Friday, October 26, 2012


When I was a kid I improved my English comprehension by reading Mad magazine. The publication was an icon, the last of the EC Comics line famed for its gore and cleavage, and in the 1970s it had a circulation of more than two millions. This was without advertising, wants ads, subscription cards or any of the other revenue-makers that allowed other publications of its type to survive.  Mad, published seven or eight times a year, was in a class by itself and though its competitors, namely Cracked, tried to emulate the satires and parodies that were its hallmark, no other publication had as much an impact on adolescent readers. Mad, since it was a magazine, could avoid the stifling Comics Code Authority, and so lampooned everything—movies and TV, politics, families, educators, and the school system. It was shameless and incredibly cruel dealing with celebrities; it skewered parents and siblings, lecherous uncles and tippling aunts. It had a particularly wrathful affinity for Disney characters and once ran a piece on Darnold Duck who, after wondering why he had only three fingers and always had to wear gloves, decided to murder the rest of the Disney crew.  Al Jaffee, Mad’s longest-running contributor, was once quoted as saying, “[Mad] was designed to corrupt the minds of children. And from what I'm gathering from the minds of people all over, we succeeded.” It did so by never patronizing its young readers, never trying to persuade them that everything was going to be all right. In fact, the mag’s vicious and talented crew was pretty certain everything was going to hell in a handbasket regardless of what grown-ups said, and lovingly chronicled the trip.

Mad’s  young 1960s readers would a decade later have a hand in ending the Vietnam war and expelling Richard Nixon from the White House. For me and thousands of other mostly-boys, Mad allowed a flirtation with risky language and risky thoughts. None of us wanted to become the ‘What, Me Worry?” kid, Alfred E. Neuman, the magazines big-eared, gap toothed and freckled mascot, but we could appreciate his malicious disregard for those who wielded power. We too wanted to kick authority in the crotch, make fun of the jocks who beat us up and give the finger to the mean girls who approved. We were the kids who didn’t quite have the balls to cherry-bomb the school toilets but cheered on the idiots who did.  

Mad still exists, though it is now in color and, sadly, has been forced to accept print ads.  Still, it has survived Cracked which went under in March of 2007, and National Lampoon, an emerging-adult publication with more prose than pictures, that folded last millennium.

In my time, Mad pioneered the use of the word ‘crap,’ which was considered daring. Today, the word ‘bitch’ is in common use, as are ‘WTF’ and references to farts and threesomes. This, I suppose, is normal. Language changes and what was taboo a generation ago is common parlance today. The essence of the magazine hasn’t changed, though. It still hates celebrities and did a wonderful spread on Justin Bieber. One on the Kardashians is in the offing (I can hardly wait). Meanwhile, a compendium, ‘Certifiably Mad by the Usual Gang of Idiots’ has a brilliant hack of Harry Potter, a ‘50 Worst Things About the Internet,’  ‘A MAD Look at Lady Gaga,’ and ‘The Walking Dud.’

AT $7.98, ‘Certifiably Mad’ is a bargain.




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