With the news that Mad magazine will cease to create new material, and will now purely recycle ‘classic’ (i.e. old) articles, its days as the voice of sharp-edged American satire (slash puerile nonsense — or both) are over.
Presidents, pop stars and film producers can all breathe a sigh of relief. But they shouldn’t.
Because the truth is that the irreverent, immature (in a good way), ‘no scared cow we can’t milk’ iconoclastic attitude that Mad brought to American, nay, global newsstands since its first appearance in 1952, is now the world’s attitude du jour.
Mad can, and should, take the credit for this. Mad mocked everything. Over 500 issues, possibly its greatest strength was its self-consciousness.
It proudly proclaimed its status as trash, telling you, the reader, that you were being cheated. As Mad’s publisher William Gaines put it, “We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money.”
At its peak in 1974, it sold 2 million copies. And in its wake came Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and the culture of the internet.
While, in 1952, mocking the POTUS might have been enough to see you branded a Communist, that is no longer a risk — Mad put paid to that, showing no mercy to Democrats and Republicans alike.
And one staple of an issue of Mad was the lampooning of the latest cinematic blockbuster, as these covers show. Don’t underestimate the power of those Mad’s film critiques — just ask Roger Ebert:
“I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine … Mad’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin—of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe.”