It wasn’t easy to find him. I had heard rumors of a disillusioned Onion employee willing to deal insider gossip, but it took weeks of phone calls and emails to track him down. Finally, after a few cryptic tweets, I was directed to a popular neighborhood bar in a large city. He arrived on a fixed gear bicycle, with mustache handlebars and electrical tape obscuring the brand name. As the bicycle leaned against our table, he told his sordid tale over the aluminum brim of a PBR.
“In the old days, like ’07 or ’08, I’m sure it was a great place to be. They were all real serious about it. . . really into the irony. But now, it’s like they just want to be funny.”
That’s the gist of his tale. Once a grassroots publication distributed for free, The Onion earnestly probed the ironic foibles of American culture. It was precisely this love of tradecraft which drew my young source to the company. However, after several months on the job, it became clear that his employer had lost its passion.
“All the time it was like, ‘We’ve got this thing that needs published, and it’s got to be funny. So, irony is nice, but we need something from you now.’”
These accusations come from a man with a credible history. Raised by a wealthy family near an Ivy League school, he refused to use his education fund to “play the game.” Rather, he took the money and relocated to an emerging urban neighborhood where he felt he could best fight the prevailing systems of societal injustice on the back of his two-wheeled transportation. The Onion job seemed like the perfect opportunity to ironically reveal the lies of “the machine.” However, the young crusader was crushed when he discovered that it was all, quite literally, one big joke.
I hoped he would provide some insight. Perhaps he had a vision for restoring passionate irony to the media institution. But, with the chime of his iPhone, he was gone, off to another bar meeting to sip PBR while fighting the growing intellectual void of that is our culture.