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'Our Dumb Century' by the editors of ‘The Onion.’

Collection displays ‘Onion’s’ over-the-top appeal

Sunday, June 20, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor


Our Dumb Century

By the editors of ‘The Onion.’

Three Rivers Press


If there’s one publication that helps move the work week by a little faster, it’s “The Onion,” a parody of news stories and American culture published every Wednesday on the Web at http://www.theonion.com.

This politically incorrect, frequently vulgar humor site has come out of cyberspace and into bookstores with the best-selling “Our Dumb Century.” Rather than simply spoofing current events, this look back at 100 years of mock “Onion” front pages allows its 14 writers to spoof news events and coverage from decades before they were born.

But beware: This humor is not for the easily offended. One article from

1955 declares that Rosa Parks, tired of dealing with buses, will instead take a cab. A headline in a 1960 edition announces: “Soviet space program ahead in dog-killing race.” Baby boomers are sure to gag at a headline from 1963 that declares, “Jacqueline Kennedy catches husband’s brains with grace, aplomb.”

Before you start writing letters to the Post-Gazette about what an insensitive clod that Rob Owen is, you have to understand the reason “The Onion” is such a hoot. It’s not because it makes fun of the assassination of President Kennedy; it’s the way the “Onion” writers satirize modern-day media.

It’s also funny because of the way stereotypes get pushed to extremes. A 1980 article about the race for president boils the two candidates’ slogans down to Jimmy Carter’s “Let’s talk better mileage” and Ronald Reagan’s refrain, “Kill the bastards.”

Be warned, “Our Dumb Century” also contains a fair amount of profanity. A story about man setting foot on the moon takes the use of obscenities to new levels of excess, as if it were written by a foul-mouthed high schooler trying desperately to be cool. In that context, it’s not as much profane as it is riotously funny.

“The Onion” isn’t just a Web phenomenon. The newspaper is published weekly on newsprint in Madison, Wis., and a few other cities and is available nationally at Barnes & Noble and Borders. Plans are in the works for a prime-time TV special based on the rapidly growing “Onion” phenomenon.

While some are sure to take “Our Dumb Century” seriously -- although how could you given its title? -- there’s one headline that shows how equal-opportunity the book is in its targets: “Stock market crashes; debacle linked to Jews, Negroes, Catholics, anarchists, foreigners, women voters.”

Over the top, much?

“Our Dumb Century” is meant to provoke belly laughs, not hurt feelings. And it succeeds with every turn of the page.

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