Saturday, March 02, 2013
Reader's Diary #956- Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity
Last year I reviewed a Mad Magazine collection of Harry Potter spoofs and it rekindled an old interest from my childhood days. So, almost needless to say, when I unwrapped Mad Magazine: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity this Christmas— a present from my sister— I was ecstatic. This hardcover collection of Mad Magazine articles and comics from the past 60 years is huge. Walking down memory lane with this baby under your arm requires a few rest stops along the way.
Totally Mad aims to please the nostalgic, the pop culture buffs, and the trivia minded folks in one sitting. At the bottom of the pages, they printed all the covers from the past six decades,and there was something surreal about seeing all of my old collection laid out in order. My span lasted from 88 to 91, and popular at the time— at least popular enough to be parodied by Mad— was rap (not hip hop, you will note), Three Men and a Baby, the California Raisins, Crocodile Dundee, the WWF (which wasn't the World Wildlife Fund), Roseanne, Batman (the Michael Keaton version), and the Wonder Years. But looking at the other parodies from the 60 year span, it was fascinating to note the popular targets. Sometimes I would have been way off with my time estimates. I think of Friends as a 90s sitcom, so I was surprised to see it being parodied in 2003, a few issues later than their parody of the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. A world in which tLotR overlapped with Friends seems like some sort of time travel movie inaccuracy b.s. to me, but who am I to question the historical wisdom of Mad Magazine editors? It turns out that Friends went off the air in 2004, the Two Towers came out in 2002 (the Fellowship was in 2001).
Also of interest are the occasional essays thrown in. There's an introduction by Stephen Colbert and Eric Drysdale, a short bio of founder long time publisher Bill Gaines, a history of their iconic cover mascot (who it turns out was created long before Mad Magazine existed), and more.
But of course, the real attraction here is the collection of the classic humorous and satirical comics that never seemed to know or care what audience demographic it was going for; too stupid for mature adults, too clever for immature kids, but loved by both. Pop-culture and political take-downs were measured out in equal doses. Looking back at the earlier articles, Mad seemed riskier and braver in some ways but and horribly dated and offensive in others. In an article from February of 1955, the joke seems to be that a private investigator is annoyed by the typing of his secretary and so he gives her a black eye (she responds by sticking out her tongue). But when I reviewed the aforementioned Harry Potter issue last year, I also remarked that Mad seems raunchier today that it did when I was a kid and I whined about the quality of illustrations. So this tells me that perhaps Mad's edge hasn't really changed as much as I thought. It also tells me that I'm probably like the typical Saturday Night Live fan: whatever year I got into it was the best.
One beef with the collection: clipped articles. For most TV show and movie satires, this collection only gives you the first two pages (the ones where the characters typically introduce themselves and the premise of the show/movie). Sure you get a sense of what angle the writers are setting up for their satire, but most Mad readers will remember that these spoofs typically lasted 5 or 6 pages and this felt like a bunch of excerpts. Some would argue that this means that the collection could fit in more glimpses of the past 60 years, and this is true, but sometimes I wanted to read the rest. And I'm not about to blow the family budget on eBay searching for past editions. Though if we switch to no-name toilet paper, cut out the kids' allowances...