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Sunday, September 30, 2001

An Editorial

When a large part of the Onion's staff left Madison, Wisconsin for New York City at the beginning of this year, we locals felt betrayed. Madison was where the Onion grew up. The midwest was what inspired much of the ironic humour, and we had a hard time believing New York would provide better fodder. We were afraid they would lose their perspective on just what makes the world so banal, now being a thousand miles removed from the banal belt.

On Wednesday, September 12, I visited the Onion's site. It was too soon for an issue to be concerned with the 911 tragedy. They had a message up that a new issue of the Onion would return on September 26. I wondered just how would they broach the topic of terrorists, buildings tumbling, patriotism, etc. I wondered in all sincerety, would this be the end of the Onion? I even found an Onionesque headline flashing through my own mind: "Onion staff leaves humourless Madison for New York where things are more of a blast."

I also wondered about another comedic institution, Saturday Night Live. How would they fare? Would this indeed be the end of humour as we know it? Unlike the Onion, SNL has been declining for years. 911 would either be its death knell, or it would provide material to take it out of its recent slump, propelling it back into the years of Belushi and Akroyd or Carvey and Hartman. Dream on.

This past week I visited the Onion again. They had their latest issue up. Honestly, I was not expecting much, but I was very happy to say I was very, very wrong. The Onion was hilarious. It confronted the tragedy head-on. It retained its brand of sacrilegious humour and making fun of media without being disrespectful to the lives lost.

Last night I watched SNL. It was a bipolar opposite to the Onion. Where the Onion didn't shy away from all matters surrounding the tragedy, whether it was how to talk to your child about the events (complete with complex socio-religious history about the Middle East), or Mohammed Atta being surprised finding himself in Hell, SNL avoided any reference in its skits. What we got was a serious Mayor Giulliani at the beginning and end giving proof through the night that New York was still there. In between, we got the lamest drivel and excuses for laughs that I've ever watched. There were no political impersonations or jokes...not even a Condit/Levy skit! It was all "safe" yet raunchy junior high lockerroomesque. Adult writers come up with this stuff? Has Lorne Michaels gone senile or is he going through a second childhood, because that material was simply juvenile, through and through.

SNL should take a cue from the Onion. A seemingly untouchable subject can be very funny when handled well, or when there's talent on the staff. Lorne...remember the end of one of the mid-80s seasons when the cast and writers were faltering just as badly? You fired the whole lot of them and came back the following season with fresh blood that was a well-needed adrenaline shot in the arm.

And I hope that the Onion looks to Saturday Night too and sees what going from counterculture to mainstream can do to one's edge. I hope they don't ever lose theirs, but if they do to please give up instead of dying the way SNL is. It's not a pretty sight.
posted by Ann-S-Thesia at 9:24 AM || link it email me




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Copyright 1996-2001 Ann Stretton. All Rights Reserved. No part of this web log may be copied or reproduced, however text may be quoted if a link is given in return. Permission is not given under any circumstances to use any of the graphics or art on this site, however If you ask first, I may grant permission at my discretion. Please check the link above to my Ann-S-Thesia site for web graphics if that is what you need.