With the publication of its retrospective look at American lifeOur Dumb Century: 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source , the empire of The Onion continues to grow. Maybe you're an old fan of the newspaper from the heady days of the early '90s. Or maybe you've only just discovered it since it went online. No matter how you stumble across the brutal hilarity of this satirical newspaper, once you've had a taste of The Onion, you'll never do without it. Addiction is quick, and life will never be the same. If you've managed to avoid The Onion so far, there can only be two explanations: either your friends don't want you to know about it, or you're illiterate. In the latter case, don't worry -- rumor has it that The Onion will soon be invading television sets around the country.
If you're new to the paper, the best introduction is Our Dumb Century . Modelled after similar retrospectives by the New York Times and others, Our Dumb Century collects the front pages from memorable days in this, the worst century since 299-200 BC. Brilliantly insightful headlines and clever articles cut deep to give us the truth behind the real story. On the sinking of the Titanic, for instance: "WORLD'S LARGEST METAPHOR HITS ICEBERG." The moon landing?: "HOLY S***: MAN WALKS ON F****** MOON." Then there's the Gulf War: "CNN DEPLOYS TROOPS TO IRAQ."
The genius of The Onion is that it perfectly mimics a deadpan journalistic style; even the design and layout of the paper takes the best and worst of USA Today and makes it hilarious. InOur Dumb Century , the staff of the paper has put these talents to work imitating the typefaces, illustrations, and style of newspapers as they've developed in the last ten decades. The pictures and graphics get better, but as USA Today has taught us, they may not say anything. Throughout the century, The Onion's motto has never wavered: "Tu Stultus Es" (You are dumb).
In subtle ways, the book even traces a history of the media's role in society. In the first decades ofOur Dumb Century , the paper is the voice of Big Business and Government. After the glowing optimism of the 1950s ("PENTAGON DEVELOPS A-BOMB-RESISTANT DESK"), a sinister irony becomes more prevalent during the chaos of the 1960s ("ROSA PARKS TO TAKE CAB: 'SCREW THIS BUS S***'" and "DEMOCRACY FLOWERS AROUND GLOBE AFTER BOMBING OF VIETNAMESE VILLAGE"). In our time, the news just seems to be about other media; news makes itself ("'MUST SEE TV' NOW ENFORCED BY LAW" and "SINATRA: 'I NAILED THE FIRST LADY'"). And these headlines are just the proverbial tip -- the stories behind them will have you falling off your chair.
What's that you say? You think that you could be that funny? You think that you could have written The Onion's Our Dumb Century and should be directing its burgeoning global takeover? Well, then why are you sitting around reading this? Either you're lazier than the three University of Wisconsin dropouts who started it all, or you just aren't that clever. Hell, you probably couldn't even write a half-assed review ofOur Dumb Century if you were getting paid to do it. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't enjoy it.
The more you readOur Dumb Century , the more you'll notice that it's not just fun and games. Behind the parody, there's a recognition that the foibles driving our century's history are human, even if they verge on the insane and the depressing. We're all in this together -- it's just that some of us write about it with more humor. You could also make the case that the crazy fiction ofOur Dumb Century is more true than the facts and stories in "real" newspapers. Whatever your predilection, you won't be disappointed: this collection is a sure thing from the first page to the last. I'm not confident that the masses are ready for this wicked brand of satire, butOur Dumb Century is just the beginning of The Onion's leap from the humorous underground into the mainstream (God help us). So get it now before Ted Turner and/or Rupert Murdoch force-feed it down your throat later.
-- George O'Brien
Nobody loves the last word more than a newsman -- and now that the 20th century is in its final stretch, the green-shade jockeys are neck and neck in the sum-up-the-century steeplechase. Walter Cronkite, Ben Bradlee and David Brinkley leapt in early with their books, and last year Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Harold Evans made impressive late entries. This month, though, Scott Dikkers and his madcap crew of angry young hacks at the Onion, the satirical weekly paper and Web site based in Madison, Wis., have sent the competition to the glue factory with their definitively victorious wrap-up, Our Dumb Century. Other reporters may have given the century a solemn salute, but the Onion's staff has given it a resounding Bronx cheer, and early sales show that the public heartily approves of their assessment.
It is an unimaginably gloat-worthy luxury for a humorist to invade the virgin territory of American news coverage in the pre-irony era, and Dikkers and his henchmen make no attempt to muffle their glee. In a year-by-year parade of phony front pages, the editors goose-step through the 20th century, snickering at catastrophes, making hay of the news and booting one another in the rear along the way. The new century dawns with progress-drunk headlines blaring "Nation's Skies Filled with Beautiful Black Smoke," while the birth of the bomb 40-odd years later prompts the blithe, whistling denial "Nothing Going on in New Mexico: Top Physicists 'Just Camping.'" By the time the television age has hit full flicker, no topic is off-limits -- from breasts ("President Calls for Calm Following Nipple Sighting on Farrah Fawcett Poster") to shootings ("Hinckley, Foster to Wed: Actress 'Very Impressed' by Lone-Nut Gunman's Attempt on President's Life") to air disasters ("Schoolteacher, Kitten, Three Dozen Orphans to Fly on Challenger Tomorrow").
