Magazine founded by Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines
I have written about Mad before. Apparently, I’m not too proud to do it again. Let’s see if I have anything else to say.
If you read Mad as a youth, then you have had your expectations raised. While the magazine was filled with innumerable jokes about our disgusting bodies, the artists also treated their audience as if they had brains in their heads. Those brains might like a good fart joke, but they also grasped jokes about political issues. When you picked up an issue of Mad, you knew that you were also going to get a modicum of insightful criticism. Arguably, that reader base grew up and begat our current environment of slightly more thoughtful television.
The other minor miracle was just how much reading was actually involved. Each issue was packed with words as well as drawings that required a keen eye and a willing mind. As much as you had to get to the next level of literacy in order to leave middle school, you actually did it so all the jokes would make sense in the latest issue of Mad.
The magazine itself is intertwined with the history of the comic book in the twentieth century. Mid-century, Gaines was the poster child for what was wrong with the industry and the nobility of the publisher in the face of censorship. Absorbed by a major competitor, Mad has suffered the same lack of popularity as the rest of comics in the face of alternative forms of entertainment. More than anything, it has become a brand name, useful for selling all manner of products.
it is the nature of all would-be iconoclasts that their success forces them into the mainstream. Society changes just enough and the rough edges of the art are worn smooth. The original audience dies or accepts the way of things and has less time for knocking their adopted lifestyle.
I’m not sure if Voltaire ever spent much time making fun of himself, but ultimately he was a lone artist. A magazine is a group art form designed to continue after the founders have moved on. This does not easily lend itself to satire as a format, though Punch probably did all right over the long haul. Maybe it was better served by the slow communication rates of the nineteenth century or, at least, the less rapid changes in nascent popular culture.
Ultimately, cultural commentary in this form is presented in the same media as that criticized. When our popular forms of entertainment become more diffuse, intelligent commentary becomes marginalized. When we can no longer think about our culture, we have allowed our society to fracture.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 96 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.
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