Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

Books
cover art

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information

The Onion

(Little, Brown and Company; US: Oct 2012)

After far too long, there is finally a credible competitor to the Google hegemony that heretofore has controlled the Western world’s access to information. (The enigmatic East holds its own secrets, of which we know so very little.) And it comes in the form, surprisingly enough, of a previous generation’s technology: print on pleasantly mildew-scented paper.


Leave it to the geniuses at The Onion, who have revolutionized the science of sarcasmic infoengineering in the weekly print newspaper format, to do the same for the venerable encyclopedia. Miraculously, in only 250 or so pages, they have managed to cram more meaningful information about our universe into one book than Google or Bing or even Alta Vista have been able to do with several times that number of “web pages”. No doubt, there may well be a modicum of future utility in the Internet for communications purposes (such as the so-called “e-mail”), the remote purchase of small kitchen utensils, and the surreptitious perusal of young Eastern European women wearing little more than skimpy bathing suits and shawls, but when it comes to hard, factual information, all you’ll ever need henceforth is The Onion Book of Known Knowledge.


Among literally tens of others, let me cite one example of how the Onion not only surpasses, but supersedes, the Internet. On an online “encyclopedia” known as “Wikipedia” (the “Wiki”, incidentally, is a reference to the “Wiccan” witch cult that is its primary source of funding) a “tornado” is defined as a “violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud.  They are often referred to as ‘twisters’ or ‘cyclones’, although the word ‘cyclone’ is used in meteorology, in a wider sense, to name any closed low pressure circulation.”


Over-explain much? And yet these thoroughly objectionable Wiccan pedants ramble on for another 60 or so paragraphs!  By refreshing contrast, here is the Onion’s infinitely more-useful definition, in full:  “(a) violent column of rotating air that is in contact with the ground, the potentially fatal and damaging effect of which can be safely negated if one spins rapidly in the opposite direction of the tornado’s rotational force as the storm passes overhead.” 


If you’re not quite convinced yet, consider that I placed a glass of bourbon on the rocks (light ice, twist of lime) on top of The Onion Book of Known Knowledge and deliberately jostled it. The resulting spill was immediately soaked up by the book’s handsome, cardboard-based “hardcovers”.  When I tried the same thing on my IPad (the “pad” part, apparently, is a misnomer), a goodly portion of the Internet was flooded.


Indeed, as The Onion accurately notes, everything was better before the Internet came along. Its succinct definition of “espionage,” for example, describes it as “another thing that used to involve sex but now just happens on computers.” 


And, really, what more needs to be said than that?


Speaking of the shortcomings of the online “community”, here’s another startling revelation that only this invaluable “solid encyclopedia” would reveal. In its entry under “Secretariat”, the muckraking compendium-makers at The Onion note that this “American Triple Crown-winning racehorse” was “stripped of his titles in disgrace for gambling on his own races throughout the 1970s.”  Try finding that kind of myth-busting news on a booze-soaked bumble through the “lame-stream” online “media”. 


No one is perfect, of course, and sometimes even the Onion stumbles. Its editors define “sexual intercourse”, for example, as “a four-hour-long physical act conducted three to five times a day.” Maybe if you’re suffering simultaneously from a cold, a killer migraine and gaseous gangrene, I suppose, but otherwise the Onion’s definition of “duration” is, I’m sorry to say, woefully, almost comically, short.


But “by and large” (to use one of those irritatingly ubiquitous slang expressions recently popularized by the Internet), the bulbous-headed deep thinkers at The Onion get it exactly right.  Consider their definition of Hell:


“Vast, warehouse-like space bathed in an eerie fluorescent light whose seemingly endless aisles are lined with discounted consumer goods, including food, apparel, electronics, and toys. The entrance to hell is manned by an old, white-haired man or woman in a blue vest who greets visitors as they arrive and alerts them to the existence of a number of unbeatable values in the lifeless expanse before them… at predetermined intervals a disembodied voice announces ‘rollbacks,’ sending the denizens of hell toward one specific area of the building, at which point they are instructed to load various off-brand appliances and beauty products into a blue cart…”


While The Onion oddly neglects to mention that the entrance to this lifeless and soulless pit of horrifying agony is in fact located in the general vicinity of Wilmette, Illinois, in every other respect it accords almost exactly with the unacknowledged nightmares of everyone who has ever shuffled helplessly to their awful, inevitable fate. 


And what, exactly, is that fate?  The Onion knows all, so let us leave this brief and inevitably inadequate appreciation with what they (along with all of the honest religions) have to say about the nature of our existence on this violently spinning orb we call the Earth (“the only planet in the known universe capable of supporting life that is trying to kill it.”)  The definition of “life”, in The Onion, requires but one word: “Suffering”.  It would take an entire evening of tooling around on Internet political conspiracy chat boards or lying on the couch watching television dramas about psychic detectives, improbably imperturbable forensic investigators and raven-haired sex-crime investigators to reach that same conclusion.

Rating:

Michael Antman is a two-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Balakian Award for Excellence in Reviewing. He is the author of the novel Cherry Whip (ENC Press, 2004), and recently completed a new novel, Everything Solid Has a Shadow. His website, where most of his writing is collected, is at Michael Antman Author.com.


Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.