Ask The A.V. Club - February 29, 2008
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha
What, exactly, is your relationship to The Onion? Do you guys write that stuff, or are you two separate departments? You guys seem to be roughly my age. Are you going to continue writing for The A.V. Club as we all get older, therefore ensuring I can relate to it throughout adulthood, or will younger writers cycle in, dooming me to one day realize I am too old to understand all those kids on The A.V. Club?
I have always wondered what exactly is the connection between The A.V. Club and The Onion. Sometimes they seem like two halves of a whole, while other times, it seems like they are two mostly unrelated publications that just happen to be in the same paper/website.
Do the A.V. Club writers also write for The Onion? If they are two parts of one whole, which one is more dominant? Is The A.V. Club just a tacked-on back page to The Onion, or is The Onion just a bit of window dressing for The A.V. Club?
Are you A.V. Club types in, like, the same building and stuff (inasmuch as you're all in the same building yourselves) as the regular Onion scribes and funnymen, and if so, what's that like? Or do any of you indeed write for that humorous mock news periodical (or MNP as it shall not henceforth be known)? Thanks,
Tasha Robinson is not funny:
We get variations on the "Do you guys write The Onion?" question a lot, both online and in person, so let's just get it all out there right now: No. No we don't.
Pocket history of The A.V. Club: The Onion was founded in 1988 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a paper targeted at Madison residents and UW-Madison students in particular. (We have framed copies of some of the earliest issues here in the Chicago office; they're pretty hilarious, not so much for the cutting-edge headlines, like "UW Students Are BUTT DUMB" and "Thompson Changes Title From 'Governor' To 'Sexecutioner,'" as for the discount-pizza coupons that take up a third of the front page.) The Onion's Wikipedia entry is pretty thorough about the history of the publication, and the various owners and phases it went through, if you're curious.
The paper expanded over the next five years, and in 1993, Onion copyeditor and contributor Stephen Thompson started an entertainment section in the back, with music and film reviews written by Onion writers. You can still find quite a few of those in the archives, if you hunt around. My personal all-time favorite is this Harlan Ellison interview, conducted by longtime Onion writer John Krewson, who currently produces The Onion's sports section. And the earliest editions of our annual Cheap Toy Roundup came from Onion writer Joe Garden. The A.V. Club name was added in 1995, and as the section expanded, writers were hired specifically to fill out The A.V. Club—starting with current editor Keith Phipps, followed by head writer Nathan Rabin and current film editor Scott Tobias. They were the first staffers hired as arts writers only, rather than crossover writers contributing to both sections of the paper, but they worked out of the same Madison office where the Onion writers plied their trade.
By 2001, there were Onion offices and local editions in Chicago and New York; the Onion staff moved en masse to New York, while the A.V. Club staff in Madison mostly relocated to Chicago. Currently, New York is still the headquarters of the Onion staff; the Chicago office is Onion Inc.'s business hub, housing its CEO and CFO, among other luminaries, and also a plurality of A.V. Club staffers. All 10 cities where we currently publish have their own local content editors who write for and manage the local events sections; many of them also contribute regularly in other areas, writing music reviews and Inventory entries, filling out the Newswire and the A.V. Club blog, etc. But none of us contribute to The Onion; some of us still communicate personally with Onion writers (who are great people, and as funny as you might imagine), but there's no professional crossover in either direction as far as writing and planning goes. We've spent much of the decade trying to carve out our own identity, and at this point, The A.V. Club and The Onion are essentially sister publications connected by a business staff and complementary philosophies.
As to your specific questions: Matt, it's really pretty impossible to say at this point who's still going to be here five or 10 years from now. (I don't know many people our age who are planning their careers out that assiduously, at least not if they actually enjoy their current jobs.) Guess you'll just have to keep reading and find out. But for what it's worth, as we've been steadily expanding—more city editions, more web coverage, more online projects—we've been hiring new writers to help fill in some of the blanks, so hopefully a decade from now, even if we're all still here, the paper won't solely be about us Taste Testing the new flavors of Geritol.
Brent: Oh, come on. Would you write to the Chicago Tribune and ask whether its Metro or Tempo section is "dominant" over its front section, or they're just tacked-on afterthoughts? The Onion and The A.V. Club are like any other segments of a newspaper; they're produced by different departments, but they work together as a single package.
