The Onion asked "Who can possibly save us now?" 20 years ago today
Things sure have changed! Also, TV listings, "earth-metal solo projects," the Marx Brothers, Joshua Jackson, and a note on the June 14 issue.
Welcome back to The Onion: 20 Years Later, where we review the print issue from exactly 20 years ago, trying to find out what’s still funny and examining the cultural impact. Today, we look at the issue from June 7, 2000.
This is not an amazing time to be promoting nostalgic satire. I get that. So, please feel free to stash away this email (and last week’s) for a later date! And while we’re here …
Programming note for June 14
We’ll publish next week, but it’ll be slightly different because The Onion essentially published a “best of” issue on June 14, 2000. It’s a rare chance for this newsletter to examine 1990s Onion stories, so we’ll try to have some fun with it.
As always, if you have love, hate or questions, reply to this email, comment on the web version or @ me.
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What issue is this?
This was Vol. 36, Issue 21, the 20th published Onion issue of the 2000s, as The Onion skipped March 29, 2000.
What was the top story, and other impressions?
“Blue Line Jumps 11 Percent” remains the perfect encapsulation of how most of us understand the stock market and how the media covers finance (especially so in much of business media, with its “who won the day?” and day-trader obsessions).
As Stefon might say, this article has everything:
The journalism narrative. The stock market is often treated as if it were a Tour de France competitor halfway through the stages:
The blue line, which had been sluggish ever since the red line started pointing down in April, began its rebound with an impressively pointy 7 percent rise Friday. By noon Monday, it had crossed the second horizontal line from the top for the first time since December.
Quoting a bull who offers a cliché:
"It looks like the line's about to shoot out of the box," said Boston-area investor Michael Lupert, enjoying a glass of white zinfandel on the bow of his 30-foot yacht.
Quoting a bear who offers a cliché:
"And even if this important line continues its upward pointiness, we must remember that there are other shapes, colors, numbers, and lines to consider when judging the health of the economy."
Arguments about the chart’s construction and accuracy:
"Had that same stuff been spread out more, the line would have looked a lot less steep."
The Onion’s TV listings
I remember The Onion’s “On TV Tonight” feature from the annual books they used to release, but I had forgotten all about it, possibly because it’s not online. You have to go to the Internet Archive (linked here and in the screenshot above).
Look, it’s not all great. The BET entries are embarrassing, if not worse, and the Nashville Network listings are basic redneck humor. But there are a few gems. Here are my favorites:
Sci-Fi airing “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Quest Of The Delta Knights” and then regular “Quest Of The Delta Knights”
TBN’s civil war between prayer/reflection programming and a show called “Panty Beach”
VHI’s consecutive half-hour blocks titled “Crosby,” “Stills,” “Nash” and “Young”
Odds and ends
I wish I had a whole newsletter to talk about “Ant Farm Teaches Children About Toil, Death.” It’s funny, detailed and a little too close to philosophical truths. As Wonderco representative Joan Kedzie says:
"Besides, when some of your ants arrive dead, you'll be reminded that the spectre of death hangs over every creature on this Earth!"
“SNL Audience Moved To Tears By Soulful, End-Of-Episode Piano Music.” It’s a curious choice to make fun of the audience rather than “Saturday Night Live,” which always thinks it’s more daring than it is. Also, Joshua Jackson and N’Sync really did headline an SNL episode in March 2000.
“Spouse Under Fire For Telling Anecdote Wrong” and “Bus Passenger Stops Trying To Enjoy Kansas Scenery” are just reports of day-to-day life, but I still enjoy them. Fun fact: Kansas is not actually our flattest state, although this research does come from the University of Kansas, so …
“Account Manager Fondly Remembers Day In College When Everyone Hung Out On Roof.” I’ve been at the same job for almost 11 years, and I’m sure I have workplace rooftop/balcony stories from the old days. And, of course, no one today knows any of the people from the stories, so it’s a sad time all around.
“New Resort Community Still Trying To Think Of Name.” How was this not a “Seinfeld” episode involving Jerry’s parents?
“MIA Remains In North Korea” is a serious topic for The Onion to ask people about, but we do get the ultimate whataboutism from banker David Franklin:
"How can we worry about Korea when there are still bodies missing from the Punic Wars?"
The print edition has two front-page headlines. “Secretary Waxes Garfieldian” is probably about the cat and not the president. “Cheap Garbage Disposal Can't Handle Femur” is disturbing but also an indictment of cheap manufacturing.
The Marx Brothers
I appreciate the Marx Brothers more than I enjoy them. The comedy is from such a different era, and there is a lot that lacks context today or otherwise doesn’t hold up. (A rare point of disagreement between me and Conan O’Brien is “Duck Soup.”)
“Area Man Really Wants To Like The Marx Brothers” highlights someone who feels the same way. I love that even in 2000, comparing a film to Adam Sandler was unfavorable (although I still want to watch “Uncut Gems”):
"A couple years ago, I rented the 1935 screwball comedy A Night At The Opera, considered by many to be their masterwork," Logan said. "The whole movie, all they were doing was running around like idiots and using funny voices. It was like some annoying Adam Sandler movie.”
Were the infographics good?
