Mad Magazine still around? Indeed. There it was on the airport newsstand. A relic? No, it had this month's date on it.
The magazine brought back past improbabilities. There was the picture of President Lyndon Johnson lifting his shirt to reporters to show his surgical scar, and Mad's editors had pasted a map of Vietnam on his belly. There was a take-off on a drug manufacture's series of advertisements: "Great Moments in Medicine." The shocked faces of the patient and relatives with the great moment being "Presenting the Bill." There was the memory of my children repeating verbatim dialogue around our supper table. There was the commentary on the Ten Commandments. "Thou shall not commit adultery" was accompanied by a picture of Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Richard Burton playing marital chairs during the filming of Cleopatra. Spoofs of politicians, advertising and TV programs ("Hochman's Heroes" and "M*U*S*H") undercut the pretentiousness and hypocrisy rife in our society.
I have long been of the mind that Mad Magazine was as responsible as anything or anyone for the rebellion of the sixties. Mad undercut the essential props of trust and respect on which any society or organization is built. For example, to take the Preamble of our Constitution and have each phrase with a picture (accompanying the phrase "and secure the blessings of Liberty" was the picture of hundreds of Klansmen marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capital building in the background) makes one continuously aware of the discrepancy between the ideal and the reality.
A 1962 lawsuit had an Oklahoma City paper describing Mad as a magazine of "grotesque, malformed cartoon characters [which] satirizes such time-honored Americans institutions as the White House and the home." Helping Mad's satire was its willingness to take on the pretentiousness of the left as well as the right, and itself. It's masthead referred to its writers as "the usual gang of idiots" and suggested that mail-order pictures of Alfred E. Neuman be used to line birdcages or wrap fish.
On the plane, I smiled at the humor but was left dissatisfied.
The magazine had contemporary subjects but a rehash cartoon style
and a repetitive pattern of dialogue. With eyes closed, I found
the ghosts of Mad past more entertaining and biting than
the ghost of Mad present. Still, my critical eye of
Mad Magazine had been well honed by...Mad Magazine.
--Robert H. Tucker
15 March 1999