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To many young boys growing up in the 1950s, 60s or 70s, MAD magazine was a staple of life. To a boy who was weaned on tepid stand up comics and mild situation comedies, it was a slightly dangerous and satirically skewed look at the adult world. The magazine’s mission was to mock the world. It was humor that wasn’t readily available elsewhere at the time. The humor was sometime sophomoric, sometimes edgy, but always well done. It was the perfect magazine for a 13 year old boy. As long time MAD contributor, Al Jaffee jokingly said in an interview in 2010, the magazine was “designed to corrupt the minds of children and from what I’m gathering from the minds of people all over, we succeeded.”
MAD Magazine History
MAD magazine was originated as a comic book by William Gaines and Harvey Kurtzman in 1952. In 1955 it converted over to a magazine format. Almost from the beginning MAD delighted in exposing the truth behind the vanilla images America was being shown by the media. The magazine has no problem lampooning Politics, TV, Fashion, Education, Movies and other pompous targets. Where a boy might suspect that all was not right with the world, MAD magazine confirmed it. As Brian Siano wrote in The Humanist in 1994 “for the smarter kids of 2 generations, MAD was a revelation: It was the first to tell us the toys they sold us were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools….and our parents were lying to us about damn near everything”
MAD magazine also satirized the ongoing American culture. Advertising, family, gun control, the Vietnam War, sex, hippies…..the list goes on! It seemed that nothing was immune from MAD’s sharp bite. MAD played no favorites when it came to politics. Democrats were skewered as harshly as Republicans. Whoever was elected President was going to spend the next four years being well roasted in the pages of the magazine.
Alfred E. Neuman
Alfred E. Neuman is the mascot of MAD magazine. He has appeared on nearly every cover since 1955. He has a brownish red haircut, big ears, uneven eyes, a “shit eating grin” and a look of eternal befuddlement on his face. But his most endearing and identifying feature is the missing front tooth. Although he has a dumb look on his face, there is something about him that says he knows the true story.
Examples of pictures of young men whom looked like Alfred had existed for decades prior to MAD claiming him as their mascot in 1955. He was named by MAD after the musical arranger Alfred Newman and appeared on the cover of MAD issue #27 for the first time. Three issues latter, he appeared on the cover as a write in candidate for President (with the slogan “You can do worse, you always have“). Since then he has appeared on the cover of MAD as Santa Claus, a hippie, Bart Simpson, a face on Mount Rushmore, an “Oscar Statue“, as well as hundreds of others. Since political satire is often a subject in the magazine he has also appeared as George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Che Guevera, Adolf Hitler, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Uncle Sam and George W. Bush.
Since the early days, Neuman has been rarely featured inside the magazine (except for occasional fictional quotes by Alfred on the masthead). The editors have saved him for the front cover. Every time it has been a full frontal view or silhouette.
It was only on rare occasions that Alfred’s face did not appear on the cover. One such instance was issue #167 in September 1973. The magazine did a satire that month on the disaster film. The Poseiden Adventure. The cover depicts a life preserver with 2 feet sticking out of it. (presumably Alfred’s). His gapped tooth smile is evident on all but two covers. For the first issue after 9/11, his tooth space is filled by an American Flag. For January 1983, he appears with ET. The alien is using his magic “healing finger” to make a tooth appear in Neuman’s gap.
Alfred E. Neuman is often depicted with the slogan, “What, me worry?” This phrase has become a catch phrase in American society. Images have appeared elsewhere in the media over the years to signify stupidity and uncaring. Neuman’s image and/or catch phase has appeared on the cover of The Nation, Newsweek, Time and several others. National Lampoon, in 1971, published a cover which merged Lt. William Calley’s face with Alfred’s, with the phase “What me Lai?” He has also appeared in numerous political cartoons over the years. Ted Koppel, Prince Charles, David Letterman, Barack Obama, Oliver North and many others have been accused of having a physical resemblance to the MAD magazine mascot.
MAD Magazine had influence on the thinking of modern comedy writers and performers. With the advent of a more accepting society, what was cutting edge in a MAD article in the 1960s, or 70s can be more or less commonplace today. MAD still enjoys a healthy readership today but it finds itself competing with The Daily Show, SNL, The Colbert Report, South Park, The Onion as well as dozens of others. Most of the people who write these shows are of the generation that was influenced by MAD. In a way, MAD created it’s own future competition. As the only American in Monty Python. Terry Gilliam once said “MAD became the bible for me and my whole generation.”
One TV show that has paid homage to MAD Magazine and Alfred E. Neuman is the long running, animated FOX series The Simpson’s. The series has featured the magazine on at least 4 occasions. In one episode, Bart Simpson visit’s the magazine’s office in New York and sees Alfred. Bart says “I’m never going to wash these eyes again” (Bart is a huge fan.) It is evident by the satirical shows over the years that the writers of this show were influenced by Gaine’s publication. Another Fox series that shows MAD’s influence is Family Guy. It is obvious that the satirical and irreverent cutaway gags on this show are descendant from MAD.
Despite stiff competition and the fact that it’s humor is no longer on the cutting edge. MAD Magazine is still going strong. The magazine has a current circulation of 250,000 (down from 2.5 million in the mid 1970s) MAD has not wavered from mocking, satirizing and parodying American Society. The publication still adheres to the words of founder William Gaines: “we must never stop reminding the reader how much little value they get for their money.”