Onion saving new jokes for another day
September 17, 2001 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Onion saving new jokes for another day The Onion's on hold for a bit. An interesting quote from one of the writers- "'The age of irony is over." Does anyone agree?
posted by ice_cream_motor (46 comments total)
The Onion is going to give in to the terrorists, huh?

The age of irony is not over. Give this a couple months and things will be more or less back as they were.
posted by mischief at 8:03 AM on September 17, 2001

I was wondering what they were going to do. I don't know, I think that some mild restraint may not be all such a bad thing. Their coverage of the election was great, but making light of any aspect of what happened does not seem appropriate. I am sure that things will be back to where they were in a few months, but I don't see not satirizing the events as a bad thing.
posted by adampsyche at 8:07 AM on September 17, 2001

Other parody sites are giving up the game for a while, too, like whitehouse.org, which had some incredibly funny anti-Bush stuff, including a pseudo-weblog by Laura Bush.
posted by jenwells at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2001

I would hate to see the Onion go, but I think this country could stand to take things a little more seriously. I hope that one of the casualties of this new war will be "reality television". How utterly ridiculous does "The Great Race" or "Big Brother" seem in light of last week?
posted by jpoulos at 8:17 AM on September 17, 2001

It's over for awhile, perhaps a long while. What is considered "humorous" does change over time.
posted by tranquileye at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2001

I think the problem is that they cannot ignore what is going on, nor can they make light of it. It is going to be that way for a lot of things. How do you think "Friends" and "Will and Grace" will handle it? I am not being snarky, these shows are set in NY. Do they ignore it, have special dramatic episodes where they worry one of the cast is missing. There is nothing they can do with this situation that does not make me wanna keel over.
posted by thirteen at 8:46 AM on September 17, 2001

Humor will rebound shortly, and great sources of entertainment and knowledge like The Onion and the Daily Show will be up and kicking in no time. What will suffer, I agree with jpoulos, is the inconsequential and trivial pop culture phenomenon that really have no intrinsic worth (read: Spears, Aguilera, BSB, N'Sync, Survivor, Big Brother, etc.) We reached such a level of opulence in this country that we gave up on even wanting quality television programming and meaningful music. Now that our lives seem more full and in need of true meaning after such death and destruction, real and powerful media, including humor, will be more important.
posted by Hammerikaner at 8:47 AM on September 17, 2001

The problem comes when people take things too seriously - then they get all lines in their forehead and stuff.. Laughter lines are wonderful things however..

One of the wonderful things about being human is the ability to laugh as well as cry - and at least irony makes you think while you laugh =)

Lets hope the Onion isn't too disheartened - maybe they should leave this topic alone while people are still grieving, but there are still many, many other bits of news to lighten up our days =)
posted by Mossy at 8:47 AM on September 17, 2001

"Friends" and "Will and Grace" are not my favorite shows, so don't go making assumtions, I was just using them for example. I am sure The West Wing will have similar trouble making anything look dramatic this season.
posted by thirteen at 8:47 AM on September 17, 2001

This is probably a bit tasteless at the moment

But all the same. Not off topic. Per se.

(It's a plane-hijacking-terrorist-related Onion story. Catch it before they remember it's there.)
posted by Grangousier at 8:52 AM on September 17, 2001

Hammerikaner, I hope you're right. I think you may be.
posted by argybarg at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2001

Things do need to be taken more seriously, but that has nothing to do with satire, irony or The Onion. The problem of late has been in taking absurd things with deadly seriousness, or in blowing the trivial out of proportion (e.g. Condit/Levy, Little League, etc., etc.). The Onion did neither, and in fact rendered great service by skewering these tendencies with devastating wit. Do not confuse what they do with "making light" -- satire is serious stuff. But it may well be that with fewer absurd and trivial things on the news, The Onion will have less material to work with and be less relevant.

Why am I referring to The Onion in the past tense? Damn.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2001

I would hate to see the Onion go, but I think this country could stand to take things a little more seriously. I hope that one of the casualties of this new war will be "reality television".

