Tomorrow is the anniversary of 9/11. How will you commemorate this tragic day in American history? The satirical newspaper The Onion suggests laughter. If you can remember way back to nine years ago, the Onion was pretty quick to respond to the trade tower bombing with its brand on incisive humor, which managed to get to the heart of the matter–and of the collective panic and sadness–while also making us laugh. You might recall Onion headlines such as “Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell” and “Hugging Up 76,000 Percent.” Those and other stories from that time are available on The Onion‘s most recent book, Our Front Pages.
Longtime Onion writer John Krewson told PWxyz what it was like to try and come up with something funny to say about the horrible event of 9/11. In fact, this very blogger was an intern at The Onion in early 2002 and remembers Krewson and the other writers talking about how hard that issue was to write. Later, they took me to a party where I literally bumped into Drew Barrymore. But here’s what Krewson told PWxyz:
It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t enjoyable. No one knew how to react to what had happened, let alone how to address what had happened, and there was some doubt that the Onion was capable of doing it. But when we started coming up with ideas based on people’s reactions to the events, we saw that they were working.
My favorite story to come out of that issue will always be Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake, which was written by Carol Kolb. In any other context, I’m not sure it would be much of anything, but I think it sums up the initial reaction beautifully—shock, helplessness, a need to do something no matter how incoherent or incongruous. I’m not even sure it’s actually funny, but it doesn’t need to be.
People should always try for good honest laughter as soon after tragedy as humanly possible. Laughing doesn’t mean you’re not serious. It just means you’re done crying, and that you’re not giving in to sadness, which can be a corrosive thing. Done correctly, laughing tends to be more conducive to thinking. And it’s much healthier than striking out in anger or fear or starting the closest convenient war.