“Who Can Possibly Save Us Now?” is not predicting the future, except for maybe “No one, you fool!” It’s just a short, silly list that manages to include Aquaman in The Onion for a second consecutive week.
I had no idea the National Rifle Association ever proposed a restaurant. “The NRA Restaurant” is extra intriguing because the other NRA is the National Restaurant Association, which probably didn’t love its (surf and) turf being invaded.
The jokes write themselves here. By the way, did this restaurant ever open? I couldn’t find any proof on Google.
What columnists ran?
T. Herman Zweibel has nothing to do but write, and this week’s “Do Not Be Cross With Me, Sweet Lillian” is unusually focused on the past, even for a 132-year-old man.
Zweibel writes his dear Lillian, a little concerned because he hasn’t received a letter from her in 84 years.
Zweibel is not exactly a charmer. Instead of pledging his devotion upfront, he rambles on about his then-living wife, his “torrid affair with Miss Bernadette Fiske,” and some loose talk about the sexual prowess of a “thespianess.”
Speaking of women who remember the 1920s, we get a “Fight Club” parody with “The First Rule Of The Quilting Society Is You Don't Talk About The Quilting Society.” It’s very committed to the bit, so if like quilting or that movie, you’re in business.
By the way, I didn’t read this column closely till this weekend, and hoo-boy, this is a line:
“You will know each other by the stitches you bear and the passion you both feel surging through your quasi-fascist, sewing-based revolutionary consciousness.”
Finally, we have a man ahead of his time in “I Am Sick And Tired Of The Same Old Burger,” as Cal Link’s dissatisfaction with fast-food burgers would surely be sated by the fancy $15 burgers available nowadays!
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
Backstreet Boys. Joshua Jackson. N’Sync. Ana Gasteyer. Tim Meadows. Marx Brothers. Adam Sandler. Leonard Maltin. Charlie Chaplin. Buster Keaton. Carl Gustav Mosander. Charlton Heston.
The Backstreet Boys are featured on the front page in the headline-and-photo “Backstreet Boys Become Backstreet Men In Backstreet Ritual.” That’s the whole joke!
Gasteyer and Meadows are mentioned in the “SNL” article, while Maltin’s positive review of “A Night At The Opera” is negatively cited in “Area Man Really Wants To Like The Marx Brothers.” That area man, Craig Logan, decides to watch Keaton and Chaplin’s films but expects to not like them, either.
Then-NRA president Heston is mentioned in the NRA infographic.
Carl Gustaf Mosander, spelled “Gustav” by The Onion, discovered lanthanum in 1839. 171 years later, the world was stunned as “Lanthanum Quits Periodic Table Of Elements.”
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
Joshua Jackson and N’Sync in the same sentence. Absolutely. Good Lord.
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
No Bill this week. Lanthanum isn’t an animal, but there is quiet genius in an element giving the same canned PR nonsense that every departing executive/musician/athlete gives:
"I have nothing but good things to say about my time with the periodic table. Nevertheless, I will be stepping down after Labor Day to focus on my own earth-metal solo projects."
What was the best horoscope?
A sound warning to us in this age of automation comes from Virgo:
Virgo | Aug. 23 to Sept. 22
Though they may do your bidding for the moment, beware: The robots are not your friends.
What holds up best?
“Blue Line Jumps 11 Percent” is how nearly too many people think about any data point, even though we should know better.
No knock on the Marx Brothers, but every year that passes from their heyday means more people nod their heads at “Area Man Really Wants To Like The Marx Brothers.”
What holds up worst?
The front page of The Onion’s print newspaper could have brilliant one-liners or duds. This week, that Backstreet Boys headline sounds good in theory but is lazy, not to mention generating many unpleasant images.
“Goodwill Employees Shaken By Gigantic Pants” has good imagery but is a vague fat joke without much of a payoff.
What would be done differently today?
There’s nothing going on but protests and coronavirus, and The Onion right now reflects that.
Sadly, there’d be no TV listings. I love that feature.
Also, was there nothing going on with the presidential campaign worth parodying? Had the writers not cared to build out fake personas for Bush and Gore?
D-Day is also not mentioned, but the 56th anniversary of anything is not exactly top of mind.
What was happening in the real world?
The Onion published June 7, but printing a newspaper requires an earlier deadline. Therefore, here are news items from May 29-June 4, 2000, as listed by InfoPlease and the front pages of The New York Times (subscription required):
Political campaigns discover email. New York Times launches series called “How Race Is Lived In America.” Clinton has separate meetings with EU, Putin and Israel. US loses jobs in May. Appeals court upholds INS decision on Elian Gonzalez. Ex-Indonesian President Suharto put under house arrest. “Youth Court Of True Peers Judges Firmly.” Crime declines in US cities, offering hope for urban revival. Northern Ireland parliament to be restored after Sinn Fein says it will disarm. Space shuttle Atlantis lands safely after mission. “Asia's Tycoons Prepare to Join Rush to Internet.” NYC parks news: Central Park’s popularity creates challenges, while proposed Hudson River Park gets major approval. Sierra Leone rebels free all UN peacekeepers. US criticizes handling of Peru presidential election. Japanese companies try offering baby bonuses. FCC considers loosening broadcast regulations, will reduce long-distance phone rates.