Return to The Onion (review)

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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