I know this isn't the kind of casualty you had in mind, but the winner of Fox's Murder in Small Town X is one of the missing fireman in New York City.
posted by rcade at 9:01 AM on September 17, 2001

Do not confuse what they do with "making light" -- satire is serious stuff.
I cannot really disagree with you, tho I cannot imagine who they will get a laugh out of this.
posted by thirteen at 9:08 AM on September 17, 2001

It may sound crazy, but if I had bought it, and when I do go, I would hope people laugh about my demise rather than cry.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2001

Wait, wait.. The Onion is still making new content? This blows my mind. They go on more vacations than the editors of Condé Nast Traveler. I was under the impression that whenever a janitor called in sick, they had to halt the presses.
posted by Hildago at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2001

The problem comes when people take things too seriously - then they get all lines in their forehead and stuff.. Laughter lines are wonderful things however.

That is such bullshit. If this country hadn't been living so high on the hog for the last 30 years, seeking out one "distraction" after another, we might have been more prepared for what happened. (Some) news sources have been covering Afghanistan and the Middle East forever, but too many Americans were too busy being "entertained" to notice.

The polls all say that 9 out of 10 Americans support military action, presumably in Afghanistan. How many of those could find Afghanistan on a map? How many have even heard of it before last week. I think you'd be surprised.

I know this isn't the kind of casualty you had in mind, but the winner of Fox's Murder in Small Town X is one of the missing fireman in New York City.

As a matter of fact, a friend of my is actually the creator of that show. I can't imagine what her perspective on this whole thing must be.

I spent a week with her this summer, and at the time I thought it was bizarre that her entire life could revolve around something that had such a weak grip on "reality". Small Town X wasn't really a typical "reality" show--real people participated in a fictionalized murder mystery. The "townspeople" were all actors. This dose of real reality (with the death of the firefighter) thrown into the bizarre pseudo-reality of the show must be mind-boggling for her.
posted by jpoulos at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2001

Isn't it kind of ironic that Usama bin Laden, masquerading as a righteous man striking back at the wealthy western infidels, ala Robin Hood, nearly succeeded in perpetrating a major stock swindle? This is a kind of grand guignol, with the world as the shocked audience and the puppet master laughing at our expense... the best way to treat him would be to laugh back, among other actions. I understand now why the Afghanis are saying, "it's not us,"... carpet bombing Afghanistan would be like shooting a Jersey store owner for paying protection to the mob... whichever mob it is... there have been many lately, and Usama is just the latest in a long line of punks. Laughing at punks - among other actions - is always going to be a very useful and wonderful option. I agree with Mossy... lay off for a while, but then...
posted by Kami at 9:37 AM on September 17, 2001

Tragedy+Time= Comedy

-Woody Allen
posted by ColdChef at 9:39 AM on September 17, 2001

jpoulos: Taking things seriously and being humorous, and being light and playful, are not necessarily separate things. (Nietzsche considered the former a virtue.) Anyone who doesn't have a sense of the absurd is not someone I would consider even remotely serious. Being apathetic is what you're talking about, and it's a totally different thing. Being funny and attuned to the ridiculous does not equal being a self-centered narcissist. It can be equal, rather, but it's not inherently equal.
posted by raysmj at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2001

I agree that it's wise of the Onion to put a bit of time between the disaster and any jokes it might want to make, but it's at times like these when we need satire more than ever. Already I think we can see evidence of some jingoism which is clouding peoples' vision as to some of the obviously negative aspects of a potential war.

Though I genuinely mourn for the dead, I'm still not going to forget that George Bush is a buffoon. Which is why I'm posting a link to Australian satire mag The Chaser here and on the front page. WARNING some of its content may prove tasteless or offensive to some with regard to the WTC/ Washington atrocity.
posted by skylar at 9:58 AM on September 17, 2001

As the publisher of a satire ezine myself, I understand and agree with The Onion's decision. I have taken to distributing non-mainstream news of the Sept 11 events instead of my usual sarcastic fare. The age of irony, however, is merely postponed, not over. Humor writing is art, and art is human (as much as violence and love), and these things will always have a place in society.

