Jibes and Parries

By Zachary Block '99 / May / June 2003
June 22nd, 2007
Among cynical, over-educated teens and twenty-somethings these days—and even among middle-aged former hipsters—there’s nothing hipper than the Onion.

Blending biting social satire with sophomoric jokes about bodily functions and other mindless humor, the weekly newspaper has in recent years become a must-read for anyone who is seeking relief from corporate and consumer culture or who likes to laugh at the high-and-mighty and the low-and-pathetic.

“There’s really nothing off limits in terms of offensiveness,” Robert Siegel, the paper’s twiggy, bedheaded editor in chief, told students in February. “It’s tricky because we want to be able to make fun of people and still be likable.”

That wasn’t a problem for Siegel, whose appearance in Salomon Center was sponsored by the student-run Brown Lecture Board. Nearly every word that he uttered drew raucous laughter from the undergraduate crowd. At one point even Siegel seemed perplexed by the reaction. “You can really pretty much get away with anything in the Ivy League,” he deadpanned.

After his revelation that he grew up in New York City elicited boos and hisses from the audience, he kept up the attack.“You’re all children of privilege and power,” he said. “You’re all the same. You’re all rich kids. What, the kids from the Boston suburbs are going to boo the kids from the New York suburbs?”

Wearing a blazer and jeans, Siegel described his paper’s editorial mix as “one part cutting social satire with one part strategically placed naughty words.” “It’s never okay to just make a point,” he said. “I’ll go with the fart joke over the preachy tirade about [President] Bush.”

For every fifty story suggestions offered up in editorial meetings, he explained, only one makes it into print. “We sort of operate on the principle that quantity makes quality. You kind of just throw some shit against the wall and see what sticks.”

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May / June 2003