The Onion killed off Bill Nye 20 years ago today
Read on for The Onion's takes on marriage, fanny packs, dangerous cell phones, italics, gambling and nursing homes
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 Aug. 23, 2000.
Looking back 2 decades is a great way to realize:
What has drastically changed in our world.
What history just repeats itself, over and over.
Today’s issue has both of those.
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What issue is this?
This was Vol. 36, Issue 29, the 28th published Onion issue of the 2000s and the 27th issue of new content.
Here’s what the website looked like in 2000, 2010 and today. Some weeks, today’s Onion is missing stories. This week, the 2000 print issue was recycling old stories to fill space. Thankfully, no one is missing 1998’s “March '74 Oui Passed Down To Next Generation In Special Ceremony.”
What was the top story, and other impressions?
The top story 20 years ago today is an Onion classic parody of D.C. lobbying, much as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Mario and Lara Croft demanding better video game safety rules.
“Nevada Gaming Commission Lobbies Congress For Just $20 Million 'Til Friday” trades on Vegas stereotypes about gamblers and loan sharks, with the Gaming Commission leader portrayed by “Freddy Loquasto, appearing somewhat agitated and sweaty” as he testifies before the House of Representatives.
The politicians pull the classic maneuver of expressing sympathy while in the next breath disparaging the Nevada Gaming Commission. To be fair, the commission spent school-lunch funding on casino shuttlebuses.
The story is pretty basic, but it does end with this fun quote:
"Contrary to what some people would have you believe, we only spend our money on things that are necessary to the overall health and success of Nevada's gaming industry," Loquasto said. "So, come on, House Appropriations Committee, help us out here: Baby needs a new pair of giant golden sphinxes."
We also lost Bill Nye 20 years ago in what seems like a meth lab/mad scientist parody, “Science Guy Bill Nye Killed In Massive Vinegar/Baking-Soda Explosion.”
Nye is remembered fondly but also for his recklessness:
"I still have nightmares about the Very Large And Extreme Gyroscope Of Science," Grein said. "That monstrous apparatus almost taught the children of Seattle about angular momentum the hard way."
Grein also noted Nye's aborted attempt to build the world's largest soda-bottle water tornado, which burst during its final stages of construction, soaking hundreds.
History repeats itself: The Onion edition
The Onion is well known for writing satire that later becomes true. This week had stories that aren’t exactly predictions, but do show how history can repeat — although the 2020 versions are more dire.
“Nursing-Home Resident Receives $5.25 Worth Of Care Per Hour”: You might have heard in 2020 about problems with nursing homes. There’s no story, just the photo and headline.
“High School Drug Testing” was more of a hypothetical in 2000. Today, we’re also talking about potential COVID-19 testing in schools this fall.
“Area Organization Pro-White, Ain't Anti-Nobody”: I don’t know whether there was a specific inspiration for this in 2000.
“Esoteric Racist Hates Uighurs” is not online but was on the front page of the 2000 print issue. Substitute “Chinese government” and you have a real headline in 2020.
20 years ago was very different: The Onion edition
The Onion is a satirical publication, not a Nostradamus wannabe, so it doesn’t always get it right. Here are a couple examples:
“Nigeria May Be A Developing Nation, But It Is Rich In Culture vs. Get Me Out Of This Godforsaken Hellhole” is a good juxtaposition for a Point/Counterpoint.
You have a know-it-all American college student talking about a country he’s never been to, and then someone from that country say, “Um, no.” And that’s always ripe for satire.
Nigeria has a young, booming population, a top-30 global economy, and is celebrating 60 years of independence this year, so thankfully this Point/Counterpoint is now very dated.
There’s also “Millions Participate In Cuban Version Of Survivor,” in which The Onion switches gears after months of Elian Gonzalez jokes. Cuba-US relations are still controversial, but there are no Castros running things anymore, and “Survivor” is not a hip reference.
Marriage, am I right?
The Onion this week 20 years ago had 3 stories on families and marriage.
“Husband Points Out That He Vacuumed” is a simple premise straight out of a 1990s family sitcom: He did vacuum, but he’s making too big a deal of it.
“Search For Area Shoney's Intensifies” is a story about a family struggling to find a restaurant, but written like a search-and-rescue mystery. It’s a master class in showing how storytelling techniques can completely change your perception:
Search efforts have been further complicated by dissent among leading Fayetteville-area direction-givers, some of whom do not support the Taylor napkin-map plan.
Meanwhile, “Improved Communication Ruins Marriage” shows that therapy can destroy relationships, not just save them! Is that good? I’m no expert. But we do get a funny story about a couple unloading on each other and then deciding to split.
"Then there was the fact that when Dr. Boushea asked us to underline what we considered the number-one obstacle to satisfaction in life, we both underlined each other's name."
What else was in the news?
Here’s a quick look at some stories you might enjoy:
“Man Insists On Calling Fanny Pack 'Lumbar Satchel'“: The Onion also notes that this man has a ponytail.
