On Friday night, the authors and graphic designers of the latest book from the deadpan satirists at The Onion walked the one whole block from their office to the Apple store in Soho, to promote Our Dumb World: The Onion’s Atlas of the Planet Earth (73rd Edition) — now with “fewer clouds on maps,” “better-veiled xenophobia,” and “curvier latitude lines.”
In a shameless act of cross-promotion between new and old media, a narrated slideshow was recorded so that iTunes users could download it as a podcast–which, of course, would promote the audiobook version of the atlas (available on iTunes for $15.95, natch). Mike DiCenzo, a senior writer for The Onion who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jason Schwartzman, and Chet Clem, the paper’s editorial manager (whose celebrity doppelgänger is not as readily identifiable) led the audience on a tour of various countries on each continent, each with their own snarky (or in some cases, downright offensive) tagline. The United States, for instance, is dubbed “The Land of Opportunism,” Puerto Rico is “In a Parade Right Now,” and in Malawi, readers are invited to “Come for the Food Shortages, Stay Because You’ve Died.”
A second slideshow, led by Mike Lowe, the book’s head graphic editor, was called “Our Dumb World: Graphics for You.” In Japan, Godzilla has been mollified with luxury consumer goods and now roams the streets in a magenta cashmere scarf, Louis Vuitton tote in hand. Thirty-eight Albanians commute to work in the “cabbage mines” via one single donkey, and Bhutan is the only remaining place in the world where not only do dragons still exist, but they have been domesticated to pull plows through fields.
During the Q&A, audience members, inevitably, tried to one-up each other with Onion-style questions. One asked: “What was the least-dumb country?” (The authors, eager to please, were quick to respond with “Where are you from, sir?”) Mr. DiCenzo and Mr. Clem added that their least-favorite country was Montenegro, simply because it had the gall to separate from Serbia during the two years it took to write the atlas, an event that cost them “a good twenty minutes of [their] lives [they] would never get back.” They said their favorite hate mail produced by the book so far was a flurry of letters from angry consumers demanding to know the whereabouts of the free globe the cover of the book says is inside. For those people, The Onion’s motto of “Tu Stultus Es” – literally “You are Dumb” – has never been more applicable.
The Onion crew alluded to one area of contention in the making of the atlas: some people, they said, think there are too many pictures of animals wearing hats; some think there are not enough. This reporter, of course, was wondering: “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”