Ed. Note: MAD Magazine marks its 50th anniversary this yearan amazing achievement for any magazine. But the bible of smartass adolescents has undergone several changes in recent years: First, a switch to better paper stock and color ink (not a tragedy in itself, but there was something about that pulp paper and the black & white graphics that gave MAD an underground feel); second, and more devastating, the inclusion of paid advertising. Original publisher/godfather William M. Gaines was proud of the fact that his satiric rag was beholden to no one, and even after being absorbed by the Time-Warner empire through a chain of acquisitions, he zealously defended MAD's ad-free format. Truly, that was a radical move in publishing, but it was worth the freedom to mock anything. Perhaps there was little choice in the decision to start selling ads; perhaps that was the price the editors had to pay to continue publishing. But MAD simply isn't the same: The magazine that so fervently skewered modern marketing for 50 years now must print the same hype-ridden ads as every other rag. Pity.This story was written before those changes occurred, but co-editor Nick Meglin discusses how the changing readership was affecting MAD. For even more MADness, read this extended Q&A with Meglin.
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To hell with Dick & Jane.
Sure, the cuddly twosome have seen a resurgence of interest lately, with museum exhibits and scholarly books detailing their influence on young minds over several generations. But how much meaning can you really extract from "See Dick Run." And do we all truly have those pithy messages imprinted on our cerebellums?
On the other hand, there's another publication celebrating an important milestone, one that also served as a primer for life's lessons. This particular periodical is still alive and well after 50 years. And there can be little doubt as to its influence on the lives of its readers; it has irreversibly warped the sensibilities of millions upon millions of minds, young and old.
The answer, of course, is MAD. Magazine, that is.
It has been the oracle of all knowledge for most males in the 12-14 age bracket, faithfully toted from class to class, shared among only the most trusted friends, studied and memorized. Upon its pages are emblazoned the secret dreams of every smartass adolescent: to make fun of everything. Movies, television shows, politicians, advertising, celebritiesall the authority figures of modern life are laid bare, hoisted on their own petards. If Dick & Jane indeed gave children the basics of courteous co-existence, then MAD presented the hard facts of adult life: beware of what people are trying to sell you. Cynical, maybe, but MAD's satirical message resonates throughout our adult lives.
As MAD marks its 50th anniversary, it's still as vital as everperhaps even more so as kids today are being constantly bombarded with media come-ons, even in their schools. But with its relatively recent inclusion of advertising, will MAD shirk its duty of lampooning corporate institutions? Worse, will its pages be left behind in a high-tech wave, with video games and computers stealing the allegiance of today's kids? Not if co-editor Nick Meglin and his usual gang of idiots can help it.
"The very fact that we've lasted over 40 years means that we're doing something right," says Meglin from his New York office. "And what we've done right is that we've never pandered, we've never condescended, we've never shot for a target audience. That's because we don't even know who they are."
in the world of publishing, is absolutely mad. But, according to Meglin,
the times are changing, and so too is MAD.