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Book review: ‘The Onion: Our Dumb World’

Stephen Bedford
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The term laugh out loud is used far too liberally these days.

Those three words have become a curse of hyperbole that ultimately leads to unfulfilled expectations, disappointment, and maybe a few chuckles or snickers along the way; but hardly any gut busting or unflattering snorts.

Just when the phrase laugh out loud seems to be dying a slow death, along comes the wisecrackers at “The Onion,” who level their razor wits at the planet and its people in “Our Dumb World.” This faux-atlas is loaded with high-minded humor that will leave you chortling, likely uncontrollably.



For those unfamiliar with “The Onion,” it’s a satirical newspaper based in San Francisco that melds fact and fiction into an unconventional look at the world around us. And in an age where the more trusted names in news media are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Glen Beck, “The Onion” is seeing a revitalization as well as a timely heyday.

Before even perusing the colorful (literally and figuratively) pages within “Our Dumb World,” the laughs come fast and furious. The cover promises “Fewer clouds on maps,” “Better-veiled xenophobia,” and a resolution to long-standing border disputes. This is just a tune-up for what lies ahead, and those who enjoy political humor served dryer than fine gin are in for a treat.



The writers at “The Onion” have reached a crowning moment with “Our Dumb World,” but it’s the layout and design folks that are the unsung heroes here. The gorgeously rendered pages are packed with information, maps, facts, tables and charts, not unlike an actual atlas.

Each detailed page can take several minutes to navigate, soaking in each nuanced, sarcastic dig at the world and its cultures.

“Our Dumb World” first examines the United States (“The Land of Opportunism”) by regions ” The Northeast (“Your Forefather’s America”), The South (“Where Mistakes of the Past Come Alive”), The Midwest (“America’s Pit Stop”), The West (“A Gift from the Natives”), The Pacific Coast (“Otherwise America Would Keep Going”) — with each receiving a distorted history.



Colorado’s “Onion” entry manages to roast snowboard culture, mega-churches, and altitude sickness. An “X” on the map keenly denotes a “former ski bum now a real bum.” That demarcation looks suspiciously close to Vail, though it’s probably the Aspen/Basalt/Glenwood area.

“Our Dumb World” aims its sardonic quips to the rest of the world and its cultures, fully negating the notion that this is a book of bigotry. “Our Dumb World” is intolerant of all people and places, in a funny kind of way, of course.

Some other noteworthy entries include: Morocco, “A Mystical Land of Junk”; Madagascar, “Ruled by Lemurs”; Ireland, “Blowing Their Pot O’ Gold on Whiskey”; Puerto Rico, “In a Parade Right Now”; Colombia, “South America’s Middleman”; and Australia, “As Seen On ‘Animal Planet.'”

Those hoping to read up on North Korea will be pleased to see that Kim Jong-Il has contributed a concise cultural history of his nation. The despot even leads readers on a tour of all the miraculous contributions he’s made to the nation.

Prior to the Kim Jong-Il love fest is a stunning visual tribute to Jordan’s comely Queen Rania, who, in 1999, was proposed to by King Abdullah II even though “she is completely out of his league.” The writers of “Our Dumb World” one day envision a flag featuring Rania’s bust surrounded by hearts.

Although “Our Dumb World” is indeed hilarious, it should be noted that its humor is best enjoyed by a mature audience. “The Onion” scribes aren’t above slipping a dirty word or picture, or two, into their critiques.

The laughs within “Our Dumb World” are twofold, serving as raucous entertainment but also as another lens for examining culture, politics and history. Some of the captions and facts, while mostly fictitious, are grounded in truth making some parts (particularly the Africa section) a bit squeamish to re-read.

The intention is to make readers laugh, but on a deeper level “Our Dumb World” forces you to re-examine everything around you, and how it got that way. Plus, the latitude lines, as promised, are much curvier than other atlases.

Stephen Bedford is a manager at the Bookworm in Edwards.


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