As the gut-wrenching news that 19 children and two teachers were killed in their Uvalde, Texas school on Tuesday, a few people remarked grimly on social media that it was time, once more, to post The Headline.
“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” was written in the days following the 2014 stabbing and shooting rampage that left six people dead and more than a dozen others wounded in Isla Vista, California and has been published 21 times since, each following a mass shooting. On Wednesday, the Onion‘s homepage featured all the past stories — nearly identical but for the datelines that mark the site of the carnage and photos that accompany them — and linked all the prior pieces in a long Twitter thread.
“It always comes on the heels of unfathomable grief. It’s the most awful merging of ghastly and monotonous,” former Onion writer Jason Roeder, who wrote the headline and original story, told Rolling Stone on Wednesday. “My feelings can honestly be summed up as, ‘Here we go again.'”
Roeder, who worked for The Onion for six years and still freelances there occasionally, recalls jotting the headline down seconds before an afternoon pitch meeting, noting that there weren’t a bunch of drafts or back-and-forth. “There’s often a lot of collaboration involved [in creating an Onion headline], but not on this occasion,” he says. “I think this one went in as is.” He didn’t imagine that it would have so much such staying power all these years later.
“It’s usually gratifying when your headlines outlast you, when you meet someone who’s an Onion fan and who has one of your jokes on their shortlist of favorites (especially when it’s a headline you didn’t think anyone loved except you),” says Roeder. “But I obviously wouldn’t put the shooting headline in that category.
“I’d certainly love to be remembered by sillier headlines such as Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex or Trojan Introduces ‘No One’s Pleasure’ Condoms For Bitter, Resentful Couples, but I think I know my destiny,” he says.
These days, Roeder is still writing humour. He lives in Los Angeles with “one overfed cat” and recently cowrote, with Mike Sacks, a college catalog parody called Welcome to Woodmont, published by McSweeney’s, and has another humor book coming out in the fall. But, he says workwise, “mostly, it’s the TV staffing hustle.”
As for his legacy as the author of The Headline, Roeder says when he is feeling cynical he thinks about how The Onion story is a part of the sad and morbid rituals that surround the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States.
“I worry it’s just another part of the mass shooting ceremony — thought ‘n’ prayers, don’t politicize, #GunControlNow, and so on,” he says. “But I usually recognize the headline as a concise indictment of a culture that’s hypnotized by guns and that’s signed off on people dying for the capital offense of being a fourth-grader or standing in the frozen food aisle.”
“If it helps people channel their sorrow and anger and hopelessness,” he says, “it’s not so bad for 12 words.”