Young millennials were criticized 20 years ago
Also, my first GIF and many 20th-century topics like ashtrays, Yngwie Malmsteen, Doonesbury, Pudding Roll-Ups and Crest commercials
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 Sept. 27, 2000.
We’re in the twilight of the post-Cold War, innocent era of The Onion, as the Bush-Gore election was only weeks away. We also have complaining about millennials, a behavior that continues to this day.
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What issue is this?
The Issue 34 webpage today omits “The New Energy Crisis” and “Graphic Designer's Judgment Clouded By Desire To Use New Photoshop Plug-In.”
In print but no longer online are the throwaway headline jokes “Man In Suit Breaks Into Brief, Feminine Run” and “Paramedic Gets To Second.”
What was the top story, and other impressions?
Sure, it’s a good thing people didn’t assume the 2000 election would devolve into madness. But it’s also fascinating to see The Onion downplay an open presidential election. Is this a matter of living in Wisconsin? Did the staff not find enough humor in the election or the candidates?
Either way, this era is rapidly approaching its end for The Onion: 20 Years Later.
In 6 weeks or so, we’ll have the mess of the 2000 election in this newsletter and the mess of the 2020 election in the rest of our lives.
Also, if someone can tell me whether this is a real Doonesbury, that’d be great. It sure looks real, which is some genius if The Onion wrote an entire article around it.
Our youngest millennials were already in trouble
This week’s masterpiece, “More U.S. Children Being Diagnosed With Youthful Tendency Disorder,” focuses on the youngest millennials. Don’t worry, Gen Z, you just missed the cut.
Parents and doctors claim these young millennials are showing symptoms of behavioral and psychological disorders:
senseless, unproductive physical and mental exercises, often lasting hours at a time. In the thrall of YTD, sufferers run, jump, climb, twirl, shout, dance, do cartwheels, and enter unreal, unexplainable states of "make-believe."
We’ve got parents complaining about their kids, experts weighing in with big words, and talk of youths’ secret languages:
With unbridled glee, Cameron shouts, "Chicken butt!"—cryptic words understood only by him—before laughing and dashing off again, leaving his mother distraught over yet another baffling non-conversation.
Luckily, Big Pharma is here to help! SmithKline-Beecham (not yet merged with Glaxo) was trialing a drug called Juvenol to stop all this!
Two notes about this article. First, it’s a brilliant successor to 1999’s “Ritalin cures next Picasso.”
Second, this article highlights the rapid changes in what it’s like to grow up in American society — not only from, say, 1980 to 2000, but also from 2000 to 2020. You can count the shifts in technology alone, but also consider the mores and norms around child-rearing, what children are allowed to do, how schools are structured, etc.
Despite all that, this story works because it highlights an eternal truth about parenting: Sometimes you wish your damn kid would sit still.
Remember when the Olympics were the biggest thing around? Remember when the Olympics were actually held? Both these things were true in “IOC: Many Viewers May Be Using Olympics-Enhancing Drugs,” which is a big miss for The Onion. Weird angle to take, not funny and not well-written — the first sentence and the quote basically repeat themselves.
There were better 20th-century references, thank goodness. “Cool Ashtray Found” is simple but silly, featuring a find that “would have been on Dean Martin's coffee table.” And for music buffs, the headline and photo “Yngwie Malmsteen Officially Changes Middle Name To 'Fucking’” is a tremendous nerd joke.
Grandmas and other local life
“Man Ashamed Of Own Joy Upon Receiving New Mop Head” feels a little odd because the guy is simply a hard worker who’s excited about his job getting easier. The Onion mostly redeems this by mercilessly piling on poor Cory Akers, a prep cook and dishwasher at Hamilton's Bar & Grill. As Akers’ father says:
"The truth is, in Cory's miserable dish-washing world, a new mop head does count as a reason to be happy, however pitiful that may seem. In this shit-bucket life, you take your moments of satisfaction where you find them."
Some other local stories to check out:
“Graphic Designer's Judgment Clouded By Desire To Use New Photoshop Plug-In” is really in the weeds, but it’s a great example of people getting carried away by a product’s bells and whistles. Did an Onion page designer inspire this story?
“Grandma Pulls Pudding Roll-Ups From Recesses Of Cupboard” is a sadder version of my grandmother always having good candy awaiting us.
“First Draft Of Paper Inadvertently Becomes Final Draft” features this gem of a quote:
"I was gonna keep working on it and add a bunch of stuff about how the guy who wrote [The Great Gatsby] was affected by a lot of the stuff going on around him," she said. "But then I was like, fuck it."
“All-Beef Patty 70 Percent Beef” (just a photo)
“'Farm Aid Aid' Concert To Benefit Struggling Farm Aid Concerts” is not amazing, but it kind of predicted how music tours would evolve from one-time events to full-fledged industries.
Were the infographics good?
For all the 20th-century references like Yngwie Malmsteen in this issue, it’s “Top Improv-Comedy Audience Suggestions” that has the most 1990s-specific talk.
I do like the idea of “Homeric tragedy!” being shouted out, and I was also reminded me of the “You’re The Worst” episode where the character Jimmy has a list of improv heckles (link here, kind of hard to view).
The change in US energy fortunes has been huge over the past 20 years. Gasoline prices are no longer national conversations, and the US is talking about oil exports rather than shortages. That said, “The New Energy Crisis” previews nearly 10 years of worries about high gas prices.
I wonder whether a secret government project exists for “Developing energy-efficient solar panel to power bald-male sex machines.” There are too many successful bald actors nowadays for this to be a natural occurrence. Vin Diesel released a dance song this week, of all things!
Finally, we have “Dental-Hygiene Tips,” which is a good grab-bag of silliness. The most staggering joke, however, might be this one:
Avoid patronizing dentists who received their degrees from the University Of Berlin Dental School between 1932 and 1945.
