What the hell happened to The Onion?

I moved to Santa Monica six months ago and it just started showing up at my local record store.

First, I notice that it’s been re-designed.

Second, I notice that it’s now unfunny and stupid.

This is the Onion, the august, revered Onion, the paper a grateful nation once turned to each week to make sense of the world? 

Let’s look at the front page: “New Oliver Stone 9/11 Film Introduces ‘Single Plane Theory’ — Jesus, an Oliver Stone conspiracy joke?  Really?  Is that the best they came up with this week?

Below the fold: “Condoleeza Rice Holds Bathtime Talks With Undersea Representatives.”  The story goes on, about Rice having talks with the toys in her bathtub.  What?  Huh?  Skewering what burning public issue, exactly?

Other headlines: “Hasbro Concedes World Not Ready for Rubik’s Chicken” — again, huh?

“Millions Of Americans Buying Floyd Landis-Inspired Bracelets” — with a photo of said bracelet, yellow rubber (referring to the Lance Armstrong bracelet), which reads “Cheat to Win.”  On the nose, unfunny, landing with a thud.

“Twin Mysteries Of Missing Hamster, Clogged Sink Solved Simultaneously” — honestly, these are the kinds of headlines I would expect from a group of high-school students trying to imitate The Onion.

On Page 4, “Abusive Husband Has Sense of Humor About It” — I’ll admit, the headline got my attention, but the story is almost unbearably unfunny.  The “joke,” apparently, is that the abusive man, who is described as breaking his wife’s jaw, beating her with a wrench, giving her a bloody nose, and biting her on the head, is able to  laugh about his predicament.  There is no attempt to explain why “Abusive Husband” and “Laughing at Life” should go together in humorous juxtaposition, and as the article trudges on, it seems we’re just supposed to laugh at the way the wife is being beaten and humiliated.  Indeed, mere inches away is a new feature, “Unsung Heroes,” where a woman named Sheila Kessler is described as having “had her third abortion Wednesday, but didn’t bitch about it so much as she did the past two.”  I can’t think of a time of my life when I would have found that funny, but having it next to the piece that supposedly “pokes fun” at the abusive husband, it made my skin crawl.

There are many new comics in the new re-design.  They’re all unfunny, and some of them are so unfunny that I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be satires or or not.

Where there used to be the irreplaceable Jackie Harvey, there is now the eminently replaceable Amelie Gillette, who writes a completely straight-faced, ordinary, slightly-bitchy, Entertainment Weekly-style “Hollywood tidbit” column.

The only headline I laughed at was “Road Trip Ruined by Illinois.”

“American Voices” continues to hit the mark, however.  The subject is “Universal Health Care for San Fransisco” and Henry Gaven, Historian, opines “First they make a mockery of my bitter, loveless marriage, now they make a mockery of my restrictive, overpriced health care.  Is nothing sacred to these monsters?”
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17 Responses to “What the hell happened to The Onion?”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    I think it’s always been inconsistent. And, honestly, a lot of the stories were too painfully close to dead-on to be funny. (Not to mention that a lot of jokes didn’t sustain themselves beyond the headline.) I’ve been drifting away from them for a while.

    I did notice the Rice story, and it seemed kind of clumsy for them.

    They’re all unfunny, and some of them are so unfunny that I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be satires or or not.

    Ack, don’t tell .

  2. eronanke says:

    I never really ‘got’ it.
    Then again, I thought “American Idol” would be cancelled its first month.
    What do I know?

    • greyaenigma says:

      It was occasionally stunningly brilliant. Its 9/11 coverage was not only perfectly toned, but I think it was the first funny material anyone dared release afterwards. (If memmory serves, it was The Onion, then SNL, then The Daily Show coming back in a slightly more serious tone — that’s when they started inviting political guests on regularly.)

      • eronanke says:

        I never read it regularly, although I live in the base-city of Chicago.
        It’s all kinds of free here, but… eh.

      • Anonymous says:

        First, I think Our Dumb Century is one of the most brilliantly funny and incisive books ever written, and I quote from it probably more often than I do Monty Python these days.

