Good Blech to It All: A Requiem for Mad Magazine
In the very first sentence of Weird Al: The Book, the first book I wrote about American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic, I wrote that while Al graduated the valedictorian of his high school class and then went to college and got a degree in architecture his real education came from Mad magazine and the usual gang of idiots who delighted and educated multiple generations of smart-asses.
The same is true of myself as well. Mad didn’t just tell me everything I needed to know about the rank hypocrisy of the adult world; it acted as a corrective to the bullshit education I received in elementary and high school.
Mad taught me that capitalism was one big grift, that commercials lied to us in order to sell us things we didn’t need to solve problems that don’t actually exist and that greed, not art or ambition, was the engine that powered the Hollywood dream factory.
Mad hipped me to the way the world really worked. It was the real Red Pill that exposed the true workings of adult society. Even better, it was funny and fun and irreverent and pitched squarely at weird kids like me who couldn’t help but feel like like the conventional wisdom handed down by teachers and history books was a bunch of bullshit aimed at brainwashing an apathetic populace.
It was the first publication that spoke to me in a voice I understood. Some of my most cherished childhood memories involve lying down in the magazine aisle of Walgreen’s and reading the new issue of Mad Magazine from cover to cover. It didn’t matter if the parodies were sometimes for movies I wasn’t allowed to see because they were R-rated or if some of the illustrators seemed stuck in the 1950s: I drank it all in anyway.
The first words of mine that ever appeared in print were in the letters section of Mad I don’t remember what I wrote, only that I gushed effusively about this most sacred and sacrilegious of publications.
When I read The Onion for the first time it similarly rocked my world because it felt like a natural extension of Mad. You read Mad when you were in elementary school and middle high and then sometime in high school or college you graduated to The Onion.
We used to joke that if the Onion ever made a movie, we’d want it to be like Up the Academy, the Robert Downey Sr.-directed teen sex romp that was so bad that Mad literally paid to get its name taken off it, and whose poster adorned my corner of the A.V Club office for many years. We could not have envisioned that when the Onion made a movie, it would not do anywhere near as well as Up the Academy, which at least got a theatrical release.
I’ll never forget the surreal moment when Mad parodied The Onion as The Bunion. It meant that the paper had arrived. I felt the same way when The Simpsons did a Portland episode that included loving satirical jabs at The Onion and The A.V Club.
Mad Magazine, The Onion and The Simpsons, along with “Weird Al” Yankovic and Saturday Night Live deserve the credit and the blame for my sense of humor. Long before I matriculated at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, they were my comedy professors.
When some of my former co-workers at The Onion got jobs at Mad I was overjoyed for them. It seemed like a natural next step from The Onion, an organic evolution. Even when I stopped reading Mad regularly as an adult it continued to hold a place near and dear to my heart.
So I was, like seemingly everyone, deeply saddened to learn that Mad would be essentially going out of business even if I was not terribly surprised. The warning signs were all there: the shift to color, accepting advertising, publishing on a bi-monthly rather than monthly schedule. Also, it seems like we’ve reached an awful point in our cultural de-evolution where anyone attempting anything smart and substantive and different is doomed to failure.
I’m bummed because some of my friends are out of jobs, and I know all too well how brutal that can be but also because another cherished part of my childhood is gone forever. It fucking sucks that when we talk about Mad now it’s in the past tense, as something that used to exist, and now lives on only in reprints and collections and our individual and collective memories.
I’m tired of having to say goodbye to things that I love, that have given my life joy and meaning. I’m exhausted by deaths and defeats and endings.
It just sucks. It just fucking sucks. Blarg! Echhh! There are no words for this pain, only zany sounds.
Mad magazine, particularly Dave Berg, taught me to see the lighter side of things, but with something as brutal and deeply depressing as the end of Mad that’s difficult, if not downright impossible.
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