The Onion started as a free coupon paper for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with associated humor articles. I'm not sure how long ago, but my high school classmates and I were looking at the print version in 1990. The quality of the writing was good enough to make it popular, and as of 1996, they were distributing the free papers to Denver and the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana as well as in Madison. I can only assume that the coupons were altered to apply to the local businesses.

The rise of the internet is directly responsible for the astounding critical (and presumably, commercial) success of The Onion today. As soon as they got a website, those in the know who read the print version started spamming copy-and-pasted articles from the site all over Usenet.

In 1999, the Onion released one of the best history books of all time, Our Dumb Century, which collected fictional front pages of the paper from the years 1900 to 2000. They have also published other work of more dubious quality, such as reporter Mike Leow's book Tough Call, and the Not for Broadcast album, in which the writers attempt to record audio sketch comedy.

In Q1 2000, CNN.com reported that The Onion has moved its main office from Madison to New York City.

The Onion's website is at http://www.theonion.com/
It is updated every Wednesday.

The Onion isn't completely parody. Something which everyone seems to overlook is their quite good inside section (called The AV Club), where they have really good reviews of movies, books, and music, and several regular features such as Savage Love, Justify Your Existence, and Pathetic Geek Stories. They also have awesome interviews, and have recently interviewed Nick Park (of Wallace and Gromit fame), Craig MacKracken (creator of Powerpuff Girls), and Phish (who completely grok MP3s and are also nothing like their obnoxious pseudo-hippie "phans").

It's disturbing how many people overlook this, and as a result, look at me incredulously when I say, "Oh, yeah, The Onion gave that movie a great review," or "Yeah, I heard about that book... The Onion's reviewer didn't think too highly of it though."

I guess this is one of those things - there can be a whole bunch of layers, and even so, people assume that something's the same on the inside as on the surface, and so most people don't bother to go deep. Just like an onion - people just assume it's the bitter flesh, not realizing that some life may have sprouted inside.

The Onion

Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; 'She once pulled up an onion in her garden,' said he, 'and gave it to a beggar woman.' And God answered: 'You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.'

The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. 'Come,' said he, 'catch hold and I'll pull you out.' he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. 'I'm to be pulled out, not you. It's my onion, not yours.' As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky(1821-1881)

The Brothers Karamazov (Chapter 3)


You may know Fyodor Dostoevsky best from his widely read novel Crime and Punishment. As one of the greatest of all novelists he was Russian whose career was disastrously interrupted in 1849 when he joined a group of young intellectuals who read and debated French Socialist theories forbidden to be openly talked about in Russian societies.

Dostoevsky, at 28 years old was sentenced to hard labor spending four years in Siberia then served as a common soldier afterward. So stressful was this period of his life that it brought on epilepsy from which he suffered for the rest of his life. His reading, limited to the Bible, led him to reject the Western inspired atheistic socialism of his youth and Christ's teachings became for him a supreme affirmation of the ethical ideal and of the possibility of redemption through suffering. Profoundly affected by the prison brutality of hardened criminals alternating with displays of courage, sensitivity and generosity awakened Dostoevsky to insights into the deepest complexities of human behavior.

Resuming his literary career after imprisonment, Dostoevsky wrote several novels whereby he created symbolic worlds of heroes infused with a tragic sense of life, a search for truth and self fulfillment. Anticipating modern psychology he explored the hidden motives and intuitive understanding of the unconscious through his characters preparing the way for the subjective approach of much 20the century literature and for surrealitic and existentialist writing.

The Onion is a good example of how he used three protagonists --metaphysical symbols of body, mind and spirit of the modern human being and engaged these in passionate debate, revolving around his earlier works by using the expiation of sin through suffering, the need for a moral force in an irrational universe, the struggle between good and evil, and the enduring value of freedom and individual. With compelling images and a meagerness of words, this great storyteller layers a striking portrayal of greed and poverty, hope and grace, and the fallenness of humanity. The rich woman of the story, protecting the material while she yearns for the spiritual, mired in a need for control and a hope for redemption. The ultimate question is poised to the reader as to how to live and what one is to live by--to which Dostoevsky provides only fragmentary answers.

Sources:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Dostoevsky, Fyodor Mikhailovich," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public domain text taken from Book VII: 3. An Onion Page 4:
www.freebooks.biz/Classics/Dostoevsky/ Karamazov/Karamazov_VII03_4.htm

Columnists for The Onion

The satirical newspaper The Onion's columnists are intended to parody their counterparts in more, um, serious media, as well as various "types" one tends to encounter.

They are:

The columns appear in a complicated pattern, and not necessarily in a fixed order. Jean Teasdale and Jackie Harvey may be the least frequent; Jim Anchower appears to be among the most. That may be my perception, since I don't particularly like Jim Anchower.

The Onion has now been publishing satiric news for 23 years, both in print and on the internet, which means that The Onion is in the position of being older than many of its readers.

Like most people who weren't college students in Madison, Wisconsin, I first read The Onion online, in 1999, around the time that most people started using the internet for such frivolous business as reading comedy news. If anyone's memories stretch back to 1999, there was no social networking, no blogging services, and really not much original or updated content on the web, at all. But there were many young eyeballs glued to the web, ready to click and view on just about anything that could keep them entertained for a few moments. At that time, and for several more years, The Onion only updated once a week, on Tuesdays, and I looked forward to reading each new issue.

In the early years, The Onion's humor was distinctive. Its biggest comedic device was the overly stilted use of a newspaper's editorial voice, often used to describe mundane events hilariously. It is hard to remember after ten years, but there was a point when this conceit was actually quite original. Its humor could also range from absurd to thought provoking.

The Onion of recent years, from about 2007 to the present, is in many ways the same as The Onion I started reading over a decade ago, but I don't read it with the same energy I used to. Two of the major changes to The Onion have been the addition of faux television news service, and a regular feature of stories about sports, the Onion Sports Network. Although both of these open up comedic possibilities, I also feel that they are mostly meant to increase appeal to demographics that might not care about political or social satire.

The Onion is still a popular site, and is probably more popular in terms of the total number of readers. One of the best things about The Onion, for me, is that it still provides a common touchstone, because the articles often are a clear, amusing way to cast complicated issues into a different light. Often, I read Onion articles when they are posted on a website like Facebook, and I often find them good sources of shared discussion, even if they overly simplify things.

In short, it has been a long time since The Onion has published something that left me either laughing or thinking hard. Most often, I think the writing is either amusing or clever, but nothing more. For me, the best comparison for what The Onion has become is Saturday Night Live, which while occasionally still funny is more effective as a touchstone, a source of cultural references. So while The Onion might not be a source of cutting edge or surrealist humor, it is still interesting to read, if only because other people are reading it.

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