        Second, their coverage of 9/11 couldn’t have been more perfect, or important.

        Third, I sat in slack-jawed amazement at “When You’re Ready to Have a Serious Conversation About Green Lantern, You Have My Email Address.”

  3. leborcham says:

    Is it possible that under the gun to be funny on a weekly basis for years and years…people become less funny? This is my greatest phobia of all, but it seems to happen with everyone, let’s face it. Except Jean Shepherd.

    I think the classics of Onions past (“Local bassist fellated,” “Woman At Farscape Convention Has Dangerously Inflated Self-Image”) were based as much on human nature as anything. And they’ve mined a lot of them.

    • Todd says:

      That’s what scares me though, they’ve had the whole summer off and seem to be re-launching the paper for a new (and supposedly bigger) audience. This issue reeks of new management.

  4. monica_black says:

    Simple, America has become dummer. They have to satisfy the bad humor that the masses posess.

    Um, I hope you won’t mind that I performed “Television” in the middle of a mall.

    • Todd says:

      I hope you won’t mind that I performed “Television” in the middle of a mall.

      Egad. What did they do?

      • monica_black says:

        They seemed impressed, if I understood the body language. It was in the city where the major state university is, so I think that helped a bit. Only one person seemed shocked and she happens to go to the same school I attend.

        But also, the building is about a mile long, so not that many people caught it due to my location.

      • urbaniak says:

        I once performed “Living in Flames” in a Chess King.

  5. craigjclark says:

    For me, the bloom came off The Onion in the spring of 2002. That’s when, in collaboration with a friend, we concocted The Olive, an Onion parody that we posted on our respective webcomic sites on April 1. Having spent the better part of a month breaking The Onion down and writing articles that would be typical of the paper — as well as taking a few shots at the then-current design — I found that the real thing was no longer a satisfying read. Sure, they would still have the occasional funny story, but they became fewer and farther between. Now I’m at the point where I only read The A.V. Club and that’s perfectly fine with me.

  6. urbaniak says:

    I hadn’t looked at in ages (not for any particular reason, just hadn’t gotten around to it) but I looked at a couple of issues over the last month or so and what struck me both times was that the covers featured some really broad photoshopped photo joke that was the complete opposite of what I thought of as the Onion’s style, namely a very realistic (and therefore hilarious) attention to detail. One of the photos was illustrating a story about how the Federation of Sparrows or some such thing was announcing an investigation into window accidents. The photo was of a few sparrows sitting at normal-sized conference table with a microphone. Now leaving aside whether or not they would have run that story in the first place, the Onion of old would have had a photo of normal sparrows on a conference table and left it at that. But the New Wacky Onion had the sparrows wearing little aviation uniforms and caps. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but the joke is that sparrows have organized a committee and are having a press conference. Which is funny because they are sparrows, who do not normally engage in such human-type activity. One imagines an old Onion staffer presenting a photo of normal sparrows at a press conference to the new MBA-holding manager of the paper and he or she saying “But they’re just birds. It’s not funny. Put them in little uniforms, that’ll be funny.” A joke on top of a joke, which as we all know, is no joke at all.

    In the classic article “Gaywads, Dorkwads Sign Historic Wad Accord,” there is a beautiful illustration of two absolutely real-life-looking high school nerds shaking hands in front of Bill Clinton. Today’s Onion would have them nerded up and mugging like a couple of Horatio Sanz characters.

    But that’s the new Onion: uniforms on sparrows.

    • gazblow says:

      Rebel Outfit vs. Institution

      This here is a classic tale and its narrative is as predictable as an episode of Behind the Music.

      1. An underground rebel outfit finds a dedicated and growing audience.
      2. Large corporate entity realizes it can make big dollars on this Exciting New Content. Offers more cash than rebels have ever seen to bring Exciting New Content to even larger audience.
      3. Rebels lose touch with the iconoclasm that inspired them in the first place. Audience continues to grow on strength of old rep.
      4. Exciting New Content becomes a shadow of its former self.

      See also: Saturday Night Live, Owen Wilson, Comic Books That Become Movies, Star Trek