On a related note, I do agree with some posters that junk like Britney Spears will seem super-trite, especially in formats such as MTV's TRL. How can that show have hundreds of teens in the street screaming over boybands? No one would show up!
posted by agnok47 at 10:00 AM on September 17, 2001

Actually, I saw on the news that the Backstreet Boys performed a concert at some point last week, even though their set designer was on one of the WTC planes. The reporter interviewed the usual group of women young and old outside the concert arena, all giggling over cute hair and asses. Just because many of us here sense that some aspects of popular culture feel more shallow than they did before, doesn't mean the rest of North America will follow along. Besides, while I am by no means a Backstreet fan, I think, given time, there's an ample and understandable need for mindless entertainment sometimes.
posted by jess at 10:36 AM on September 17, 2001

Reality TV? There's a show called The Farm running here now in Norway - you know, the one where they're sort of on a farm 100 years ago so no TV of course - and they're NOT TELLING the people in there what happened! I guess the same is happening other places. Absurd.

Of course, it may be rather more pleasant to emerge from some silly farm in 40 days time and only then realise the rest of the world is obliterated. At least they're getting some survival practice in primitive agricultural techniques.
posted by jill at 10:56 AM on September 17, 2001

I think both satire and an obsession with trivia are both the products of a happy society. The funnier and shallower you are, the more secure and at ease you are as a nation. There's probably a direct relation between the number of crap sitcoms on TV and sales of Hello and the sum of human happiness. I hope that the US feels free to adore rubbish like Britney Spears soon. You don't know what you've got till its gone.
posted by Summer at 11:11 AM on September 17, 2001

You're right, Summer, that it's a society's safety and security that allows it to have ridiculous luxuries (if you can call them that) like Spears and the BSB. But really, I'd rather live in a world where all people could talk about *meaningful* issues and not be distracted by boy band bullshit. If it is these worthless things that make us happy, then I must reevaluate my idealistic view of human nature.
posted by Hammerikaner at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2001

Have to disagree, Summer. Satire well and truly has a place in an unhappy society - you reckon there were no satirical songs in World War II? Think again.

Here's an example from the Falklands War for any Brits out there. After British forces sunk retreating enemy ship the General Belgrano (violating war conventions), the Sun tabloid newspaper printed the now-infamous headline "Gotcha!" The response of satirical newspaper Private Eye, meanwhile, was a perfect lampooning of both the Sun's out-of-control nationalism and its greed: "Enter our new 'Kill an Argie, win a Metro competition!"
posted by skylar at 11:35 AM on September 17, 2001

Tragedy+Time= Comedy -Woody Allen

If I remember right, that quote (from Crimes and Misdemeanors) was uttered by Alan Alda, portraying an annoyingly facile television producer. Woody Allen was making fun of that kind of sentiment.

But at the same time, the movie claimed that ultra-seriousness was not a better solution. (Toward the end of the movie, the highfalutin academic that Woody's character worships commits suicide, which totally contradicts the worldview the academic had espoused). That movie actually has some relevance now: the murderer in the movie gets away with it, finds a plausible way of justifying his behavior, and we are left with a feeling that this happens every day.
posted by Bootcut at 11:43 AM on September 17, 2001

Britney Spears et. al are potent distractions and will be just as much, if not more, necessary once some of the shock, anger and pain dies down. It's not as if 13 year old girls are all of the sudden going to start listening to Bruce Springsteen or Billy Bragg to satisfy some new desire for meaning in their lives.

And stop talking about The Onion in the past tense. They're taking a break ferchrissakes. We've had the TRAGEDY, soon we'll have the TIME...and then COMEDY can resume (thanks for the great Woody Allen quote).
posted by xochi at 11:50 AM on September 17, 2001

Personally, I don't feel the need to wear a hair-shirt in order to feel the weight of the current situation. Extending this sort of logic would close down television, radio, theaters and live music venues.

Usually, they're considered pretty valuable during wartime, because of the morale value. Bob Hope did pretty well for the USO, too.. I guess we'll be sending Bill F. Buckley to keep the right timbre to things.

And then there's Charlie Chaplin, and his 'Great Dictator'...

I dunno, folks. I say self-flagglation is no answer.
posted by Perigee at 11:55 AM on September 17, 2001

I hope shows like Friends and Will and Grace don't deal with the attack at all, because they're lightweight shows and it would be really difficult for them to get the tone right. Friends already gets pretty sappy when it gets melodramatic, and Will and Grace is a bitchfest, so tragic drama would be a shock.

I don't think The West Wing should address it directly, either, but I'm looking forward to its "big dramas" as a relief from reality. Oh the president has MS and lied about it? I wish that was all we had to worry about.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:00 PM on September 17, 2001

Personally, I don't feel the need to wear a hair-shirt in order to feel the weight of the current situation. Extending this sort of logic would close down television, radio, theaters and live music venues.

