Sine 1952, the mascot of Mad Magazine — Alfred E Neuman — has had one enduring motto: “What? Me Worry?” But now after 67 years, we all should be a little worried. And that’s because kids won’t be able to stumble upon the gloriously absurd pages of Mad without first knowing what Mad is and having it delivered to their house. On Friday, news broke that Mad Magazine will no longer be available on newsstands after August 2019, but will continue publication as a direct-to-order business.
This means the days of finding this periodical out-in-the-wild is over, not only for adults but for kids, too. The reasons for the change are almost certainly economic; the print magazine business has been in trouble since the dawn of the internet, but that doesn’t make the news any less tragic. According to the tweets of one former editor, Allie Goertz, Mad will reissue several old issues and also continue to publish end-of-the-year-round-ups, so, for the casual observer, not much will seem to change.
But, the simple fact that a kid or a teen probably won’t accidentally find Mad Magazine now; is a subtle paradigm shift that fundamentally changes how American kids first access satire. I’ll never forget being 11-years-old in 1993 and reading the Mad Magazine issue spoofing my then-new favorite show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not only did this spoof contain great jokes about Alf and Star Wars, but it also made clever reference to the movie Casablanca, and overtly mocked late-stage capitalism through a well-placed joke about Pepsi Clear.
The point is, I read a lot of trash about the stuff I liked when I was a kid, but Mad Magazine’s buyout sarcasm is perfectly aligned to penetrate the psyche of tweens and teens. At it’s best, it’s highbrow/lowbrow combo can make a kid a little less ready to accept what the machines of society churn out, and also, educate them on the value and political power of humor. Just last year, Mad published a brilliant pastiche of Edward Gorey, specifically aimed at the horrors of school shootings. Arguably, the people this piece connected with the most were parents, afraid for the safety fo their kids, but, I’d wager it also made a young reader or two think twice about their beliefs about guns.
Mad Magazine isn’t the most important political publication of all time, but because it constantly mocks mainstream entertainment and politics, it brandishes the kind of humor that can be instrumental in making sure children don’t become mindless consumers. And now, unless their parents have a subscription, that brain tool has been harder to access.
Publications go out of business all the time, and there’s nothing wrong per se with new media trends that move away from the old-school dominance of physical magazines. And yet. The death of Mad Magazine will make certain parents, like me, want to throw away our phones and never read off of a screen again.
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