As the book careers through the decades, no subject, however grave, however innocent, is left unstrafed. World War II offers the occasion for "Hitler Neutralizes Polish Menace" and "Belgium Hides." Later wars in Southeast Asia provide such notable gasps as "Cambodia to Switch to Skull-Based Economy" and "U.S. Troops Pull Out of Vietnamese Peasant Girl." The shockfest winds up with signs that the "swell years" have long since gone and a cynical American populace has come to expect political scandal, nuclear fallout, lubricious mothers and despoiled nature -- even if the president who will lead us all into our next dumb century, Bill Clinton, vows that he "Feels Nation's Pain, Breasts."
"It's actually hard to write satire now," the Onion editors have said, "... because the news is already a parody of itself." On the last front page in Our Dumb Century, the Onion reports the scoop that will make headlines on January 1, 2000 -- the day all the people who have stashed cash under their beds will take up arms against all the paupers with digital bank accounts: "Christian Right Ascends to Heaven." Heaven, one can only hope, will not be much like home -- or, at least, not much like any home in this dumb century. -- Salon
Read an Excerpt
It is with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment that I look back
upon this great Twentieth Century of ours to say that The Onion
newspaper was able to document and, to a great extent, shape this wondrous
time in human history, as this fine tome demonstrates.
T. Herman Zweibel, Onion Publisher
THE ONION, Monday, April 24, 1995
AL GORE CAUGHT IN LOVE TRYST WITH ENDANGERED TREE OWL
Scandal engulfed the Clinton Administration once again Sunday, when
allegations were made public that Vice President Al Gore engaged in an
illicit sexual relationship with an endangered tree owl, then urged the
winged nocturnal predator to lie about the affair under oath.
According to an anonymous source within the administration, the vice
president first met the owl during a meeting with anti-logging activists in
Washington State's Olympic National Park, admiring the bird in its tree
perch and praising it for its "majestic plumage." Suspicion was aroused
when the bird began making repeated visits to Gore's White House office,
which is more than 3,000 miles from the owl's Pacific Northwest habitat.
Gore, long known for his strong pro-wildlife stance, denied charges of an
inter-species sexual liaison, insisting that his relationship with the
woodland creature was "purely environmentalist in nature."
Experts on bird mating, however, say the owl's extensive molting and
twig-gathering behavior, as well as its alleged lining of a nest with
clumps of grass and feathers, suggest that the bird was sexually active
during the weeks it spent with the vice president.
In addition, an unnamed Secret Service agent claimed that Gore ordered him
to dispose of several fecal pellets found in the White House. He said the
pellets contained the bones of small rodents.
A federal grand jury will convene Friday to determine whether the owl will
be charged with perjury for an April 17 deposition in which ornithologists
recorded the bird emitting a complex series of hoots denying the affair.
Gore, if found guilty of encouraging the endangered owl to lie under oath,
could face congressional censure on charges of perjury, obstruction of
justice and owl-f******.
THE ONION, Friday, November 22, 1963
KENNEDY SLAIN BY CIA, MAFIA, CASTRO, LBJ, TEAMSTERS, FREEMASONS
President Shot 129 Times from 43 Different Angles
President Kennedy was assassinated Friday by operatives of the CIA, the
Giancana crime syndicate, Fidel Castro, Vice President Johnson, the
Freemasons and the Teamsters as he rode through downtown Dallas in a
According to eyewitnesses, Kennedy's limousine had just entered Dealey
Plaza when the president was struck 129 times in the head, chest, abdomen,
arms, legs, hands, feet, back and face by gunfire. The shooting began at
12:30 p.m. and lasted until 12:43 p.m. CST.
In all, 43 suspects have been taken into the custody of the Dallas
Preliminary reports indicate that hitmen for the Giancana crime syndicate
fired from a nearby grassy knoll, CIA agents fired from an office building
slightly off the parade route, Cuban nationals fired from an overpass
overlooking Dealey Plaza, an elite hit squad working for Teamsters
President Jimmy Hoffa fired from perches atop an oak tree, a 'lone nut'
fired from the Texas Book depository, a shadow-government sharp-shooting
team fired from behind a wooden fence, a consortium of jealous husbands
fired from an estimated 13 sites on the sidewalk along the route, a hitman
working for Johnson fired from a sewer grate over which the limousine
passed, and Texas Gov. John Connally lunged at the president from within
the limousine itself, slitting the president's throat with a combat
The mortally wounded president was sped to nearby Parland Hospital, where
doctors with ties to Johnson's inner circle performed a staged autopsy.
