September 19, 2019

Mad Magazine's Jewish Sensibility

“Mad magazine is on life support, and I can’t say I’m either surprised or all that sad about it. DC Entertainment announced last week that the satirical magazine will stop publishing new content. It was like hearing about a beloved old relative who passed away: I hadn’t had any meaningful contact in years, but had fond memories of when we were still close.

For me, that meant during my pre-bar-mitzvah years, growing up in the 1970s. For a suburban kid binging on a diet of Saturday morning cartoons and grim, adults-only dispatches on the nightly news, Mad was a hoot — hilarious, irreverent, slightly risqué.

Today I am a man, and realize Mad was something more.

Many of the eulogies have focused on the political legacy of the magazine. The Denver Post once celebrated its “mid-20th-century history of bold political satire and anti-censorship court cases.” (In 1964 the Supreme Court refused to hear music publishers’ complaints over the magazine’s right to publish song parodies.) Others suggested that its mocking attitude influenced the ’60s generation to “question authority.” The Washington Post called it the “most influential magazine of the post-World War II era.”

Looking back on the old issues, I’m also struck by how political they were, with biting parodies of the 1960s “Establishment” represented by Richard Nixon, George McGovern and Henry Kissinger. An American flag poster from 1971 would still raise eyebrows today, reworking the pledge of allegiance into a bitterly ironic statement on American divisions, addressed to “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all, including kikes, wops, spics, niggers, WASPS, etc.”

Watergate, the Vietnam war, the “generation gap,” the civil rights movement: Mad translated the issues dominating the news of the day and the whispered conversations of my parents and their friends into a comic language we kids could understand.”

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