Wednesday, August 4

Mourning “Mad”

Mad Magazine is no more … a moment of silence, please …

I grew up with Mad during the days immediately preceding puberty and into early puberty. The magazine was wonderfully iconoclastic for a kid who was confined by the suffocating strictures of hyper-fundamentalist Christianity – the church I grew up in thought Billy Graham was a dangerous liberal because he talked with the Pope occasionally … seriously! – and parents with a grossly over-developed respect for sheer authority, especially church authority. Basically, my adolescence was eerily similar to what I imagine people go through who live in North Korea – constantly under surveillance, allowed almost no individual freedom, perpetually evaluated by the fundamentalist God (the Celestial Kim Jong Hoozis du jour), etc., etc. But unlike North Koreans, I had a safety valve, an outlet for my frustration:  humor in the form of Mad Magazine satires. Every month, I would scan the supermarket magazine shelves for the latest issue of Mad and would seize the latest copy. 

My parents never objected to buying it for me, because most of the humor went over their heads, anyway. (Fundamentalists of the early 60s are like all fundamentalists of all periods:  singularly ill-informed, undereducated, and therefore devoid of a sense of humor, most especially any sense of irony.) They almost never read it, and almost never understood it on the rare occasions when they did. So I would take the latest issue home, go to my room, and mystify my parents with the howls of laundry-problem-inducing laughter they heard from behind the door. I even bought the paperback books – The Mad Reader, Son of Mad, The Brothers Mad, etc., etc. – that were often just reprints from the precursor to MadEC Comics that were published before my day. I also waited with bated breath for the yearly publication of the Mad Annual that reprised many of the articles from previous issues of the magazine, but that I had not read because I did, on occasion, miss a monthly issue. I also remember that, in the presidential election of 1960, Alfred E. Neuman ran for President under the slogan "Prosperity with Alfred E.!", thereby anticipating by 8 years the candidacy of Pat Paulsen.

The satire was priceless. Herewith URLs that link to excepts. I refrain from publishing the actual images because there are so many, and because I do not have the time to look up the copyright protections. So if you want to be a 13-year-old kid again, and laugh like one, look up the following:

Borey Lyndon

Home A-Groan

The Ecchorcist

201 Minutes of Space Idiocy

The closing “monolith” scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey

The Ecch Files,1,2,6

Star Blecch

Botch Casually and the Some Dunce Kid,1,2,6

Space will only permit me to list, without URLs, other satires equally good, e.g., The Black and Blue Hawks (for The Blackhawks … comic-book-hero pilots who flew F-104s, the shit-hot fighter jets of that day, destroying evil), Plastic Sam (like the “stretchy” member of the Fantastic Four), Lord Jump (for Lord Jim), From Eternity Back to Here (for From Here to Eternity), Seven Itchy Years (for The Seven-Year Itch), Mutiny on the Bouncy (for Mutiny on the Bounty), Cheyenne Awful (for Cheyenne Autumn), Moroned (for Marooned), … ad infinitumad nauseumper omnia saecula saeculorume pluribus unumnon gustibus est disputandumillegitimi non carborundum … smoke ‘em if y’got ‘em …

I agree with other commentators:  Mad was overtaken and passed by a culture that is impossible to satirize because it has morphed into a satire of itself. How do you satirize a Vice President who will not be alone with any woman he is not married to, and who insists on calling his own wife “Mother”? How do you satirize a President who claims to be a “stable genius”, but who is neither – like Voltaire’s characterization of the Holy Roman Empire as “neither holy nor Roman nor an empire”? How do you satirize Sarah Palin’s interview where she claimed to be able to deal with Vladimir Putin because, on a clear day, she could see Russia from her front porch? How do you satirize a Republican candidate for the Senate whose antics with underage girls were allegedly motivated by a desire to preserve their “purity”?

Answer:  You don’t.

Mad Magazine is lamentably gone because Mad Magazine was too sane for the times.

James R. Cowles

Image credits

"Mad" "Hopeless" cover … Master Data Management … CC BY 2.0
Alfred E. Neuman … Cory Doctorow … CC BY-SA 2.0
Yellow "Mad" Logo … Harvey Kurtzman … Public domain
Alfred E. Neuman bas relief … Cory Doctorow … CC BY-SA 2.0
Alfred E. Neuman as Barack Obama … Cory Doctorow … CC BY-SA 2.0
Buttigieg / Alfred E. Neuman … Ed O'Keefe … Public domain
Trump / Alfred E. Neuman … Beastrabban's Blog … Public domain
"A Mad Look at TV" cover … Insomnia Cured Here … CC BY-SA 2.0
Mad Magazine card game … Mark Anderson … CC BY 2.0