They pronounced him dead at 2:18 p.m. CST.
The body was then chemically treated by J. Edgar Hoover and put in a decoy
casket for transport to Roswell, New Mexico. There, space aliens using
medical technology beyond the knowledge of man sealed Kennedy's 129 wounds.
Kennedy's corpse was then reanimated and rushed to Germany for an emergency
meeting with the frozen brain of Adolf Hitler.
After the meeting, Kennedy aides announced plans for the two leaders' sperm
cells to be atomically sustained, planted in the womb of aspiring actress
Judith Campbell, and grown into a super-race of 21st-century conquerors.
According to investigators, the assassination appears to have been
carefully planned and carried out in strict accordance with both the
Skull-and-Bones Blood Rite and Masonic "Killing of the King" rituals.
Officers found several hundred weapons within a four-block radius of the
shooting site, including telescope-sighted Weatherby Magnum rifles, Italian
bolt-action 6.5mm carbines, Thompson submachine guns, Russian Kalishnikov
assault rifles, and one ray-gun.
The assembled killers were taken into police custody at Dallas City Hall.
As they were being transferred to the county prison however, all 43 were
shot and killed by Jack Ruby, 52, a Dallas-area nightclub owner.
THE ONION, Tuesday, April 20, 1943
TOP U.S. NAVAL INTELLIGENCE REPORTS, 'THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A
'No Book's Like a Dame, Nothing Looks Like a Dame,' Says South Pacific
Cable report from the Pacific Theater
According to U.S. Intelligence officers stationed in the South Pacific,
there is not anything like a dame.
Details of the report indicate that there is nothing like a dame in the
"Lots of things in life are beautiful, but brother," read the secretly
coded message that arrived on President Roosevelt's desk in Washington at 7
a.m. EST Sunday, "there is one particular thing that is nothing whatsoever
in any way, shape, or form like any other."
"There is nothing like a dame," the message repeated.
While most details of the report remain classified for fear of providing
the hated German enemy with any advantage the following information has
been cleared by the War Department for release.
There are no books like a dame; nothing looks like a dame; there are no
drinks like a dame; nothing thinks like a dame.
This new dame-related intelligence is expected to greatly improve the
health of injured American solders. "Thousands of our boys are badly
wounded every day by Japs and Jerrys," said Army doctor Martin Purcell,
speaking from a makeshift hospital on a tiny, coconut-covered Pacific
island. "But as we now know, there ain't a thing that's wrong with any man
here that can't be cured by putting him near a girly, womanly, female,
A full version of Monday's report will be printed, set to music, and
performed around the country.
THE ONION, Monday, January 1, 1900
News From Rome
VATICAN CONDEMNS 'RHYTHM METHOD.'
Pontiff Excoriates Infidels for Fiendish 'Sin by the Calendar.'
Releases Papal Edict Outlining Forbidden Family Practices.
Italians in Attendance Vow to People the Earth.
VATICAN CITY, DEC 31
In a proclamation rife with the righteous anger befitting a clergyman of
his most exalted station, His Holiness the Pope, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of
Christ, Leader of all Christians of the World, lashed out at those with the
effrontery to use the calendar to defeat God's purpose of peopling the
"This prideful 'rhythm method' is a blasphemy before God," Leo XIII
declared to a crowd of as yet non-American-emigrant Italians at St. Peter's
Basilica. "Those who would count the days He created against the ripeness
of their good wives are indulging in the darkest brand of sorcery."
The reactions of lay civilization have been varied, as most prominent
Americans are expected to seek the counsel of their bishops and priests for
clarification of the edict.
The denounced "rhythm method," according to physician Hobart McGreely of
Pittsburgh, is "the way by which a lady, having an intuitive grasp still
elusive to medicinal science of the ebb and flow of nature, can divine when
she is most conducive to the conception of young, and may choose to refrain
from the painful process of copulation, in essence avoiding her dutiful
role as a mother."
"Childbearing women have a responsibility to the Lord on High," added noted
Chicago priest Father Willard Portkin. "In this advanced age of modern
medicine, most mothers need only give birth to two or three still-born
children before enjoying the fruits of living progeny. And now-a-days many
of the gentler sex are enjoying full recuperation and survival of the
birthing miracle. There is therefore no excuse for women-vessels to engage
in trickery of God's plan for their fertility."
Copyright 1999 by The Onion Inc.