Last year, the FDA declared drought-relief coverage "unsafe" for use in sleep aids after lab animals' hearts stopped as a result of exposure.
Were the infographics good?
There are many of them!
So many questions about the illustration in the first infographic. LOOK AT THAT OLD PHONE! Also, is this image flipped, or is this a British car and driver?
There are some chuckles in this “Cell-Phone Safety” graphic, and many outdated references, like faxes and the idea of a phone operator.
I am not much of a cook or baker, so maybe you’ll find “Least-Used Kitchen Appliances” funnier if you do spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
“Lawn-And-Garden Tips” is a delightful hodgepodge of jokes that only barely have anything to do with lawns: magic beans, outshining your neighbor, mourning gang members, pentagrams, garden gnomes and circuses. There’s also this:
Planting vegetables is a great money-saver. Over the course of a summer, you could shave $75 off your grocery bill with just a few hundred hours of work.
What columnists ran?
Onion publisher emeritus T. Herman Zweibel recently transformed into a cockroach, and he reminds readers of this fact right away in “Roach Motel.”
He is loving life, but he does not seem to realize that his servants are trying to exterminate the cockroach flitting about the house. These columns are bizarre, but I admire The Onion for being unabashedly weird.
As an editor, I’m a fan of “When I Put Something In Italics, I Mean It” just from the headline. It’s yet another article by The Onion with an industrial setting that might not exist in 2020 — this time, Johnson Railing Supply in central Missouri.
Donald Thuler is a frustrated office manager because people do not follow his instructions, whether it be about purchase requests, cleaning the refrigerator or honoring the “no gifts” request for his 20th wedding anniversary. And so he uses italics, both in life and in this column.
Thuler’s tone is that of an executive, but he’s not. I don’t know whether that was a deliberate choice by The Onion, but it underlines his sense of powerlessness that he attempts to overcome with … italics.
One last note: This section reminds me of my office’s late, great office czar, who was known for her signs and font stylings (she was also much more feared/beloved):
But if, after posting such a reminder, the door continues to be held open with a ream of copier paper, it may be necessary to fortify the italics and exclamation point with capitals, underlines, and boldface: "Propping The Door Open IS A FIRE HAZARD!" In such extreme cases, one may also be forced to scold guilty parties with such parenthetical clauses as "(You know who you are!)" and "(If you have a problem with this, see Donald!)"
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
Bill Nye. Mary-Louise Parker. Philippe Volter. Chinua Achebe. Wole Soyinka. Fela Kuti. Ibrahim Babangida. Abdulsalami Abubakar. C.W. Bill Young. Frank Wolf. Kenny G.
Volter is mentioned in “Critics Accuse New Movie Of Glorifying Sex” and was Parker’s co-star in “The Five Senses.”
Achebe, Soyinka, Kuti, Babangida and Abubakar are all mentioned in the Nigeria Point/Counterpoint. There appears to be an error in that article: Abubakar was a Nigerian general who essentially ran the country from 1998-99. But in this August 2000 column, he’s called the “new general” when in reality, Olusegun Obasanjo was many months into his presidency.
Young was a Florida congressman who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, as noted in the Nevada Gaming Commission article. He died in 2013. Also in that article was Wolf, a retired Virginia congressman,
Kenny G is mentioned in “Search For Area Shoney's Intensifies.”
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
This week’s issue pretty much ignored politicians (outside of Nigeria) and animals.
What was the best horoscope?
My favorite this week is Cancer, but there are some other good horoscopes.
Cancer | June 21 to July 22
Cancer has had a real hard time lately, what with Mrs. Cancer moving out and all, so why don't you just decide your own damn destiny this week? Assholes.
What holds up best?
“When I Put Something In Italics, I Mean It” is a sharp illustration of how people who don’t feel heard will abuse punctuation (and capitalization, as you can see anywhere on social media) to get their message across.
“Improved Communication Ruins Marriage” also holds up because, well, it’s not like there’s less therapy these days.
What holds up worst?
This a pretty fun issue. As I’m writing this, nothing jumps out as, “Oh no, why did that run?”
What would be done differently today?
Ignoring a presidential election 2.5 months out seems incomprehensible today.
What was happening in the real world?
Democrats hold convention. Verizon, striking workers reach deal. “Russians wonder if Putin accepts limits to power.” Ice melt reported near North Pole. Ford: Firestone knew of tire flaws 3 years ago. Mexico seeks more open border with US. UN to investigate war crimes in Sierra Leone. Families reunite at event held by North, South Korea. NYT looks at private, charter schools in N.Y. Law firms reduce pro bono work. John McCain has surgery for melanoma. Russia strives in vain to save crew from sunken sub. Concorde grounded by UK. FBI agent says his testimony in Los Alamos nuclear weapons secrets case was incorrect. Grand jury continues hearing evidence about Clinton-Lewinsky case. Ray Lewis fined by NFL. Feds say grain alcohol smuggled to Europe by mobsters. Clinton to visit Nigeria.