The Onion explored stuffed animals, sports rivalries and Iggy Pop 20 years ago today
We also have commentary about "Just Shoot Me," a Britney Spears novel, hoof-and-mouth disease and choosing a college.
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 April 18, 2001.
Today’s issue has a story that inspired a T-shirt that I own.
I’m grateful every week to share this with you. If you think someone else would enjoy this, please let them know! And if you’re new, sign up below.
What issue is this?
As discussed last week, the story “Accountants Pack Times Square For Fiscal New Year” appears to have published 20 years ago today despite long being listed as publishing April 11, 2001.
No longer online are these two headlines. Ramone died April 15, 2001.
“Lite Brite Peg Extracted From Ear”
“Joey Ramone Passes Away A-Hey A-Hey”
What was the top story, and other impressions?
“Accountants Pack Times Square For Fiscal New Year” is a weird story because, well, the annual tax-filing deadline of April 15 is not the same thing as a fiscal year! (The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1, for what it’s worth.)
The entire premise is a ruse to talk about accountants — a stereotypically boring profession — going wild. If you love finance jargon and out-of-date references like Deloitte & Touche, Lotus 123, Windows 2000 and Lou Dobbs as a CNN finance talking head, this story is for you.
This is standard Onion parody — taking a real event and changing just enough words to create a new, lopsided universe. Instead of Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, you’ve got John Kenneth Galbraith's Fiscal New Year's Rockin' Eve. Instead of throwing trash cans and other debris in raucous celebration, accountants are flinging pocket calculators and Parker pen sets.
And, of course, crowds are chanting:
Shortly after 10 p.m., a portion of the crowd began to chant, "Excel! Excel!" in unison, prompting another group to defend its preferred spreadsheet software with shouts of, "Lotus 123! Lotus 123!" As the two sides' intensity increased, the impassioned yelling turned to shoving, and police had to escort several accountants out of the crowd.
“Stuffed-Animal Biodiversity Rising” is classical Onion satire and also a very early 2000s story in terms of talking about endangered wildlife, what was then called global warming, and so on. It’s also one of two stories this week to mention Beanie Babies (Jean Teasdale’s column, which we discuss below, is the other).
The glut of stuffed animals is a good news-bad news scenario, as the World Wildlife Federation helpfully explains:
According to the WWF report, 885 animal species are in danger of extinction worldwide, and another 165 are classified as threatened. Of these 1,050 at-risk species, however, an estimated 970 can be found in mass quantities in children's toy boxes and on collectors' shelves.
Kids growing up in 2001 don’t know how good they have it with stuffed animals, with WWF director Ruth Aberg noting that even many bear species were once unattainable, much less thousands of other vertebrates.
The Onion does not ignore the actual ecological crisis; in fact, it uses the exact same language to describe the supply of stuffed animals, such as this commentary on having an oversupply of stuffed animals:
"We have a plan, should the animals on store shelves become too numerous," said Adrian Rohn, a spokesman for Wild Republic. "We will simply employ a systematic reduction of prices to encourage bargain hunters to thin the herd."
Iggy Pop and other pop culture
We have an unusual collection of celebrities in this week’s issue. Let’s start with Iggy Pop, who’s mostly incidental to “Song About Heroin Used To Advertise Bank” except for his song "Lust for Life" being the centerpiece.
(I saw Iggy Pop perform at the 2008 Virgin Mobile Fest in Baltimore, standing right near the stage. He was great, if a little odd as a 61-year-old man wearing only tight jeans.)
This is perfect satire of real-life banks and advertising agencies that use decades-old rock song to sell something as safe and anodyne as personal banking. The banking executive’s canned statement on the commercial is spot-on:
"We at Metrobank are proud to welcome Mr. Pop to the Global Tetrahedron family.”
… "Putting your trust in a financial institution other than Metrobank, well, that's like hypnotizing chickens."
(I also love that this commercial aired during “Everybody Loves Raymond,” because Metrobank looks and sounds like Goliath National Bank from “How I Met Your Mother.”)
The article notes the many other drug anthems being used for commercials, including the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” as a pitch for the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Please make this commercial, someone.
And it’s not just products for adults:
"Such sentiments resonate profoundly with the American consumer. That's why 'Rocks Off' is perfect for Procter & Gamble's new line of children's shampoos."
Meanwhile, “St. Jude Swears Off Ever Answering Another Personals Ad” shows that even heaven-dwellers struggle with love. I wish it were longer — the patron saint of lost causes being baffled by “losers” is a great starting point.
And since the internet is incredibly good at creating niches and sub-niches, I wonder whether “Ironic-Kitsch-Appreciation Subculture Excited About New Britney Spears Novel” would have made even more sense in 2021.
Finally, we have the short-but-brilliant “Sitcom Resorts To Wizard Of Oz-Themed Fantasy Episode,” which describes a fictional episode of the David Spade show “Just Shoot Me” but could apply to countless other shows in real life.
Area People Doing Area Things
A lot of this issue’s stories are about real-life events or, at least, using real-life people in fictional situations. That said, here are a couple “Area Man” mentions:
“Bus Passenger Suspects Man In Next Seat Might Be Having Conversation With Him”: This describes a Greyhound bus trip but could also describe almost any city bus route or subway car.
“Bill Up And Dies In Tennessee Legislature” is a rather silly, tossed-off Southern hick parody. You’d think I would love this line, but it feels somehow too ridiculous:
Rep. Lefty Perkins (R-Pigeon Forge), chairman of the House Committee On Looking After Your Own Business, celebrated the death of the bill by firing his shotgun into the air.
Were the infographics good?
“Worst-Selling Specialty Magazines” is a good premise, but I’m not sure how funny these jokes are. They read to me like, “Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t sell.”
“‘Monkeybone’ Insider” is a reference to a February 2001 film starring Brendan Fraser that flopped.
I remember Mad Cow disease around this time but not so much Europe’s near-simultaneous problem with “The Hoof and Mouth Panic.” The immigration and cleanliness protocols described here sound eerily familiar to early COVID-19 responses, which isn’t just a coincidence.
“Boiling all British beef until gray and flavorless, the way the British do” did make me laugh. British food is fine enough, in my limited experience, but don’t spend a summer in Italy and then go to Britain, or you’ll dislike every meal there.
Finally, we have “Choosing A College,” which is a little hit or miss. I do enjoy the line “You can never go wrong choosing a college you saw advertised on public transportation” because it’s oh so true.
There are jokes about Harvard and the Harvard Lampoon, the Army, Playboy’s college rankings and a random dig at Burt Ward, who was Robin in the original “Batman” TV show.
What columnists ran?
This week’s “You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area” is a beautifully generic version of the sports trash talk that fans of any two teams have.
Columnist Bill Brodhagen not only believes his team has superior talent, but that his team will perform better, has better uniform colors, a better-built and more aesthetically pleasing facility, smarter and better-looking fans, and are more likely to have fans all over the world.
Sports fandom is often a relatively safe substitute for pathological beliefs that would otherwise lead to violence, oppression, etc., as Brodhagen demonstrates here:
Not only are the supporters of the team from my region more spirited, but they are also more intelligent and of finer breeding than you and the rest of your ilk. In addition, the female supporters of the team from my area possess more attractive countenances and figures than yours.
Brodhagen acknowledges that “there were times when your team beat my team, but those were lucky flukes.”
This is a bit of a meta column, as Jean talks about what she’s learned from another female newspaper columnist — the "Nancy's Fancies" column in The Herald-Clarion. Nancy shares less of her personal life than Jean and talks more about community events, putting those people’s names in bold face.
(For anyone from my hometown reading this, this is like the old Stratford Star columnist whose name I can’t remember.)
Anyways, Jean turns the rest of her column into trivia and factoids, such as the cartoonist from Snuffy Smith dying, the 2-months-ago death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and how Jean’s husband got mad when she suggested he simply become a fan of Jeff Gordon. I laughed at Jean’s lack of interest in car racing, as this paragraph illustrates:
Yikes! What brought that on? (Cue the Twilight Zone theme!) Don't get me wrong: I'm sorry Dale Earnhardt died. But, after all, he did race cars at speeds approaching 200 mph. There are loads of far safer sports he could have chosen. Like soccer, for example.
There’s even more in this column, which might be my favorite Jean Teasdale entry yet.
Most “Hey, it’s 2001!” reference
This paragraph from the sports rivalry paragraph is very representative of the public discourse in 2001:
I would not be a bit surprised if the individuals on the team from your area were sexually attracted to members of their own gender. That is how ineffective they are on the field of battle.
What was the best horoscope?
Many very specific attempts at humor this week, but Pisces might be my favorite:
Pisces | Feb. 19 to March 20
The biggest mistake of your life was asking the exact wrong people to write your letter of recommendation.
What holds up best?
I think “You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area” still feels very familiar to anyone who loves sports or, especially, has heard other people argue about sports.
What holds up worst?
The Onion’s “What Do You Think?” feature this week was “Executing The Mentally Disabled,” which looked at the real-life Supreme Court case on the subject.
The word choices we use have changed drastically — the New York Times was using a certain word in headlines about this case that is no longer considered appropriate.
The jokes here are not poorly written, and there’s something still clever about the first comment, where the person is offended not at executions but about the word choice. That said, the subject matter doesn’t age well.
What would be done differently today?
There are no real political stories, which probably wouldn’t be the case today. And there are some word choices and cultural conventions that have changed over 20 years.
I found this to be a slightly dull issue, relative to most Onion issues. But I think the topics and the humor would mostly succeed today. It just didn’t move me.
What real-life people were mentioned?
Joey Ramone. John Kenneth Galbraith. Lou Dobbs. Britney Spears. St. Jude. David Spade. Laura San Giacomo. George Segal. Wendie Malick. Slobodan Milosevic. Fred Lasswell. Cathy Guisewite. Dale Earnhardt Sr. Jeff Gordon. Iggy Pop. The Stooges. Jane's Addiction. The Velvet Underground. Neil Young. The Rolling Stones. William S. Burroughs. Lou Reed. Johnny Thunders.
San Giacomo, Malick and the recently passed Segal were all stars of “Just Shoot Me.”
Milosevic had just been arrested in 2001, and he is in the front-page headline “Milosevic Confesses To Crimes Against Subhumanity.”
Lasswell from 1942-2001 drew the “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” strip, which started in 1919 and still exists. I’d never heard of it before writing this email. Jean Teasdale’s column also mentions “Cathy” creator Guisewite, a common Onion foil in the early 2000s.
All the musicians besides Ramone, are mentioned in the heroin bank ad story, as is the author Burroughs.
What was happening in the real world?
Here’s the real-life news from April 9-15, 2001, omitting the few days of production before The Onion’s print date. News is from InfoPlease and the front pages of The New York Times (subscription required). Movie and music charts are linked:
Tiger Woods wins 4th straight major. President Bush offers first budget, accepts Clinton-era rules on medical privacy. Cincinnati remains on edge after killing by police. China releases 24 U.S. Navy personnel. Russian TV network taken over by state monopoly. FAA orders flights to have defibrillators. NYT profiles court-appointed lawyer with 1,600 clients, little worry. Detroit police accused of regularly arresting witnesses. Businesses awash in C-level titles. US, EU reach deal on 9-year banana dispute. IRS enforcement declines. NYT examines President Clinton’s high-profile pardons. No court martial for Navy sub commander. Early Internet delivery firm Kozmo shuts down. Archive of photographs placed in a mine.