For longer than I’ve been alive on this planet (or any other), so has MAD magazine lived. I took this as subconscious proof that I chose the right path in life. That there was an artistic point and purpose to living as a satirical cartoonist.
So much for that.
The news has slowly trickled out that after 70 years, MAD is closing up shop. Oh, it’ll continue with reprints for a while, but that’s just the corporate world’s way of cushioning the deathblow. Plus, anyone can tell you that MAD‘s been on life support for decades now, despite the valiant efforts of the usual gang of talented idiots.
Oh wait. Strike that. No one can tell you, because apparently no one cares. If anyone actually cared about MAD, it would still be going strong as it did in the middle 20th century.
No one wants to read the movie and TV parodies that made MAD infamous, because no one wants to be offended, or see anyone else offended. Goofing on popular celebrities only gets you in trouble with their lawyers. God help you if you make fun of Disney in print. Odds are you’ll never work again. No one wants destitution just because they cracked a joke.
No one wants to see any political figure made the subject of sport, unless it’s the exact one they despise and wish death upon. Making fun of any politician who might be female, gay, or a minority is a hate crime and is punishable by total ostracism. It’s not that the playing field isn’t even; it’s the players themselves. The ones who refuse to play condemn those who do, simply for playing. The game is clearly over and done. The crowd has vacated the bleachers.
If anyone cared about MAD magazine, at all, they wouldn’t have waited until its demise to say so. But they don’t care. They’re too busy talking shit on social media about people celebrating Independence Day. Because the independence of their own country doesn’t even have meaning to them. Nothing worthwhile does. To them, any American institution is a dated obstacle meant for destruction.
Up to and including the institutions that made us.
Being a satirist used to be a badge of honor and courage. It meant that you were a sworn protector of intellect and human culture against the pricks of corporate ownership and the unrelenting advertising machine. It meant that absurdity and humor were more powerful than any weapons of attrition. It betrayed an understanding that people are more alike than unlike, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Now it doesn’t mean shit, and the average person needs spell-check to type it.
Now it’s proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that no one cares about satire, or parody, or any such concepts unless it gets them out of litigation. No one cares that this one magazine, in its numerous permutations over the decades, gave millions of us that precious first suspicion that we could influence or even create culture by subverting it.
No one cares that the brightest star of inspiration in my creative lifetime has just winked out and died. Forever. No one cares that one of my life goals, and in fact a major part of my DNA, is now only so much candy floss in a downpour.
One of the ways my wonderful dad encouraged me was to take me to the MAD magazine offices, which at the time were on Madison Avenue near his work. The Alfred E. Neuman statue from Up The Academy was in the lobby, which was rather quiet. I got to interrupt and meet Mort Drucker and William Gaines, unsurpassed caricaturist and founder of EC Comics, respectively. Both were enormously cordial to my 9-year-old self, and signed my little autograph book. Mort signed it exactly as he would his art, and after we left, me glowing from being gifted several back issues from a giant storeroom, my dad complained that Gaines had scribbled in my book. “He must’ve been testing his pen,” Dad surmised. “No, Dad,” I said, opening the book to show him. “See? He wrote ‘Eccccccchhhhhhhhhhhh‘.”“Where We Differ“, 1/22/2015
When I first began self-publishing my own comics in 1991, I did so with the thought in the back of my head that one day, my work would appear in MAD. Like Robert Crumb, I hand-drew my own crummy imitations of MAD when I was in grade school. You might recall Robert Crumb from libelous articles a few years back labeling him a sex pervert. He’s never committed or been convicted of any sex crimes that I’m aware of, and that’s the attitude that drove him out of America in the first place. He simply drew cartoons that were subversive and featured extreme violence and brutal sex.
He also made a tremendous cultural impact (and money), which is the only reason you see bloggers and wannabe activists complaining about him in the first place. Crumb drew dirty sex and subverted racist imagery before those people were even conceived. It doesn’t matter that he’s grown since then and become an artist on the level of Rembrandt van Rijn, in my opinion. Their creative impotence leads them to attack everything they find offensive. Which, coincidentally, is everything.
Funny how that works out.
Funny how there’s nothing in our current existence to fill the void that MAD leaves. Nothing. Every comedian with a late-night talk show is a bought mouthpiece of a political lobby. Every television sitcom has an overt social agenda. Every comic book is propaganda for or against a politician, written by shills who fear the memory-hole if they don’t toe the party line.
Funny how those of us who first learned about subversive humor from MAD, and spent our lives honing our skills to keep that torch lit, are now just expected to accept things and move on.
Accept censorship through financial jeopardy. Accept that the roots of your modus operandi in life are null and void. Accept that you’ve wasted your life chasing a pipe dream. That there truly is no place for you in this world. That you made no difference. No one cares.
Is that what we’re supposed to do now? Is this the final validation for all those critics and bloggers, who insisted we were in the wrong? Is this the affirmation that the teachers and parents who tore up our comic books were right?
It means that when the moment comes, and come it will, when you realize the depth of your ignorance, it’ll hurt worse than you’ve ever hurt in your lifetime. It’ll make you pray for death’s sweet release, just to end it. There will come a reckoning, when you fully understand that even with all your on-line activism and guilt-tripping, you fell to the wrong side.
You didn’t betray me. You betrayed yourself.
I wrote this more for myself than for you. You don’t understand what’s been taken from me in just the past handful of years. You can’t. Because if you did, that moment of reckoning would surely come. You would be faced with the stark realization that you’ve done more to destroy than build, for longer than you can even recall, and it’s too late. The damage has been done.
You became “them”. The oppressor. The censor. The ruiner of all things good. You became everything that MAD was created to ridicule.
Enjoy your freedom while it lasts. Everything has a price.
And some things only seem cheap on the outside, until the day comes when you can’t even buy them anymore.