If you’re over 25 and male you probably remember MAD Magazine.
MAD was a cultural icon for over six decades. It was a relentless boundary pusher; a trendsetter in comedy the effects of which can still be seen in today’s pop culture. In its ‘hey day’ it was controversial and stirred much needed debate; its artwork was often genius and its writing was razor sharp.
MAD’s toothless mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, was synonymous with the brand and iconic in his own right. The obnoxious looking adolescent has featured on almost every MAD magazine cover since 1955, representing the mischief maker in all of us and striking a chord with readers far and wide.
Once called the TIME magazine of comedy, it was said that if you make the cover of MAD, you have officially ‘made it’.
But what happened to MAD Magazine?
The magazine, confiscated in classrooms across the planet and laid alongside Playboy magazines under the beds of generations of boys has lost its place among the kind of pop culture humorists that it helped to create.
The original core group of artists and writers, guys like Dave Berg from The Lighter Side of, Al Jaffee from Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions and the Fold ins, Mort Drucker’s excellent movie parodies, Sergio Aragones from A Mad Look at and the funny little border pictures, have all moved on or sadly, passed away.
Their loss is something that the magazine has never recovered from, and led to MAD Magazine rehashing itself with quarterly Classic issues. The MAD repackaged Classics appeal neither to new readers who don’t ‘get’ the references nor older readers, who are disenfranchised due to years of uninspired mediocrity from the publication.
And then there is the somewhat misguided change in target demographic.
In 2013, MAD magazine released a frankly woeful cartoon series for Cartoon Network simply named MAD. The series was basically like any Adult Swim cartoon series but for kids. The cartoon sorely lacks the balls and edginess that the magazine was known for.
MAD Magazine, foolishly, decided to follow the direction of their cartoon namesake, rendering what was once an intelligent magazine that seamlessly mixed high and low-brow humor, social commentary, and political satire, into a haven for tame roastings of Justin Beiber – roastings that are so polite and gutless that even Justin couldn’t be offended.
The goal of MAD Magazine was never to safely nestle itself within the comfy confines of the politically correct, nor should it ever be. MAD has always had an internal compass for what was right and wrong to poke fun at, but MAD would have tore someone of Bieber’s low moral standing apart up until only recently.
MAD today just isn’t the same magazine that dropped this (below) as a cover in 1974 and upset cultural sensitivities at a time that society was almost puritan in comparison to today.
This cover caused outrage. There were public debates whether the magazine should be age restricted or even taken off the shelves. This is the MAD Magazine that used to break down social barriers – the MAD Magazine I remember best.
MAD Magazine’s influence on the comedy world with its irreverent, smart-aleck humour has come back to haunt them over the past two decades, causing the publication to fall into obscurity.
Much like the Simpsons, which MAD helped inspire, gave way to Family Guy and South Park, so too has MAD been overtaken by literally every comedian and series writer who read the magazine.
This, in turn, has caused Mad to search for a newer, younger audience. But by doing so, it defaces all it once stood for.
For instance, there are now ads in Mad Magazine. If you are willing to part with three thousand Australian dollars you can place your ad in the magazine.
In their first 44 years they never had a single ad. It was against their ethos, and many of their pieces were about finding – and making fun of – the blatant lying that happens in advertisement.
But of course something has to pay for their new, shiny, colored pages.
And if you are counting those, you will find that they have almost halved. An average regular issue Mad Magazine of the 1990’s used to have 70+ pages of new material. Mad Magazines today average around 48, most of which is rehashed, and some of those pages are filled with ads and self promotion.
At $7.00AU a pop, it is hard for MAD to even use “Cheap” as a joking description.
Struggling sales have caused the magazine to trim back their releases from monthly to bi-monthly in the USA and Australia, evidence that its popularity is receding.
The slow death of print media cannot be blamed for this, either. MAD Magazine has an app on Ipad where you can download the magazines, and the move to quarterly release suggests that the app hasn’t been a raging success.
MAD Magazine used to inform, amuse, and point a big, snotty middle finger up at the establishment and corporations. Today it sells products for the same corporations.
With its Cartoon Network kid’s shows and its Ipad apps, MAD Magazine may go on to eek out an existence for the foreseeable future, but it will struggle to regain the respect of its long-time fan base. One can only hope the magazine rediscovers itself as an anti-establishment, counter-cultural voice of social commentary for disenfranchised, warped minds.
But I won’t be holding my breath…
Here is what an ad used to look like in a Mad Magazine circa 1975: