Spaghetti advice and Congress' Scooby-Doo adventure
20 years ago today, The Onion delved into break-ups, Tiger Woods' Nike deal, the Bush-Gore debates and famous people contracting diseases (no, not that one)
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 Oct. 4, 2000.
This week’s issue is subtle, but we have some excellent Area Man tales and surprisingly clever ways of making politics and diplomacy funny. I think you’ll enjoy it.
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What issue is this?
In the print version but no longer online is the headline “Man In Fido Dido T-Shirt Unaware That Something Must Be Remembered To Be Considered Kitsch,” which I had to Google to understand. So, good job on that one, Onion!
What was the top story, and other impressions?
There are a few things going on here. One, it’s the mindset of a man fresh out of college who believes “the best tomatoes” means “a big jar of Prego spaghetti sauce.”
Two, it’s kind of a follow-up to 1999’s Point/Counterpoint “European Men Are So Much More Romantic Than American Men vs. American Women Studying In Europe Are Unbelievably Easy,” which also involved a male protagonist pretending that mediocre food was great (among other things).
Three, it’s like a recipe blog or YouTube cooking video gone horribly wrong. This guy is so enthusiastic, so authoritative, and yet he’s calling from-the-box pasta “fresh,” giving away the secret locations of garlic salt (“spice section of any good supermarket”) and offering up gems like this:
A good supermarket will have all different sizes of Parmesan cans. The one to get, though, is one with a dial on top for pouring out just the right amount.
Even his enthusiasm for getting guys to cook is not about the joy of cooking, but because “all the world’s best chefs are men.” But in the end, making good spaghetti is about getting the girl. He’s got advice for sealing the deal:
For a real classy touch, classical music is a great idea, too. I recommend The Best Of Mozart–it's a totally killer disc.
For dessert, buy a carton of gelato. It's like ice cream, only it's fancier. Italians eat it all the time. If you do this, you are guaranteed to get laid.
Politics standing in for real life
Jacques Chirac, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair
“Russia's Closest Friends Ready To Try Military Intervention” is a curious story to analyze 20 years later because we have so many preconceptions that don’t pertain to this piece. Russia wasn’t necessarily in disarray in 2000, and while people were suspicious of Vladimir Putin’s early power grabs, he wasn’t the ever-present ruler he is now. The idea of military intervention on behalf of the world is based on pre-9/11 ideals, rather than anything emerging from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.
This story ultimately is half “we must hold an intervention for our friend’s sake” and half “we must militarily intervene for humanity’s sake” morality tale. Even with metaphors and analogies flying around, it’s also explicitly clear that these countries will actually invade with troops and tanks.
So, this story is a confusing mix. It’s fairly amusing, but not a classic. Credit to The Onion for one brilliant moment where it illuminates the lies we tell ourselves, whether we are holding personal or military interventions:
"Yes, many people have gone in there without success," Blair said. "You have to realize, though, that people like Napoleon and Hitler probably didn't have Russia's best interests at heart when they went barging in.”
Sen. Trent Lott
The other story embedding politics in real life is “Congressional Panel To Investigate Old Parker Mansion,” which I’m told is basically a Scooby-Doo story (I, for some reason, have almost no familiarity with the Scooby gang).
Two things to understand about this story. First, even if you don’t know that reference, this is still a fun romp in which the reliability of Sen. Trent Lott’s flashlight is unusually important. Pirate gold is also rumored to be in play, which attracts such politicians as Sens. Jack Reed and Robert Bennett. That said, former NFL star and Rep. Steve Largent is focused on the mission at hand:
"The gold isn't the point," Largent said. "The point is to find out what's going on up there, and what's making those lights, and what happened to Old Man Parker. If we have to camp out all night in that place to find out, that's what we'll do."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sadly, is excluded on accounts of being a girl.
The second thing to know is the suddenly relevant Joe Biden, mentioned when Lott talks about past false alarms with ghosts:
"It always turns out to be marsh gas or a crazy old hobo or Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) in a sheet or something.”
Area People doing Area Things
“Break-Up Made Easier With Colorful Visual Aids” feels more modern today in the wake of “service journalism,” which is basically every “How to do X basic task” story out there. Think Lifehacker, Wirecutter, and so on. Here, we learn how to conduct a persuasive breakup.
Credit to Amy Duquette for putting in all this effort at just 20 years old, considering how many people “ghost” each other nowadays and are proud of it:
"I knew Chris was going to have a lot of questions, and that's when I got out this professionally bound report with the peek-through title '10 Reasons Why I Want Out.'"
The article also gives a lot of credit to the customer service provided by Copy Express, whose visual materials were so impressive that even boyfriend Chris Straub was persuaded.
"I never realized the great disparity between the frequency and sincerity of Stephanie's expressions of love and those of my own until I saw it laid out in a vibrant, red-and-yellow pie chart," Straub said.
Other Area Man articles you might want to check out include:
“Independent Film Made By Dependent 27-Year-Old” is a millennial joke, but about Gen X.
“Congolese Civil War Buff Fights In Civil War” makes fun of Civil War reenactors.
Were the infographics good?
Imagine a contract worth $20 million a year causing such a stir today! All 50 CEOs on this list made more in 2019 total compensation, while 51 NBA players were scheduled to make more this season before the pandemic.
“Nike’s $100 Million Man” does well with many sports and celebrity tropes, including two sly Michael Jordan references. Not every joke holds up, of course, but at least none feel like they’re making fun of Woods himself.
The clause that should have been real? “Nike to hold veto power on all potential girlfriends.”
“Top Recurring U.S. Nightmares” is disappointing and sparse, except for “Can’t take off new mittens,” which is now stuck in my head.
What columnists ran?