What columnists ran?
Onion editor emeritus T. Herman Zweibel is back with his 31st column of 2000, an amazing feat of endurance. In “Screw Charity!” his manservant Standish has won the lottery and is trying to spend the money on selfless endeavors. Zweibel is aghast.
Zweibel is aggressive with random historical references:
“But all this Christian charity is not welcome in a Machiavellian house-hold such as this. Have you forgotten what we have accomplished together, boy? Who helped me put ant-paste in Henry Cabot Lodge's coffee? And who stole the secret of fire and refused to return it to the American people until they produced $2 million in gold bullion?"
Zweibel is also dismissive of Standish’s belief that good works are needed to enter the Kingdom of God:
The fool! Does he not realize that you find religion only when you're on death's door-step, when you beg for the Lord's forgiveness like a pathetic wretch? I cannot tell you how many times I've done that.
Thankfully, Betty Woodley brings only praise!
They've also replaced the old chairs with ones that pivot. Ron and Katie really seem to be having a much easier time chatting at the end of segments, now that they don't have to turn their heads to the side all the time.
Honestly, she makes some good points about the changes, which include new story features, a dedicated space for the Pet Of The Week, and that 1990s/2000s trend of TV monitors appearing from off-screen. I’ve never made a GIF before, so you’re welcome.
What real-life events/people were mentioned?
Al Gore. George W. Bush. Garry Trudeau. Mark Fabiani. Laura Tyson. David Maraniss. David Kuhn. Farm Aid. Willie Nelson. John Mellencamp. Neil Young. Juan Antonio Samaranch. 2000 Summer Olympics. Dean Martin. Jenna Elfman. David Hyde Pierce. Yngwie Malmsteen. Monica Lewinsky. Lorena Bobbitt. Mike Tyson. Henry Cabot Lodge. Shane MacGowan. Toothopolis. Cavity Creeps.
Bush, “Doonesbury” creator Trudeau, real-life Gore advisers Fabiani and Tyson, reporter and author Maraniss, and then-Brill’s Content editor-in-chief Kuhn are all mentioned in “Gore Wondering If Latest Doonesbury Is About Him.”
Nelson discusses Farm Aid and his fellow musicians Mellencamp and Young in “'Farm Aid Aid' Concert To Benefit Struggling Farm Aid Concerts.’”
Samaranch was head of the International Olympic Committee and is quoted in “IOC: Many Viewers May Be Using Olympics-Enhancing Drugs.”
Elfman and Pierce are mentioned in “A Year Without Movies Or TV?”
Lewinsky, Bobbitt and Tyson are in the improv infographic.
Lodge was a powerful U.S. senator from 1893-1924 whose coffee was poisoned by T. Herman Zweibel (or so he claims in "Screw Charity!”)
MacGowan is a musician (the Pogues, et al) randomly mentioned in “Dental-Hygiene Tips.” That article also mentions Toothopolis and Cavity Creeps — I was horrified to learn that those are real characters created by Crest. Always good to know what 1980 references were current in 2000 — it’s the same as talking today about the EDS “herding cats” or Pets.com Super Bowl commercials.
Most “Hey, it’s 2000!” reference
The “Doonesbury” story is a strong contender, even if that comic strip is still being published. But I’m going to honor the Aries horoscope, which might have been a warning to us all:
Aries | March 21 to April 19
When all is said and done, you're going to miss the Whitewater investigation.
Was Bill Clinton mentioned? Was an animal quoted?
Clinton is hovering in the background this week but not directly mentioned. No animals, either.
What was the best horoscope?
Lots of switcheroos in this week’s horoscopes, but this is the one that made me laugh out loud.
Capricorn | Dec. 22 to Jan. 19
When your doctor prescribed Magnitor, you thought it was an anti-depressant, not a mutant 500-foot lizard-gorilla creature with nuclear vision.
What holds up best?
The easy choice is “More U.S. Children Being Diagnosed With Youthful Tendency Disorder,” but there’s another that’s especially relevant during this pandemic.
There was a threat of a writer’s strike in 2000, and so “A Year Without Movies Or TV?” asks Americans how they’ll cope. This reminds me of 2020, when we literally have limitless viewing options but are worried about “new content.” As librarian Dana DeMuth told The Onion in 2000:
"How am I supposed to get by on the hundreds of thousands of movies and TV shows that have already been made?"
What holds up worst?
“IOC: Many Viewers May Be Using Olympics-Enhancing Drugs” and “Bathroom Smells Like Shit” could have been better.
What would be done differently today?
I think those throwaway headlines I mentioned up top would be reconsidered. As for the 2000 election, I like the “Doonesbury” story, but I would expect several additional political stories today.
The energy crisis infographic could also exist today, but it would be about some other crisis, like the pandemic, the climate or the Supreme Court.
What was happening in the real world?
Here are real-world news events from Sept. 18-24, 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):
2000 Census participation up from 1990. Senate approves China economic bill. Early Olympics ratings are bad for NBC. Whitewater probe ends. Clinton approves release from strategic oil reserve. Los Angeles agrees to police reforms. “Frustration Grows With Cost of Health Insurance.” 84-day drought ends in North Texas. “Interactive TV” being introduced to Americans. Governors, Clinton agree on wildfires plan. NYC running out of office space. Federal research labs are losing scientists to Silicon Valley. U.S. asks Russia not to sell potential nuclear tech to Iran. British court approves surgery to separate conjoined twins, with one dying. New York Knicks trade Patrick Ewing. SEC accuses teen of online stock fraud. Data: States with death penalty have higher homicide rates. Big food companies sponsor children’s books. Sotheby's and Christie's settle price-fixing claims for $512 million.