Short Cuts

Thomas Jones

‘America’s finest news source’, the Onion, has assembled an omnibus of every issue of the spoof weekly paper published between October 2000 and October 2001. The Onion ad Nauseam: Complete News Archives Volume 13 (Boxtree, £12.99) is the first of what is expected to be many such annuals. It includes the famous post-11 September issue: ‘US vows to defeat whoever it is we’re at war with’; ‘Hijackers surprised to find selves in hell’; ‘American life turns into bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie’; ‘Massive attack on Pentagon page 14 news’, and the one after: ‘A shattered nation longs to care about stupid bullshit again.’ There’s also extensive coverage of the Presidential election that brought Bush to power: ‘Nation plunges into chaos: pro-Bush rebels seize power in West; DC in Flames’; ‘Clinton declares self President for life’; ‘Bush executes 253 New Mexico Democrats.’ And once he was in the White House: ‘Bush – “Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over.”’ The opening story in the compendium is ‘Half-naked Kissinger thrown out of US News & World Report Mansion’: ‘Hank . . . just had a few too many Harvey Wallbangers, and we had to send him home. Nobody knows how to go off the deep end like the Kiss-Man.’ The Onion doesn’t only concern itself with global affairs and characters of international stature. The Kiss-Man jostles for column inches with Area Man, as in ‘Area man unsure what to do with all the extra ketchup packets’, or ‘Local man exhausted after long day of video games’. The paper was started in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late 1980s. It went online a decade later, and more recently its offices have relocated to New York. There were those who feared the metropolitanisation would blunt its edge: you can see for yourself whether or not this is true by visiting www.theonion.com (I can’t at the moment, thanks to the ever unreliable demon.co.uk, Internet disservice provider to the unwary).

The annual is introduced by Dave Eggers. At least, something he wrote in ‘St Petersburg, Russia, June 2002’ appears under the heading ‘Introduction’ at the front of the book; but then this is Dave Eggers, so it isn’t by any means a conventional introduction, and out of context would be hard to identify as of the category. It reads more like a story, or an allegory. Eggers has pulled off his usual trick of threatening to be irritating, and then managing by a whisker not to be and being charming instead (a technique to be imitated at the pretender’s peril: so many fall at the first fence). His story is called ‘Area Man at Dawn with Ax’, which is more like the title of a painting than an Onion headline. ‘Area Man woke one night to the sound of thunder.’ He’s been reading Camus, and pondering the purposelessness of his existence. He goes out in the pre-dawn to cut some wood. He peers through the windows of his neighbours’ house. He remembers the elation he felt at being given a new mop-head by his boss – he works as a cleaner at ‘a midscale eatery on the highway’ – and fantasises about the possibility that ‘someone, somewhere, cared about, could read about, his encounter with his new mop-head’. At which point the relevance that all this has to the Onion heaves into view, with a blast on the klaxon for good measure. There’s nothing quite like the Onion in the UK – at least, nothing that I’ve seen. The satire in Private Eye is more focused, and too often flirts with pettiness; Viz is more puerile, and not as funny; the Framley Examiner (www.framleyexaminer.com) is more parochial.

The Guardian is a serious newspaper: it has, nonetheless, brought out an annual of its own, The Guardian Year 2002, edited by David McKie (Atlantic, £12.99). And what a year it’s been, seeing among so much else not only the poaching of ace columnist Rod Liddle from his frustratingly behind-the-scenes role at the Today programme but the launch of the tabloid Saturday Review and a new spot, similar in style to the New Yorker’s ‘Talk of the Town’, called ‘Short Cuts’ – a name hopelessly unoriginal even when the LRB adopted it. There are many excellent pieces among the 110 contributions to The Guardian Year 2002; but then, at the risk of sounding ungenerous, so there should be, considering there were more than three hundred issues of the paper available for filleting.