We already covered our spaghetti expert, so let’s move on to Onion publisher emeritus T. Herman Zweibel, who delivers a dialogue on the effectiveness of fear, appropriately titled “I Live In Fear.”
Look, I publish a highly regarded leadership newsletter that espouses positivity, but I’ll admit Zweibel’s not entirely wrong here:
In the realm of business, it has been an unparalleled boon. Fear, after all, is at the root of hatred and anger, the two empire-building tools which have spurred me to swell the Zweibel coffers to a state of absolute, unfettered corpulence. Like all good capitalists, I fear and despise competition and have therefore destroyed whatever rivals poke their heads up. As a result, today, The Onion remains the last news-paper in the Republic.
The Onion columnist who’s the polar opposite of Zweibel also published this week. Jean Teasdale follows up her recent marital, parental and God troubles with “I Just Love My New Part-Time Job!” She recaps her troubles — her “Y2K crisis” — for the unfamiliar reader and then talks about getting a job at Fashion Bug (no longer in business) rather than be a housemaker.
Teasdale’s an odd duck. She’s not a lazy worker, but she also loves that the job is easy because there are almost no customers. Either way, she is getting more hours and has a supportive boss. I’m glad something’s going well for her.
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
George W. Bush. Al Gore. Sen. Robert Bennett. Sen. Trent Lott. Sen. Jack Reed. Rep. Steve Largent. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Bill Clinton. Louis Freeh. Joe Biden. Bill Richardson. Randy Newman. John Sebastian. Guy Ritchie. Madonna. Pauly Shore. Barbara Bush. Christopher Walken. Tiger Woods. Tina Turner. Gerhard Schröder. Jacques Chirac. Tony Blair. Vladimir Putin. Aleksander Kwasniewski. Adolf Hitler. Napoleon Bonaparte.
George W. Bush and Gore are in “Bush Vows To Do 'That Thing Gore Just Said, Only Better,’” which covers their recent debate. Bush is also mentioned in the Cancer horoscope.
Then-FBI Director Freeh and Energy Secretary Richardson are mentioned in “Congressional Panel To Investigate Old Parker Mansion.”
Barbara Bush and Walken are in “Top Recurring U.S. Nightmares,” while Turner is in the Tiger Woods infographic.
Schröder, Chirac and Kwasniewski were among the heads of state mentioned in “Russia's Closest Friends Ready To Try Military Intervention.”
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
I had forgotten Guy Ritchie and Madonna were a thing. They were married in late December 2000 and divorced in 2008. So I think any story about them is worthy of this spot in the newsletter.
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
Clinton is mentioned at least twice! He’s quoted in the Russia story, although this quote where Clinton wonders how Russia spends its aid money makes more sense if Boris Yeltsin were still in power:
"Let's just say I have my suspicions," added Clinton, making a drinking motion with his hand.
Clinton is also mentioned briefly in the Congress story, where Rep. Steve Largent complains that “Mr. Clinton doesn't like us poking our noses into spooky, suspicious stuff.”
Technically, you could say Clinton makes a 3rd appearance via this T. Herman Zweibel quote:
“I make a point of motivating every last one of my employees, from the scullery-maid to the President of the United States, with fear, as well as its constant companion, threats and derision.”
What was the best horoscope?
No one actually knows how many federal crimes are on the books, which inspired the Twitter account @crimeaday. So let’s highlight Libra’s account of the rare legal activity.
Libra | Sept. 23 to Oct. 22
Your plan to commit the perfect crime is flawed in one important aspect: Sitting on the couch watching football all weekend is not illegal.
What holds up best?
“Fame Sexually Transmitted” predates an entire generation of useless people becoming famous through sex tapes and/or PDA on reality TV shows. Just because Guy Ritchie probably would have become famous through his movies doesn’t change the fact that dating Madonna helped.
Speaking of celebrity, “Actor-Comedian Pauly Shore Bad At 32” was an easy prediction by The Onion, but they all count.
What holds up worst?
“Top Recurring U.S. Nightmares” was not great 20 years ago and fares worse now. There are also a couple of jokes in the Tiger Woods infographic that maybe had context back then but are jarring, at best, now.
What would be done differently today?
There wouldn’t be a fun story about Congress running around trying to solve a spooky mystery, and while I understand why that is, it’s too bad.
The deadpan aspect of “Bush Vows To Do 'That Thing Gore Just Said, Only Better’” does seem to be alive and well in 2020, if articles like “Hope Hicks Exhausted After Another Day Packed Full Of Meetings” are any indication.
I suspect there’s also more coverage of generational stereotypes these days (in the wider culture, if not The Onion), where we are more familiar with stories like “Independent Film Made By Dependent 27-Year-Old” than readers were in 2000.
What was happening in the real world?
Here are real-world news events from Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2000, keeping in mind The Onion’s production schedule was a few days ahead of its publishing date. The news is pulled from InfoPlease and the front pages of The New York Times (subscription required):
Abortion pill wins FDA approval (covered by The Onion). Senate backs spending to preserve Florida Everglades. Former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau dies. Difficulties emerge in labeling GMO foods. Yugoslavia election results are disputed, with runoff ordered. “Leery of the Web, Olympic Officials Set Limits on News.” Summer Olympics proceed through final days. Supreme Court declines immediate hearing of Microsoft case. NYT profiles concerns about violent video games, teen-targeted screenings of violent films, while some parents say censorship is their job. Bill supporting prescription drug imports gets bipartisan backing. Soft money fuels campaign ads. Countries look to explore Arctic natural gas, while Bush calls for more drilling at home. West Nile virus claims 1st American death of 2000. Hollywood strike possible. Israel abandons corruption case against Benjamin Netanyahu. Fighting breaks out between Israelis, Palestinians.