"The Limb" (What are you, a wacky morning DJ?): Since no one here has worked in the same office as the Onion staff in seven years, we couldn't tell you what it's like. But if you really want to know, I'd highly recommend listening to this recent episode of This American Life, which examines the Onion writing process and the state of The Onion today. There are a lot of excellent news and interview articles about The Onion out there, but this is one of the freshest and most immersive. Besides, it's absolutely packed with rejected headlines that you didn't see in the paper, and explanations of exactly what's wrong with them, comedy-wise. If you're enough of an Onion junkie to ask this question in the first place, I suspect you'd really enjoy hearing all the gory analytical details.
According to legend, I once scoffed at the popularity of President Richard Nixon by saying, "I don't know anyone who voted for him." Is that true? Because it doesn't sound like something I'd say.
The Ghost Of Pauline Kael
Noel Murray, who channeled the question, also provides the answer:
Ms. Kael, I've been wondering this myself. About a year ago, a friend of mine cited that quote as an example of the narrow perspective of "media elites," and at the time, I told him that I remembered the line differently. I told him that it appeared in a film review of yours I'd read back in college, and that in the review, you were actually quoting somebody else, in order to make the same point: that when people travel in small circles, they sometimes miss the big picture.
And then I went looking for the review, online and in my archives. And I couldn't find it anywhere
I was totally unaware of this at the time, but as it turns out, there's quite a controversy surrounding your Nixon quote. More than half the hits that came up when I Googled "pauline kael nixon quote" were conservative blogs and commentators using the quote just as my friend had, to mock you and your whole breed of urbane commentators. A lot of the rest were people who, like me, were trying to find the original source of the quote and coming up empty. Finally, just recently, I discovered two items that should help lay this legend to rest.
On the blog "Steven Rubio's Online Life," Rubio reprints an e-mail he received from Craig Seligman, who interviewed you while working on his book Sontag And Kael. According to Seligman, "She never said it, and she was irked by the fact that it was so often attributed to her. Apparently a reporter, or somebody, asked her to comment on Nixon's election, and she replied that she couldn't because she didn't even know anyone who had voted for Nixon." The Wikipedia entry for Pauline Kael traces the comment in question back to a 1972 New York Times article, in which you're quoted as saying, "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."
Since that clarification hit the Internet, some conservatives have keyed on the revised quote, and especially the "I live in a rather special world" part, as proof that the original impressions of your feelings about Nixon supporters was true. But it seems clear to me that you didn't intend "special" to mean "superior" so much as just "unusual." You're acknowledging your limitations, in other words, not celebrating them.
Still, what I find most interesting about all this is that in spite of the proof in front of my eyes—which can't get much more clear than you telling someone you never said it—the human memory is such that I still have a vivid recollection of reading a review in which you wrote, "I don't know how Nixon won. I don't know anyone who voted for him." I can even tell you where I was when I read it: standing in the lobby of the movie theater I worked at in college, reading one of your old books between shows on a slow night. What probably happened is that I read someone else quoting you, and my mind has mixed everything together. So it just goes to show that when someone says, "I swear to you this is true. I remember it clearly," well that doesn't necessarily mean anything.
That's Not A Pumpkin, Either
Okay, here's something that still haunts me from time to time. It was a softcore-pornographical, musical adaptation of Cinderella. Seriously. One night, when I was about 6, my mom was busy preparing for a party and asked my dad to bring home a movie to get my brother and me out of her way. My dad was no doubt hurrying home from work and didn't really stop to check what he grabbed, because what we got was a Cinderella that was decidedly not G-rated. Mom came back into the room about 10 minutes into it to find naked people singing and dancing on the television. Needless to say, she put a quick and semi-hysterical end to that evening's entertainment. Dad swears up and down that he would never be so careless as to bring home pornography for his children, but I'm reluctant to think my 6-year-old mind made it up. Many thanks for any help you can give me. I love your website.
Tasha Robinson still hasn't gotten over "Snow White And The Seven Perverts":
Doubtless we'll get some flak for answering your question, Liz, since all we really had to do was look at all the Cinderella-related titles on the IMDB until we found the dirty one. In our defense (and yours), though, there are more than 150 titles total, many with promising-sounding names like A Modern Cinderella, Cinderella A-Go-Go, and (tee-hee!) A Ride For Cinderella. Or A Cowgirl Cinderella. Or Cinderella And The Boob. (Okay, fine, all of those are pre-1940, so we weren't really leaping on them thinking they were porn.)
