-busting. I don't bank-roll the goddamned Supreme Court so it can avidly participate in the undoing of our Republic's most ruth-less captains of industry! There is entirely too much ruth as it is! First, they went after the Steel Trust. Then the Oil Trust. Then the Beef Trust. What next, the Haberdashery Trust?
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
Darva Conger. Rick Rockwell. Ted Turner. Jane Fonda. Metallica. Halle Barry. Mark Addy. Will Smith. Drew Carey. Enrique Iglesias. Ashley Judd. Vieques Island protests. Stephen Sondheim. Kid Rock. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. Keri Russell. The “Friends” cast. Harlem Globetrotters. Ann Landers. Al Gore. George W. Bush. Barbara Bush.
The first 11 celebrities listed are from Jackie Harvey's column. Seriously, if you want butchering of 2000 movies and actors, go take a look.
The Vieques Island protests were an ongoing event that included Puerto Ricans rallied against the U.S. Navy’s use of the island for bombing exercises. Baseball fans might recall this because of Carlos Delgado’s related protests a few years later.
The Onion asked people on the street what they thought, and there’s a subtle “Love Boat” reference as well as this gem:
"The prophetic vision of Stephen Sondheim has come to pass, as the world braces for a dramatic showdown between the Puerto Ricans and the jets."
Allard is the senator who comments in “Congress Votes To Intervene In Local Wedding.” He was known for introducing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, among other things. He left office in 2009 and is still alive.
Al Gore and George W. Bush finally return to The Onion after weeks away with the summer-camp prank parody “Gore Camp Denies Putting Bush Camp's Canoe In Treetop.” There are many paragraphs of silliness along these lines:
No love has been lost between the two camps of late. Last month, Bush staffers were accused of orchestrating a "panty raid" against the girls from the Hillary For Senate camp. Allegations that the Bush 2000 web site was hacked by a Gore staffer identified only as "Spaz" remain unproven.
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
The “Friends” salary dispute is hard to top here. I’m also fond of the B. Dalton reference in “Local Hipster Over-Explaining Why He Was At The Mall” and Doug Traschel and Eileen MacKay disagreeing over the best John Grisham novel in “Man, Woman Refuse To Lower Standards For Each Other.”
But I’m going to give in to my Jackie Harvey bias and award it to this line:
With all the news about the Internet super highway, I suppose I should mention that the world wide web is being sued by the rock band Metallica.
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
Sadly, a week without either.
What was the best horoscope?
Your mileage may vary, but I really liked this horoscope.
Scorpio | Oct. 23 to Nov. 21
Though you're sure the punchline is something like, "Superman, you're a mean drunk," you'll be damned if you can remember the whole joke.
What holds up best?
Oh, this is tough. The little stories about people’s bad habits and everyday situations, probably. I mean, I was just at a Safeway last week and someone (accidentally) cut in front of me in the self-checkout line. I didn’t say anything. Everyone is freaked out at the grocery store these days. It wasn’t worth a fight, and I only waited a minute or two longer.
What holds up worst?
I really like this issue, and the worst thing I can say about it is that it’s pretty low-key. Let’s note that “Spaz” as a nickname (as in the Gore staffer) was a very 1990s thing but is definitely out of favor today.
What would be done differently today?
This issue from 20 years ago is surprisingly similar to today’s Onion in mixing “local” stories with real news. A look at the Onion’s website on May 9, 2020, reveals a similar pattern. There are a million Trump-related stories, yeah, but also some inventive material.
The only difficulty of publishing for 30-plus years is that it’s hard not to copy yourself. “Watch What Happens When You Zoom In On This Bread” is very old-style Onion, but it’s kind of ripping off Clickhole’s bread content).
The lesson? This stuff is difficult!
What was happening in the real world?
The Onion published May 10, but printing a newspaper requires an earlier deadline. Therefore, here are news items from May 1-7, 2000, as listed by InfoPlease and the front pages of The New York Times (subscription required):
UN peacekeepers killed, captured in Sierra Leone. Trial begins in 1988 Pan Am plane bombing. Putin sworn in as Russia’s president. Federal agents disperse protestors at Vieques Island. Time Warner-Disney dispute cuts off channels for millions. NYC Cardinal John O'Connor dies. “I love you” virus strikes computers. Unemployment falls below 4%. Genetically engineered salmon become food option. 25 years since the Vietnam War ended. Iran begins espionage trials for 13 Jewish men, while reformer candidates continue to shine. White House lobbying for China trade bill includes sponsored trips for congressmen. Detroit concerned about population dipping below 1 million (editor’s note: below 675,000 as of 2018). Census reply rate increases. Possible VP candidates lobby Gore, Bush. Court says traditional Mississippi state flag isn’t official. Certain states become attractive for families with autistic children. IRA agrees to international arms inspections.