Which is just the sort of thing the Taliban would approve of.
posted by mcwetboy at 12:13 PM on September 17, 2001

Taking things seriously and being humorous, and being light and playful, are not necessarily separate things...Being apathetic is what you're talking about, and it's a totally different thing.

You're right, of course. But far too often entertainment is used to "escape reality" to the point of absurdity. I know so many people who can't watch the news because they "can't stand" to hear about children who die in a house fire. They watch "Wheel of Fortune" instead. Of course the thought of children dying in fires is terrible, and no one enjoys hearing that stuff, but if you can't face day-to-day hardships, how on earth can you expect to cope with extraordinary tragedies like the ones last week?

How lucky are we that terrorist attacks are considered "extraordinary" in the US, where in many parts of the world they are the day-to-day hardships!

I don't feel the need to wear a hair-shirt in order to feel the weight of the current situation.

Not at all. I could barely face the world without The Simpsons--or The Onion for that matter. But I couldn't bear to be without NPR either.

In reference to the USO shows, comedy and entertainment provide a valuable bubble of relief to those who have a grasp on reality. But if you're born and raised within that bubble, that stuff become anaesthesia.

Geez, this all sounds so very elitist, doesn't it? I don't mean it to. I understand that different people have different interests, and I don't suggest that everyone needs to become experts on foreign relations. But if the US expects to continue to lead the world, it (and I don't mean just its government, but the American people in general) needs to have a grasp on how that world works.

I suppose I should lighten up a little, and let things go a bit, but at the same time, shouldn't everyone else start paying a little more attention to the world around them?
posted by jpoulos at 12:21 PM on September 17, 2001

Re the Britney and BSB thing: the musical performers I identify most with WWII are the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller. Not exactly highbrow entertainment however fab they might be.

And many accounts of war (Spike Milligan's War Memoirs, for example, Oh What a Lovely War or Catch 22) refer to the gallows humour that soldiers find necessary to keep going, as do people who work for the emergency services and stare death in the face every day.

In fact a normal response to disasters and tragedies is to joke about them ? think Challenger or Princess Diana. These are not necessarily cracked by unfeeling people, but rather may be a refusal to let the shock, the horror, the sadness win. A gesture of defiance.

That said, I haven't heard anything like that in this case. There is nothing funny about WTC, as The Chaser conclusively proves.
posted by Grangousier at 12:22 PM on September 17, 2001

Bing Crosby? I absolutely loved Fat Albert!
posted by jpoulos at 12:29 PM on September 17, 2001

Yeah, jpoulos... it is elitist. But it's true enough, despite that. Heaven knows at least 70% of the US population runs on minimal braincells, and I'm willing to bet that the same ratio of dopes to intelligencia is pretty steady across the globe. Yodey, Dummy, Mouthbreathing, Useless, blobs of junkfood who measure their personal IQ by their ability to pick winners in the weekly office football pool.

And it's probably equally true that the same ratio could be charted back through time: a whole bunch of the 'Yanks' and 'Doughboys' were yahoos that couldn't rub two synapses together. Then again, the same could be said of the British, French, Italian, German, and Japanese who fought in that conflict, along with any other amassed group of humans that came together to do bodily injury upon each other.

We're still mostly just a bunch of barely-monkeys out here, and that's OK. If we last long enough to evolve - or 'grow', if you prefer to keep the scopes trial out of it - we may actually amount to something decent as a species someday. In the meanwhile, being petulant that a group of nigh-neanderthals just don't 'pay attention' is like trying to instruct squirrels to stay off of power lines.

That being said, I'll be equally elitist, if not moreso by a mile. Now they Are paying attention, and the response we're getting is 'Blow 'em back to the stone age'. Frankly, I'd rather these folks get back to whatever was occupying their attention before as quickly as possible. I say let the mental lightweights have their lotus TV-dinners, so they don't get all panic-stricken and do something stupid, like potting the Arab who runs the Sunoco down the street, or pummeling the Pakistani who is walking home from school.
posted by Perigee at 12:47 PM on September 17, 2001

If the age of irony is over, Matt may as well shut down MeFi :)
posted by sixdifferentways at 1:03 PM on September 17, 2001

I only hope the present tragedy means Eminem and Radiohead realise they're not the most put upon people in the universe.
posted by Summer at 1:09 PM on September 17, 2001

Summer! Didn't you hear? Irony is over!
posted by ColdChef at 1:43 PM on September 17, 2001

In late 1963, nobody - NOBODY - thought anyone would ever be sick enough to make light of the JFK assassination. In the end, it became such generic entertainment fodder that it ranks right up there with "the mother-in-law is coming to visit" as one of the most done to death (no pun intended) plots of all time.

