NEW YORK, Oct. 28 -- Although a formal inquiry has not yet been initiated, our nation's political experts have revealed damning evidence tying Monday's collapse of the New York Stock Exchange to Jews, Negroes, Catholics, Anarchists, Foreigners, and Women Voters.

--Our Dumb Century

Wednesday, October 20, 1999
Notre Bête Siècle

Brief review of the academic carnage: I'm still one paper behind in Theories of Feminism, and considerably behind in my reading for 20th Century Literature and History of the Indian Subcontinent. Plus I still have to write a poem for tomorrow's Poetry Workshop class.

In other news, I happened across The Onion Presents OUR DUMB CENTURY: 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source at the campus bookstore. After flipping through a few pages and laughing out loud, I spent the next fifteen minutes rationalizing buying it for myself. Which I finally did, also picking up a copy of Easy French Reader, which is precisely the kind of book I was searching for two semesters back, when I last took a French course.

See, I realized somewhere along the line that I tend to learn through assimilation, rather than through straight lessons. I generally get interested by something, vacuum down a lot of information on it, and end up retaining the bits that interest me. Which seems to apply to language acquisition also. Based on previous experiences with Hebrew and Aramaic -- not to mention English -- I have the impression that my best bet is simply to read stuff in French, picking up the rules and stuff by osmosis, referring to reference books when necessary. That'd probably be both more enjoyable and more effective than the alternative.

Goodness knows when I'm actually going to get a chance to use this book, now that I have it, but it would be nice to do so. I really would like to learn French someday...

But I'm getting off the subject, which was supposed to be the other book. One Dumb Century is, quite simply, the funniest book I have come across in some time. It's a collection of front pages of The Onion (represented as a legitimate newspaper), purportedly published between January 1, 1900, and January 1, 2000. If you've ever read The Onion, you know what to expect. (I confess that I don't usually read the online edition, but that's because the site was extremely Lynx-unfriendly, the last I checked.)

If not... well, here's a quick sampling of headlines, chosen by randomly flipping through the book as I type this:

June 29, 1919:

New 'League of Nations' to Offer Gift Shop, Guided Tours

December 8, 1941:

Congress Declares War After Sneak Attack on U.S. Imperial Holding

FDR: 'We Conquered the Hawaiians First'

French Surrender

October 4, 1957:
Bleeping Two-Foot Tin Ball Threatens Free World

America Suffers Major Defeat in Space-Gizmo Race

Orbiting Russian Trinket 'A Grave Threat,' Say Scientists

President Promises to 'Put a Tiny Metal Thing in Orbit' by 1960

September 12, 1972:
Nixon Steps Up Bombing Raids on New York Times

'This Is a Necessary Escalation to Protect the U.S. Presidency,' Nixon Says

There are better examples, but these were chosen at random. Still, a mere selection of headlines doesn't come close to doing this book justice. All of the above are accompanied by articles, plus photos or drawings. It's the way each entire front page looks that really makes this good, as the text gleefully skewers world events, pop culture, the media, and the interaction of all the above. If you're a cultural critic kinda guy, you'll just love this book. Or, at least, I'm a cultural critic kinda guy, and I love this book, so you might also.

Y'know, function does follow form. A sonnet about catnip is pretty much guaranteed to be about romantic infatuation, no? I may end up copping out slightly and switching to a Petrarchan sonnet after all; it's much more suited for what I tentatively have in mind, I think. The Spenserian form pretty much demands a long setup and a two-line punchline, and I just can't think of anything that--

Scratch that; I may have just thought of one. Stay tuned.