The Onion

Back in Internet range after a brief hiatus.

I had promised an ode to the Onion, the online newspaper with the slogan “America’s Finest Newspaper.” The paper seems to have made its debut in July 1996 with the story “Special Olympics Fixed,” concerning a secret investigation that revealed many of the “winners” really weren’t. I say “seems” because I can’t find earlier archives, even though the story is numbered 2923. Not many people noticed the debut because only a few had regular access to the Internet.

My first acquaintance came in 1999 when I was working at the Hartford Courant. One of my colleagues regaled us by reading such headlines as “Freshman Senator Dies In Hazing Incident” and “New Sony In-Utero TV To Entertain Children in the Womb.”

That same year the Onion published an actual book, “Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America’s Finest news Source.” The cover included such eye-catching headlines as “World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-Berg,” with the sub-head “Titanic, Representation of Man’s Hubris, Sinks in North Atlantic” with sub-sub-head “1,500 Dead in Symbolic Tragedy.” The Clinton-era headline was “New President Feels Nation’s Pain, Breasts.” I was with my cousin in a bookstore in Cambridge when I discovered the book and began laughing so hard she moved over to the other side of the store and pretended she didn’t know me.

Of course I bought the book and even 10 years later when I want a dose of silliness I open it and read at random. From 1918, we have “Corpse-Eating Rats Now Largest Military Force in Europe.” This headline accompanied a map that showed the territory held by the Allies as most of France and all of Switzerland and Italy; the territory held by the Central Powers as pieces of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Along the border between the two were these black blobs labeled “Territory Held by Corpse-Eating Rats.”

The JFK assassination headline read “Kennedy Slain by CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Teamsters, Freemasons,” with sub-head “President Shot 129 Times from 43 Different Angles.”

A small side bar announced “Zapruder Family Wowed at Home-Movie Screening.” A few years later the Finest Newspaper showed Nixon being arrested in connection with the Watergate break-in and announced his escape in which two people died and six were wounded. On the same page, with a photo of “John Shaft” was the headline “Congress Passes Anti-Baxploitation Bill,” “Pimps, Players Subject to Heavy Fines.” The article quoted one senator as saying, “Figures such as Superfly, The Mack and Foxy Brown must be kept down.” Love it!

Of course the Onion had to get into the most popular journalistic activity – making mistakes. It seems that the Finest Newspaper had cut off the last line of the second-place entry in the eighth-grade essay contest, so it ran, with full regrets for the omitted sentence in Regret the Error “And with the smell of sulfur still hanging heavy in the air, we will toast the end of the Zionist conspiracy.” Here the correction is probably more interesting than the actual article, which as far as I know doesn’t exist.

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