[6 January 2008]
Our Dumb Century
Author: The Onion Editors
Fans of The Onion, you know who you are. Our Dumb Century purports to represent the last hundred year’s worth of front pages and headlines of the venerated news supplier. Presenting the best fake news stories from the 20th century, read headlines like “Death-by-Corset Rates Stabilize at One-in-Six” and “Congress Reduces Work Week to 135 Hours”. Watch out, your friends might grab your copy right off your coffee table.
Satirical news devotees will find nothing to be disappointed with in this hilarious collection of stories and images from “American’s Finest News Source”. Originally published in 1999, the editors define political issues as only The Onion can. The book is divided up into five temporal chunks that roughly outline the American eras of industrialization, war, the ‘swell’ middle of the century, more war (plus hippies!), and the golden era of television (i.e. the apathetic last two decades of the 20th century).
The Onion spares no fashion statement, consumer product, or political candidate in its broad survey of fabricated news headlines from the last century’s worth of subject matter. Hindsight being 20/20, the writers take full advantage of their position at the very end of the 1990s when writing in present tense about subjects like the Campbell’s Tomato soup can design, proclaimed on an October, 1962 (six years before Andy Warhol’s painting) cover to be ‘Brilliant’ ‘Pop Art’ by art critics, while the Campbell’s CEO maintains, “‘It’s just soup.’” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1963 proclamation that “‘I Had a Really Weird Dream Last Night’” shares a page with the headline, ‘Earth’s Fossil Fuels Will Last Forever, Geologists Say’. Thirty years earlier, The Onion ostensibly reported that with the 18th Amendment repealed, “U.S. Distilleries ‘Resume’ Alcohol Production”; workers involved with the production of alcohol are now undertaking “the Olympian task of making it seem as if they are just now returning to production after years of prohibition-enforced inactivity.” A small blurb in the opposite corner of this front cover lists a group of Hollywood celebrities whose ‘Careers [were] Destroyed Today’; unsurprisingly more than a few of them were reputed alcoholics.
The editorial staff’s attention to detail is displayed on every page, from the fluctuating cost of the broadsheet copies, to revamped insignia of the paper’s name over time, to shifting typeface that reflects the date stated at the top of the page. Always relevant, always thought-provoking, this book is a great reference source about history and popular culture no matter what page you open it up to.