After 67 years, Mad magazine’s August issue will be its last guffaw (from then only “best-of” editions of old material will be published). That bad-taste exemplar of the seamy side of the American Dream – the rust on the Chevy’s tailfin, the severed finger in the ice-cream sundae – has penned its final pun. Poor little Alfred E Neuman, that Rockwell-gone-wrong, all-American brat of a cover star, has grinned his gap-toothed last.
It’s the done thing to say that it’s the end of an era, another piece of print sucked into the vacuum of the digital black hole – but it’s also true. Mad made the running in the mid-1950s when the waspish asides of college radio nerd-jocks was king. Surely Howard Stern would listen with interest. Mad would then inherit a mock-your-elders editorial ethic from the UK satire boom of the 1960s and add extra teenage “sickness”. Saturday Night Live comics would have been dead in the water without Mad’s formative buffoonery, while the title’s commercial policy lived up to its name: they sold no ads for 44 years, lest taking money from the corporations they lampooned seem hypocritical.
Was it a kids’ magazine read by adults or an adults’ magazine read by kids? We’ll never agree. But we can say that its influence outgunned its circulation (even though it reached more than two million at its mid-1970s peak). We raise a middle finger in salute; that April 1974 cover was Mad’s offensive apogee, after all.