"Those whom the gods would destroy they first make Mad"—Anonymous ancient proverb
"What, me worry?"—Alfred E. Neuman, 1952-2019
Why do you think Mad Magazine is throwing in the towel after sixty-seven years? It's quite simple when you think about it: Mad is (was) a satirical publication. On the day the American voters foolishly decided that sending an unhinged sociopath like Donald Trump to the White House would be a perfectly reasonable idea, satire became obsolete.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I ceased being a monthly reader of Mad in the autumn of 1973. That was around the time I discovered National Lampoon, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce. All of the sudden, Mad - although still insanely irreverent - lost a bit of its bite for me. However, every once or twice a year or so, for the next forty-six years, I would pick up an issue for old time's sake. I just needed to see what those "usual gang of idiots" were up to. I was never disappointed - not once.
For five-and-a-half years I was MAD about Mad. I can still very vividly recall the first time I ever purchased it at the long-gone Rosen's Variety Store in my hometown. It was May of 1968. The cover's illustration showed the parody of the month; it was a send-off of Bonnie and Clyde, a film starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty that was the mega-hit of the moment. The satire was called, "Balmy and Clod" -Get it? That issue was a month after the assassination of Martin Luther King, a month before the murder of Bobby Kennedy; the war in Vietnam was being beamed into American living rooms on a nightly basis. As a tender and impressionable kid, a mere three months prior to my tenth birthday, I was ripe for the sheer lunacy of Mad Magazine.
And you wonder how I turned out so weird.
Two months later, in August, there was a special extended issue devoted to that publication's perennially goofy mascot and his campaign for the presidency of the United States. Enclosed was a bumper sticker which defiantly proclaimed:
"ALFRED E. NEUMAN FOR PRESIDENT"
Their timing was exquisite. Within days of appearing on newsstands across the nation, the Democratic National Convention exploded in an orgy of violence and insanity inside Chicago's International Amphitheatre and outside in the streets beyond. It was the worst catastrophe that the windy city had witnessed since the night Mrs. O'Leary's cow burnt the joint down to the ground nearly a century before. In the midsummer of 1968, Alfred's campaign was not quite as ridiculous as you might imagine, given the candidacies of Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't make a run in 2016. He should have.
Mad taught several generations of kids like me to be cynical toward authority of any and all kinds.
Election Day 1968 brought us nearly six years of Dick Nixon (a tenure which would end prematurely in complete disgrace in the summer of 1974) and seven additional years of a war that should never have been fought in the first place.
Mad taught several generations of kids like me to be cynical toward authority of any and all kinds. At this point in our history cynicism would seem to be America's natural birthright. It wasn't meant to be that way, but that's the way it is, and probably will be for at least another generation - possibly a few more. It's a fact we need to come to terms with.
In addition to their monthly publication, a few times a year they would release a paperback book that contained the best of Mad. How I used to savor those books! The one that sticks out in my memory was called "The Mad Sampler". It still makes me giggle when I think about it all these decades later. I vaguely remember a satire of the Jack Paar program which, although I strain my mind in an effort to recall the details, sent me rolling on the floor in a blind fit of hysterics. I had about twenty-five of those books - until they were stolen from me by the neighborhood bully. In fact, while he and his family were away in 1972 on their Easter Vacation, I broke into his home in a vain attempt to retrieve them; that's how much they meant to me. I got caught. It was my first brush with the law. So now you know.
And to think that I came so close to throwing my life away for Mad Magazine! Most other kids would have been sent to a juvenal reformatory. I wasn't. My father was rich. The neighborhood bully was himself guilty of more-than-a-few infractions - far worse than mine - that should have gotten him incarcerated as well. He never was either. His father was rich. If the both of us had been born poor and black, he would have paid for his sins for the rest of his life (he's deceased now) and I would still be paying for mine nearly half-a-century later. That's how things work in America.
But I digress....
Mad will soon be gone forever, and while, as I said before, I have not been a regular reader for many years, I still believe that something important and vital is about to disappear from American culture. True, there are still outlets for satire - some of them brilliant - but it's difficult not to mourn the passing of the one that was the granddaddy of them all. In a turbulent childhood, Mad Magazine was, for me, a virtual life-raft.
The truth of the matter is that I just don't like the modern world.