People move on. The only reason there's even been a temporary halt to tastelessness is because it makes you look like a jerk to not observe at least a halfhearted moment of silence. That's it. Besides, there's nobody that won't take advantage of any opportunity for a vacation.

Non-ironic tasteful comedy is already back in full force. Ironic comedy will be back in a week. Actual WTC-related humor tolerated by a mass audience? I give it two years, tops. The pseudohipster crowds, of course, will be creating such humor inside of 90 days, and thinking they're veddy veddy cool for finding the humor so quickly.

What will suffer ... is the inconsequential and trivial pop culture phenomenon that really have no intrinsic worth (read: Spears, Aguilera, BSB, N'Sync...)

Well, I HOPE you're right. But Michael Jackson is putting together a nauseating "We Are the World" - style tribute song pretty soon. Let's see what "artists" he invites to participate, and compare them to the list of artists that actually did "WAtW", before we declare Pop Crap dead. My guess is Britney will be front and center, and Paul Simon will be nowhere to be found. (Though it would be amusing to see Dan Aykroyd manage to make his way into this one as well.)
posted by aaron at 1:53 PM on September 17, 2001

That said, I haven't heard anything like that in this case.

Then you haven't been paying attention. alt.tasteless.jokes is alive and thriving:

Q: Who are the fastest readers in the world?
A: New Yorkers. Some of them go through 110 stories in 5 seconds.
posted by aaron at 1:57 PM on September 17, 2001

Damn. I did not need to read that. Time, people. Give it some time already!
posted by ColdChef at 2:36 PM on September 17, 2001

aaron: Still don't hear people make light of D-Day. Pearl Harbor? No, 'cept for the movie. The Holocaust isn't a great source of comedy, although it indirectly inspired countless boatloads of humor of the life-affirming (a word begging to be satirized, just not right now) variety. The only time I've heard "The Gulag Archipelago" referenced in a joking manner is people talking about the book in a what's-on-my-beach-reading-list manner. Solzhenitzyn is another matter entirely, as you'll know if you ever saw Letterman's Alexander S. stick-on doll, a la the "Baby on Board" dolls of the '80s.

JFK's assassination became a great source of humor because of the failure to explain what occurred, and subsequent conspiracy theories. The latter define absurdity, and as such are practically unavoidable sources of humor.

Finally, why would the past week be considered a vacation by anyone? You're thrown off your routine, including humor writing, then it's a vacation? In most cases, I think public mourning and worry over distant events and people is irritating. Using such events as an excuse to not work would usually then be an example of slacking. But in this case all American citizens have an authentic connection to what went down, whether they realize it or not.
posted by raysmj at 3:17 PM on September 17, 2001

The lead story in this week's Onion is a perfect example of what they do best: not dismissing the important, but rather mocking people who inflate trivial matters to outragous proportions. To all of you who have been saying "Entertainment and humor in the US have deadened Americans to the important", I'm sure the Onion would agree. It's just that their brand of agreement consists of a deadpan announcement that a new crispy snack cracker will ease crushing pain of modern life.

And if The Onion ever does deal with the tragedy of WTC, they certainly wouldn't have to make light of it. In fact, what better way to give the terrorists the literary finger than to make light of them during this time when we are all supposed to be cowering under our beds. Something along the lines of this [mp3 file].
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:26 PM on September 17, 2001

If comedy is gone for the moment, the interesting thing to consider is where humor will develop. In an effort to break from the tragedy of reality, will it assume a more absurdist voice? Certainly, it's safe to say that violence will be discouraged, particularly explosions and fire. Ten years from now, will we have a "Hogan's Heroes"-like sitcom making light of this?
posted by ed at 4:48 PM on September 17, 2001

*slaps thigh
You folks are fuh-uh-nee!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:49 PM on September 17, 2001

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