But you're looking for 1977's innocuously titled Cinderella. Given the cover, the tagline ("What the prince slipped Cinderella was not a slipper."), and the fact that it's X-rated, which in theory should have meant that your dad had to fetch it from the video store's segregated dirty-movies section, it's hard to believe that he was that oblivious. Maybe he was hoping to watch it later on his own, and he accidentally handed you the wrong videotape, South Park-style.
Weirdly enough, though, there's also an R-rated sex comedy called Cinderella 2000 that came out in 1977. It isn't a musical, though, so I'm pretty well positive that Cinderella is your version. Unfortunately, it's only available on VHS, while Cinderella 2000 is widely available on DVD. Maybe you could use that one to confuse your own kids someday.
Ask A Special Guest Star
I've been noticing something more and more when I read, and it annoys me every single time I see it. Is there any reason for when the edges of books aren't cut evenly or is it a manufacturer's defect? I've noticed it mainly in hardcover books. Examples in my personal collection include Bob Dylan's Chronicles Volume 1 and two books by Don DeLillo (Falling Man and White Noise, the latter is the Penguin Great Books edition). Having 2 books by the same author that are miscut make me think that the author can request this, but I can't think of any good reason. How about you guys and gals?
The A.V. Club is familiar with the ragged-pages phenomenon—which we apparently see a lot more than you do, given the number of books that pour through our offices on a daily basis. It isn't particularly rare, and it's obviously deliberate, but we weren't sure why it was done. To save money? To give books a more handmade, prestigious feel? So we talked to someone we're currently working with on an upcoming project: Scribner senior editor (and owner of a great name) Brant Rumble. Here's his response:
"We call that a 'rough front.' And, yes, it's usually meant to convey literary prestige. That was about all I knew about it when I rec'd your email, but then I asked one of our designers, Erich Hobbing. He explained that when paper was handmade, it was stretched across a sort of frame or mold called a deckle. Paper made on a deckle had rough edges all around. When such paper was used for books, they would cut the inside, top, and bottom edge, but leave the outside edge rough. This was probably a time-saving measure. When publishers do it now, it's an attempt to replicate that old-style look. I don't think cost is an issue. An author can request it. Sometimes the publisher just does it. And yes, we do it at Scribner occasionally."
Once again, we asked, and you came through. Here are the answers to last week's Stumped! questions:
Eric was looking for a bizarre, downbeat book set in the future "about a family that had a secret stash of chickens and other animals that they raised under their house and ate the end has the family admitted to an "escape ship" meant to leave the ecologically destroyed earth behind. Only here's the twist, the ship was actually a suspended-animation chamber." This was our slam-dunk answer for the week; many people instantly wrote in to identify it as Frank Bonham's The Missing Person's League. It seems pretty out of print, but fairly easy to find used and cheap.
Nicole requested that we ID a short story where a company starts marketing addictive ice cream, and another company offers to take the resulting weight off its customers. Apparently this is "Lose Now Pay Later" by Carol Farley, and it's most readily available in the anthology 2041 A.D. Again, out of print, but easy to find.
Ken remembered channel-surfing past something on TV featuring a bloody corpse cut up in a log. Comment-boarder "Eclectic Eel" gets the most-helpful-response award, for not only answering first, with the title of a Tales From The Crypt episode, but also providing a link to a great deal of summary info.
Nate wanted help with "the best worst-movie I've ever seen," a pseudo-educational film that becomes a mystery-thriller about a murderous alien. "Bronwen" on the boards suggested this was 1978's The Force On Thunder Mountain, and provided a link to a lengthy plot description that cinches the case.
Finally, Kirk was trying to find an anime film featuring a building composed Tetris shapes and a large, robotic T-Rex on wheels. Once again, it seems that the answer is Unico In The Island Of Magic, and that The A.V. Club needs to collectively sit down and watch this movie. Or stop taking anime questions. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone out there who wrote in with answers and reminded us how smart our readers are.
Next week: The A.V. Club makes an instant liar out of itself by answering an anime question. Also, a snake bakes a ho-cake. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.